I love sour beers. And I would love to see more sour beers on New Zealand shelves, but at the moment we’re still in that great heady rush of hoppy ales.
Yet nearly every brewer I’ve talked to about sour beers also exclaims their love of drinking and experimenting with them, and of plans advanced to one stage or another to get one out there for drinkers. But, often, there’s a hint that they know the beer might not find an audience with many drinkers…
Which was one of the great things about X-Ale; brewers able to have a crack at, play with, have some fun with some sour variations, knowing that there’d be drinkers waiting at the other end for the keg they end up producing.
A few weeks ago I’d been out in Upper Hutt visiting Kereru Brewing when Chris Mills, the head pigeon, told me that he’d prepared for X-Ale a sour seaweed ale. I was immediately excited, interested in how the saltiness and sometimes glutinous umami of seaweed might work in a beer, especially a sour beer.
So, it was one of the first ales I went to when finally down in Hashigo Zake, last Saturday.
Initially I was a bit taken aback by the pale cloudiness and lack of obvious ‘sour’ characteristics of what was labelled for the event as ‘Kereru Karengose Seaweed Sour.’ Then it was explained to me that this wasn’t so much a sour beer, but a gose. A quick trip off the Wikipedia to look up the style, and it all made sense.
The cloudiness was explained by the malted wheat, and when I’d reset my taste buds from looking for sourness, I picked up all sorts of zesty, tangy lemon and a bit of snugly funk. And, with each sip, more and more saltiness came through, playing nicely amongst the lemon. Adding all up to a taste that almost smelt a bit like squeezing a bit of fresh lemon over some fried fish on the beach. Very nice indeed.
I swear, by the end of the glass I was imagining a bit of sandy grit between my teeth. I’d love to try this beer on a hot sunny day, on the beach. With aforementioned fried fish.
Later, I turned to the 8 Wired ‘NZ Pilsner re-fermented with Brett.’ I freely admit I’m no expert, but even I’ve heard of Brettanomyces, the acetic acid-producing yeast that’s regarded as a fault amongst many beer styles, but vital to get the sharp sourness of the gueuze and saison styles. It’s a word that makes my ears pick, up.
The beer was clear and pale, with tracing of carbonation. So far so pilsner – not one of my “go too” styles. (And, no, no good photo of it, I’m afraid).
Then, BANG, right from the first sip I realised this would probably be my favourite beer of the day. Incredibly sharp and tangy aroma, lifting up like a nice fresh glass of sauvignon blanc. The first hit in the mouth was very full and sweet, the pilsner base laying down the groundwork for the massive wash of lemon and funky barnyard flavours as the Brett did its thing.
Very very smooth too, which isn’t a characteristic I’d always associate with a pale sour ale. I’d attribute that to the soft, sweet, biscuit-y pilsner lurking underneath.
And it was the aftertaste that really showed this beer’s best qualities. Because that sweet biscuit base and sour lemon zest played off each other perfectly all the way until the next sip. Comparing it to Liberty’s ‘C!tra’ , this was a like a refreshing, zesty lemon crème biscuit compared to C!tra’s heavier, sweeter lemon cheesecake. If you will.
Enjoyed it down to the last sip, and it stayed in my memory fresh and bright as the beer I enjoyed the most of the day. Another I’d love to try on a hot sunny day.
 As mentioned earlier, I love sour beers. Gueuze – perhaps the sourest of them all(?) – is right up my alley.↩
 Not that we have those in Wellington.↩