Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Lost Abbey, Red Poppy Ale

Sorry for the hiatus last week.  Things are getting pretty busy as we prepare for our trip to China and I don't have my usual pipeline of blog entries already written.  But since we had a week off I'm writing about a real gem this week, Lost Abbey's Red Poppy.  For those that live in Southern California, Lost Abbey is a familiar name.  Led by their virtuoso brewer, Tomme Arthur, Lost Abbey is owned by the same folks as Pizza Port, but takes a decidedly different direction with their brewing, favoring creative takes on styles like Biere de Gardes, American Wild Ales, American Imperial Stouts, Saisons, and many, many others.  For the most part though, these aren't session beers, they're high abv, single bottle masterpieces, handcrafted with extreme attention to detail.  I was lucky enough to find a bottle of their Oud Bruin, the Red Poppy, and snatched it up right away.  But before I put this liquid gold in a glass, let's talk about the style. 

Recently, I've introduced quite a few friends to the novel concept that beers can not only be bitter and/or sweet, but also sour.  Usually, the discovery comes with disgust or amazement and some sort of statement like, "it tastes like vinegar!" Love it or hate it, the sour beer is definitely an unusual flavor.  While they've existed for centuries in Europe, it's only in the past 10 years that American Craftbrewers have started to embrace this eccentricity in their beers.  This souring flavor is caused by wild yeast strains such as Lactobacillus, Pediococcus, Acetobacteria, and the infamous Brettanomyces or "brett," which all leave powerful acidic notes behind when used in brewing.  American beer drinkers are slowly starting to warm up to beer that has horse-blanketesque funk, and red vinegar tannons.  The difficult part of describing these beers to new comers though, is when they say, "what's that sour beer called again?" The sour isn't a style in itself, really it's a flavor you could add to any beer, but there are a few different styles where sourness should be expected if not embraced.  Roughly speaking, those styles are the Berliner-Weisse, Oud Bruin, Flanders Red, Lambic, Gueuze, and American Wild Ales.  I'll try to make a point of writing a review about each one of these styles so you have some concrete examples, but for today I'm drinking an Oud Bruin. 

The Oud Bruin, literally translates as "old brown," due to the aging process they go through, which can be up to a year, but they are also known as Sour Browns or the Flanders Brown. The style originates in the Flemmish area of Belgium known as Flanders.  Over time, the sour beers of Flanders have been divided into two closely related, yet distinct cousins, and it's really impossible to talk about one without mentioning the other.  The Flanders Red is a light bodied ale brewed more towards West Flanders, and is aged for over a year, often in oak barrels.  Blending and aging lends some earthier flavors that help to balance the sharp acidity.  But don't get me wrong, these beers are still extremely sour.  The Rodenbach Brewery in Roeselare embodies the style.  The East Flanders version is the aforementioned the Oud Bruin.  While this ale maintains a similar red color, it has hints of brownish hues that bring its body much closer to medium.  While they age often up to a year, they do not necessarily rely on oak barrels, and the browns are often described as having a "sweet and sour," flavor due to their mixture of acidity and sweet fruit flavors. 

This particular brown is actually aged in oak and brewed with cherries.  After popping the stubborn cork on this one, I'm met with very foamy dark brown beer.  This brown is so dark I can only see the slightest hue of muddy red coming through when I hold it to the light.  I can already smell the acidic aroma, with a slight hint of cherries and a backbone of plums.  

Drinking this beer is an absolute pleasure.  Not only does its flavor match its aroma note for note, but it builds upon it with the back end, which brings on the brett, in othewords, barnyard funk.  I know that a horse blanket doesn't sound mouthwatering, and if you were to distill it and drink it on its own, it probably would be awful. But mixed with the tart front end it makes for a wonderful contrast, introducing a rougher mouthfeel and spiciness.  There's just the slightest hint of vanila and cinammon.  The flavor isn't for everyone, but if you're interested in trying to learn about sour beers, the Oud Bruin should be at the top of your list and this beer on the top of that one.  I got mine at the Wine House on Cotner, but Beverage Warehouse and Bevmo may also have it in stock.

Red Poppy Ale: *****
Price paid: $14.99

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