Souring on beer

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REMEMBER when “sour beer” was a bad thing?

These days, it’s a bona fide, mouth-puckering trend, and nowhere in Philly is it celebrated more earnestly than at the annual Sourfest, at Devil’s Den (11th and Ellsworth, South Philly).

The event, now it its fourth year, launches Saturday, when 16 tap lines begin spewing the sour stuff. Over the next seven days, at least 50 sours will pour from taps and bottles.

Now, if you’re thinking, “Why would anyone want to drink flat, week-old Yuengling Lager?” think again. Sour beer is made that way on purpose, typically with so-called “wild” yeast strains or bacteria.

And, no, it doesn’t taste yucky. At its best, sour beer is both thirst-quenching and remarkably complex, with tart, often-fruity flavors. If you have a wine snob in the family, this is the style that will have them giving up their Chablis.

Once produced by just a handful of Belgian and German breweries, sour beer is now the darling of American craft brewing. Russian River and The Bruery, in California; Cascade, in Oregon; and Jolly Pumpkin, from Michigan, are turning out exotic sours.

Surprisingly, some of the new locals – including Pennsylvania’s Round Guys and Free Will, and New Jersey’s Carton – have begun producing them, too.

Here’s a few to look for at Sourfest:

  • Carton Digger Gose, brewed with littleneck clams.
  • Bullfrog Coq Fight, a sour beer for hop heads.
  • Free Will Napoleon, a saison made from a sour mash.
  • Round Guys Saison du Pomme, a saison aged in apple brandy barrels.
  • Oxbow Sasuga Saison, made with rice and fermented with Brettanomyces yeast.
  • Russian River Supplication, an exceptional ale fermented with Brett, lactobacillus and pediococcus, aged on sour cherries in pinot noir barrels.

Change for the better

Later this month, America will mark the 50th anniversary of the Great March on Washington, the seminal civil-rights rally highlighted by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Did you know that the D.C. city government fearfully banned the sale of alcohol and closed bars and package stores for two days during the rally?

A half-century later, the locals are celebrating D.C. Beer Week. And one of the town’s leading breweries is called Chocolate City (a nod to the city’s longtime nickname).

The brewery’s ownership, by the way, is multiracial.

Not sure if there’s any grand lesson here other than that it’s another sign of how much things have changed for the better in just a generation or so.

Beer and ‘Blood’

Flying Dog is yipping about getting a mention on HBO’s “True Blood” this week. Seems Raging Bitch was one of Terry Bellefleur’s favorites.

There must be some craft-beer lovers behind that show, judging from the array of brands that pour at both Merlotte’s (Abita Turbodog) and the now-shuttered Fangtasia (Stone, Fuller’s).

Sigh . . . You know you’re a real beer geek when it’s the tap handles that grab your attention and not those steamy Sookie Stackhouse sex scenes.

Beyond Coors at the Shore

The summer of 2013 might be remembered as the year that beer finally grew up down the Shore. It’s not just all Corona and Coors anymore.

Tuckahoe Brewing, in Cape May County, seems to be hitting a nice stride in local bars. Cape May Brewing’s taproom, in West Cape May, is my new favorite growler stop before hitting the beach. Meanwhile, North Jersey newcomers Kane and Carton are making inroads to the south.

As for bars, it’s still a slow slog, as most continue to cater to quantity over quality.

But there are exceptions, including Atlantic City’s Vagabond Kitchen & Tap House, and Firewaters, at the Tropicana. Further down Ocean Drive, there are very good spigots at the Whitebrier, in Avalon; Goodnight Irene’s, in Wildwood; and Fitzpatrick’s Crest Tavern, in Wildwood Crest. The Revel casino’s Mussel Bar & Grille is pricey, as you’d expect, but the selection of Belgians is superb.

Even unexpected locations are now doing beer dinners.

Atlantic City Country Club has a fun beer sampling on Aug. 22, in which it’ll pair brews from New Jersey Beer Co. with menu items inspired by ballpark fare. I’m not talking hot dogs and Bud – think Petco Park’s shrimp tacos with pale ale, or Minute Maid Park’s brisket and IPA.

Pumpkin already?

Yes, it’s only August, but the pumpkin harvest is already upon us. In addition to the usual favorites (Southern Tier Imperial Pumking, Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale), keep an eye for these newbies:

  • New Belgium Pumpkick, made with pumpkin spices, plus cranberries and lemongrass. (Available in Maryland).
  • Timmermans Pumpkin Lambicus, a spontaneously fermented pumpkin ale from Belgium made its limited debut last year.
  • Chatoe Rogue Pumpkin Patch Ale, made with gourds from Rogue’s own Oregon farm. (Available in October.)
  • Harpoon Imperial Pumpkin, a strong (10.5 percent alcohol) pumpkin stout. (Harpoon also makes Pumpkin Cider.)
  • Anderson Valley Fall Hornin‘, coming in cans and bottles.
  • Elysian Hansel & Gretel Ginger Pumpkin Pilsner, one of three Halloween beers from the Seattle brewery, with Dark o’ the Moon Pumpkin Stout and The Great Pumpkin.


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