This Month in Tasting Blind: Rating Sour Beers
After we recently offered up a sour beer primer, we decided the category was ripe for our recurring blind beer taste test. This month's panel was treated to sour beer styles from the United States, Belgium, and Italy. For a genre that generates descriptors that run the gamut from "sour cherry pie" to "cat piss" and "horse blanket," we expected a wide range of scores.
Jason Henry Our sour beer lineup.
We were right: Out of a possible 140 points, the beers ranged from a solid 110 to a measly 32. Each of our seven judges rated out of a possible 20 points: five for aroma, 10 for taste, and five for overall impression. To avoid a groupthink effect, no impressions were discussed until after the scores were in, but grunts, groans, oohs, aahs, and puckered facial expressions were difficult to ignore.
A special thank you to our brave panelists, who all needed Tums after this acidic showdown: Neil Davidson and Eric Denman of Mission Gastroclub, Morgan Woolley of Morgan's Menu and vendor of Hawaiian fare at New Taste Marketplace, and sourheads Chris Madore, James Henry, and Michelle Paulson. The puckering results from high to low:
Russian River Supplication, 110 points: Vinnie Cilurzo of Santa Rosa's Russian River Brewing has become the Pied Piper of American "wild ales." The brewery has converted countless drinkers to the sour side. The local operation ran away with this competition, as panelists noted the "perfect blend of sour cherry, oak, and funk," and likened the experience to "swimming in a sour cherry juice lagoon."
Russian River Temptation, 106 points: A one-two punch victory for the home team! The judges enjoyed the beer's pineapple aroma and dubbed this the "most complex" of the bunch.
Rodenbach Grand Cru, 90 points: Panelists agreed that this is an accessible, classic Flanders Red-style sour beer characterized by moderate sourness and maraschino cherry flavor with a touch of caramel.
Petrus Aged Pale, 75 points: Don't let the name fool you; this isn't a hoppy "pale ale." This tart thirst-quencher had hints of white wine grapes and was repeatedly referred to as "pleasant."
Panil Barriquee, 71 points: At the halfway point in our tasting, the tides have turned. Panelists start to linger on off-flavors and flaws. While judges noted a pleasant sourness, there were mentions of "rusty nails" and "sour Robitussin."
Liefman's Goudenband, 67 points: Disappointed by a lack of sourness, panelists homed in on flavors of artificial sweetener and cotton candy.
De Proef Reinaert Flemish Wild Ale, 62 points: Many found this brew reminiscent of a cider with a touch of "barnyard funk."
Monk's Café, 51 points: Panelists described this as a "stick of butter in cherry sauce," and a "cardboard box of molding roses and caramel." 'Nuff said.
Hermitage Flemish Style Sour Ale, 32 points: Unfortunately, our panelists had trouble finding a silver lining. One judge wondered if this had even been fermented, while others noted that it tasted like Big League Chew. Hopefully the next batch will be better.