When I went on the Guild-organized junket last week, I managed to score some bonus tasters of beer. We were really there to try new releases that will be unveiled on Thursday as a kick-off to Craft Beer Month--and I'll run those down tomorrow. But you know, adept media can generally wheedle a pour or two of different beer if they ask brightly enough. I tried a couple you ought to go out of your way for, and they are in many ways mirror opposites.
Rock Bottom Koelsch
The first is a kolsch Van Havig has on tap at Rock Bottom now. Kolsches are hard to rave about in the way you rave about other beers with very strong flavors. On a scale of intensity, all aspects are at the low end--hop bitterness, malt richness, yeast character. Yet each makes a definite contribution, and when they are all in perfect harmony, the resulting beer is a triumph of balance and satisfaction. Like me, Van loves a good kolsch, and the one he has on tap now struck me as being pretty close to the mark. The malt is a gentle honey-sweet base, the hops are light and spicy, and the finish is clean, crisp, and just a wee bit tart. A perfect summer beer and perfectly pleasurable.
Van, though, thinks he could do better. He painted a target in the air and arrayed the flavor elements around, just outside the center circle. Each year he makes a kolsch, fiddling with the ingredients, zeroing in. You should go have a pint and see if you can find any faults. (Stats: Cargill Europils, touch of Weyermann Carafoam and acidulated malts; Sterling to bitter, Liberty for aroma, and a kolsch yeast strain; 4.8%.)
New Old Lompoc Sour
On the other end of the spectrum, we have a lovely accident--a batch of Lompoc Strong Draft that was exposed to a few wild yeast residing, unbeknownst to the brewery, inside the wine barrel in which it was aged. Until not too long ago, English old ale was characterized by a similar quality from wild brettanomyces. (Carlsberg first identified brett in English beers in 1903.) This beer tasted more lactic, but the principle is the same--with age, the beer picks up the funk of the barrel. "Old," used in this context, meant beer that had had a chance to turn. Although Lompoc is apparently still calling the beer LSD ("strong" being subbed in by "sour"), I think of it as an old ale revival.
It was one of those very approachable, lush sours that most people will appreciate. It's a pretty hefty beer and still contains some sugars, which mute and draw out the souring. It gets those chocolate/cherry notes that seem to reside halfway between sour and dark malts. It's at the Sidebar, which is a cool little joint I hadn't yet had the chance to visit. Picture in your mind the Fifth Quadrant, which is actually on the Failing side of the corner. Next to it, on the Williams side, is Pix, and then on the other side is the Sidebar. It's a shadowy space that approximates the feel of a wine cellar, ringed on the inside by aging barrels of beer. The air is still and thick with yeast aroma. It's a nice place to try a contemplative pour of rich ale, and so you should stop in for a pour of the sour--possibly after you've had dinner at the neighboring pub.