Camp Beer is a beer tasting class, usually devoted to a certain style, put on by Live It Big, the charity incubator, to raise money for the various charities they support. These events are limited to 60 people and always sell out in a few hours. The first Camp Beer of 2012 drew an interesting crowd, about half were “regular” attendees and the other half were attending their first camp beer. This was a bit surprising to me, as sours aren’t every beer drinkers favorite style. They are an acquired taste in my opinion, and run the gamut from slightly tart to mouth puckering in flavor. One woman in attendance had never even tried a sour, brave soul! Sour isn’t technically a category/style either, there are several styles that get lumped into that umbrella term. There are Flanders Reds, Oud Bruins, American Wild Ales, Lambics, and Gueuzes, for starters. Host of Camp Beer Kevin Floyd, of Hay Merchant and Anvil Bar & Refuge, even said that sours are the only style that can have a terroir, because of the process of how yeast and bacteria are developed for these beers, specific to a brewery.
This camp beer featured 12 beers, smaller than the usual 20 or so, but having more than 12 sours would bring on palate fatigue and probably “sour belly” for some people. I am fortunate that I have had all but one or two of these previously, so I knew what I was getting into, and most of this group of beers are on the more mild side of the sour spectrum. The beers were divided up into 3 rounds of 4 beers each, with breaks in between. Round one:
Jolly Pumpkin Luciérnaga (The Firefly) | Belgian Pale Ale | 6.5% ABV
This beer, brewed in the Grand Cru tradition, features coriander and grains of paradise. It’s aroma gives you the sense that it will be tart, but that is the funky yeast smell which also dominates the flavor. Not sour at all, but dry and yeasty.
Crooked Stave Wild Wild Brett Orange (WWBO) | American Wild Ale | 6% ABV
Last year during GABF, we took a trip to Fort Collins to visit some of the local breweries, and Crooked Stave, who shares a facility with Funkwerks, was one of them. We tried both the WWBO and the Wild Wild Brett Rouge (WWBR, the next beer) while there, and while not quite tart enough for me, both lovely beers. The WWBO has a great funky brett and citrus aroma. The mouthfeel is dry and has a great slightly funky and citrus flavor. It is a light -bodied and refreshing beer. The citrus flavors come from oranges and coriander, great for the summer if you want something a little different than your standard poolside beer.
Crooked Stave Wild Wild Brett Rouge (WWBR) | American Wild Ale | 5.2% ABV
WWBR is brewed with Hawthorne berries, rose hips and hibiscus, giving the aroma a great floral note to go with the funky brettanomyces. It was a too carbonated for my tastes and very dry. The WWBR is less tart than the Orange, but the floral and citrus flavors combined with the earthy Brettanomyces is a great combination.
Odell Friek | American Wild Ale | 6.5% ABV
Friek, a little play on the word Kriek ( lambic style beer made with cherries), is a combination of the framboise and kriek styles, where it is fermented with cherries, aged in oak barrels, and finally, before the last blend, local raspberries are added. This beer has great cherry and raspberry flavors without being cloyingly sweet. It was a little dry and made your jowls pucker ever so slightly.
After a nice “break beer’, the Gingerbread Stout from Buffalo Bayou Brewing- the newest guys on the block, we started round 2.
Jolly Pumpkin La Roja | American Wild Ale | 7.2% ABV
La Roja is brewed in the Flanders style, barrel aged and then it is blended from barrels that are anywhere from 2 to 10 months old. It is also unpasteurized and unfiltered. The aroma is acidic, slightly fruity and has earthy yeast and oak notes as well. The taste combines everything in the aroma and has a slightly sweet flavor as well. The acidity is nicely balanced with the sweet and earthy flavors.
Jolly Pumpkin Bam Noire | Saison | 4.3% ABV
Bam Noire was the darkest, most full-bodied Jolly pumpkin at the tasting, but not my favorite. It was very dry, and some of the nuanced flavors purported to be present seemed muddled to me, though acidity and a bit of fruity sourness was present, that’s about all I got.
Crooked Stave Pure Guava Petite Sour | American Wild Ale | 4.5% ABV
After the room got a whiff of this beer, the sound of everyone simultaneously puring the beer out into their buckets seemed to fill the room. Scaredy cats! Admittedly the aroma of funky, stinky cheese (some likened it to vomit) probably turns most people off of drinking anything, much less a beer, I soldiered through it. Bacteria and yeasts do whatever they please in a beer and sometimes it creates a really off-putting aroma. The beer is very light-bodied and a little dry. I did not taste any guava, but I’m sure it was the funk of the brettanomyces taking over everything in that beer. It is brewed with wheat and oats and also has coriander and sumac spices, but that all seemed to be lost.
The Bruery Saison Rue | Saison | 8.5% ABV
The aroma on this beer is dominated by rye and spices, it has a dry mouthfeel and spiced flavor. There is a hint of some fruit and sweetness, but that is quickly taken over by some bitterness on the end. No acidity or tartness to be found, though it is a good example of the breadth of the sasion/farmhouse category. This is probably my least favorite beer from the Bruery, which is relative because everything I’ve had from them is fantastic. The Hottenroth Berliner Weisse would have been a great addition to this tasting.
We had another break with another stout, that I don’t remember, but it helped cleanse the palate for the final round!
Rodenbach Grand Cru | Flanders Red Ale | 6% ABV
This Flanders was the only beer in the line-up that wasn’t American made. The aroma is full of vinegar and a certain sweetness from some dark fruits. The taste is very acidic, mouth puckering- probably the most sour beer of the day. It is also slightly sweet and full-bodied. I’ve had this several times and continue to notice different nuances beside the sourness each time; I think my palate is used to the sour now and it isn’t a shock every time I take a sip.
Telegraph Reserve Wheat Ale | Berliner Weissbier | 5% ABV
I really liked this one, it was pretty different from the rest of the line-up. While technically a Berliner weisse, it is brewed with wheat and they add lemon verbena, lactobacillus, and brettanomyces. This gave the taste a yogurt and tart flavor that was dry on the tongue and very light-bodied.
Russian River Supplication | American Wilde Ale | 7% ABV
Russian River’s sours are as highly regarded as their famed IPA- Pliny the Elder. Supplication is aged in Pinot Noir barrels with cherries added in. The aroma is very acidic and you get hints of the cherries and oak. This beer isn’t for the faint of heart, your mouth will pucker (I love it!). You can taste the cherries without it being sweet and it is very dry on the finish.
Russian River Consecration | American Wild Ale | 10% ABV
Consecration is a bit more tame than Supplication in my opinion, though it is more full-bodied and sweeter, almost sticky. The sweetness in the aroma and taste come from black currants they add in before aging it. They also add brettanomyces, lactobacillus, and pediococcus to each Cabernet barrel before it sits. Don’t get me wrong, it is quite sour- just not as much as Supplication.
Once again, another excellent Camp Beer! In June camp beer will feature ciders and other refreshing summer beers, I personally hope to see some Berliner Weisses! Then, in September we will see Stoutapalooza again, and to round out the year Cathy hopes to put together a special all Cantillon tasting for December. Also, mark your calendars- Houston Beer week will be November 10-17th!