By Julia Burke, Beer Editor
Buffalo's Community Beer Works received its TTB approval this month, taking the fledgling brewery one step closer to legit beerdom. Brewer and founder/owner Rudy Watkins was kind enough to send some prototype suds my way -- technically homebrews for now, but previews of the recipes to be brewed when CBW finally opens later this year.
One of the hottest nights of the summer seemed perfect for cracking a sexy sour, and knowing Watkins to be as passionate about sours as I am, I had a feeling I'd be in for a sensory treat.
Watkins explained that the method he used to make this sour is "only used with lambics, because it's insane." It starts with what's known as a turbid mash, which requires five specific temperatures and takes upwards of three hours, followed by a four-hour boil. It's a style attempted by brewers with a flair for the "mad scientist" idiom, and "insane" is an apt term for the grueling process.
Made with a blend of pilsner malt and un-malted wheat, it's light-bodied enough to let the yeast character take center stage. And this brew is a Serengeti Plain of wildlife. Watkins explains, "I pitched an amazing blend of microorganisms which I got from a microbioligist who recently started his own yeast company, East Coast Yeast." The menagerie is a who's who of celebrity yeasts: Brettanomyces from Drie Fontenein Oude Gueuze, Fantome Black Ghost, Russian River Beatification, Allagash Confluence, and Cantillon St. Lamvinus; Pediococcus from Cantillon St. Lamvinus and Rodenbach Foederbier; and strains from Saison Dupont and New Belgium La Folie, as well as sourdough and kombucha yeast.
Each of these yeasts contributes a unique flavor profile that can't entirely be predicted; the beauty of this style is the element of the unknown. The brewer literally sits back and waits for over a year or longer waiting for what's essentially a terrarium of microbial life to develop. "I let the bugs have their way for sixteen months or so," Watkins says.
Last night, I got to taste the result.
Poured into a goblet, this sour shows gorgeous tiny bubbles with little head or lacing and a color that evokes biting into a grapefruit while watching the sun set on the beach. The nose screams the style: sweaty, musky sour yeast, intense apple cider, tart grape peel, lemon -- the resemblance to a good Riesling made with deliberate controlled oxidation/skin contact is unmistakeable; the blurring of beer/wine lines is an art form here.
It smells like what would happen if you gave 2009 Finger Lakes riesling grapes to Movia winemaker Ales Kristancic.
The palate matches. The first sip curb-checks the tongue, a brush fire of acid and cidery tart fruit character through the mid-palate to the long finish. A really beautiful yeast profile begins to open up as the beer warms, with slightly spicy floral notes--I thought of nasturtium and poblano. Currant and gooseberry are the last to ring out on the palate; I would love to experience this with a triple cream French cheese or lardo.
Sour lovers, take note. If this is what the soon-to-be nanobrewery is packing already, they're off to a hell of a start.