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Dec 27, 2013 10:40 PM

Your thoughts on "Sour Ale" ?

I'm at a local well-stocked beer shoppe a couple months ago and a clerk is saying he's developed a taste for "sour ale". I leave mildly intrigued and on a recent buying run I ask him for some recommendations.... leaving with "Monk's Cafe Flemish Sour Ale", "Aud (or oud?) Bruin", and "Silly Sour"....

They didn't cost much so I dispensed with a quick lookup on my ratebeer app... get in the car and find only the Aud Bruin has a rating above 50%, so I'm not expecting anything....

So tried the Aud Bruin and it's interesting.... from the name "sour" I was expecting something really bitter or even disgusting, but instead it's more like "dry".... frankly akin to a dry american pale ale, only with a creamier smoother texture... wasn't crazy about it but might even buy one again...

So tonight I'm trying this Monk's Care and it's really interesting...has some distinctive fruity notes of cherry (maybe semi-sour cherry)...

I'm liking what I've tried so far and looking forward to some really good examples of this category in the near future.

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  1. It's Oud, not Aud. It should be easy to remember because it means Old.

    I don't know any of the American copies, but why not try one of the originals? Rodenbach Grand Cru is probably available there and is very good. Liefmans makes a beer called Goudenband that is also very good.

    34 Replies
    1. re: ThomasvanDale

      The originals are great. Duchesse de Bourgogne is another nice one.

      Americans aren't just making "copies". They are doing original work.

      Then you have a Belgian brewer making this in Colorado:

      1. re: Jim Dorsch

        I think Duchesse is tough to beat at the price point and level of availability.

        My husband's favorite sour is actually La Folie. It's much better than the rest of their swill dictates.

        The Bruery's Oude Tart is a solid example- loads of red fruit and puckery goodness.

        We were recently underwhelmed with the Anchorage-Mikkeler collab ('Alive'): all brett and not much else. Skip this one.

        1. re: Green_Shartreuse

          I wouldn't call the rest of the New Belgium products "swill".

          In my area Monk's costs a good bit less than Duchesse.

          1. re: Jim Dorsch

            We'll agree to disagree.

            Monk's isn't as available in my area.

            1. re: Green_Shartreuse

              I'm not a big fan of NB beers I've tried but I typically reserve "swill" for the Gansett, PBR, and Genny level brews.

              Nevertheless, I'll have to give La Folie a shot.

              Has anyone tried The Bruery's Rueuze?

              1. re: Beachowolfe

                I haven't, though I love their Tart of Darkness, if you haven't tried it. It's classified as a wild, but it's quite sour.

      2. re: ThomasvanDale

        They're not copies. Monk's Cafe is brewed in Belgium by Van Steenburge. Silly is also from Belgium, from Brasserie de Silly.

        1. re: Josh

          Are you saying that Silly sells a Flemish sour in the US? That would be quite extraordinary as they are not located in Flanders, which is the traditional home for these beers.

          And, Van Steenberge does not sell a sour beer in Belgium (they are located in Flanders, but not in the sour ale region).

          When I said "copies", I didn't mean in the sense of fake, but in the sense of using the name and characteristics of a more famous product to add some marketing strength to their own products. I certainly won't call them "original" however.

            1. re: Jim Dorsch

              Yes. But it is apparently produced exclusively for export:

              I suspect that quite a number of the European beers sold in the US are made exclusively for that market. I've heard, for example, that one of the Munich breweries darkens their Oktoberfest beer for the US.

              1. re: ThomasvanDale

                I expect you are correct. I suspect we see more amber Oktoberfest beers in the US than you'd see in Munich. I also suspect that a lot of Belgian IPAs and such have been produced at the behest of an American importer.

                1. re: Jim Dorsch

                  I buy Oktoberfest beers in bottles locally and I've never seen one that wasn't golden blonde.

                  Belgium has a population of 11 million and 161 breweries and geuze blenders. Among posh Belgians, wine is the drink. The situation is not much different throughout Europe - many breweries have excess capacity. Although, I suspect Heineken and InBev don't have that problem.

                  I think also there is more than an ocean of difference between the beers here and there and the tastes of people. A Dutch brewer who I am friendly with got a bottle of one of the American "geek" beers. Maybe Russian River. All I remember is the beer had "angel" in the name.

                  He opened the bottle, poured us each a half glass and we each took a sip. Together, we then spit it out on the floor. It was truely dreadful.

                  But, over there, it's apparently considered high quality.

                  1. re: ThomasvanDale

                    Lost Abbey's Angel Share? Do you remember what style of beer that it was or supposed to be?

                    1. re: RB Hound

                      I would guess for sure it's Angel's Share. Lost Abbey had enough of an issue with QC that I simply stopped buying their beer years ago. I bought half a case of Angel's Share that was horribly infected and tasted like sour milk.

                      To be fair I did recently have Judgment Day on draught and it was quite good. Maybe they've gotten their consistency issues worked out.

                      1. re: Josh

                        Yeah - that's where I was going with this, Josh. I remember reports of infected Angel's Share last year, and wonder if Thomas got one of those bottles.

                        1. re: RB Hound

                          Wow, again? So glad I haven't wasted any more money on those. You'd think they'd have learned their lesson.

                      2. re: RB Hound

                        I think that is correct. No, I have no idea what type of beer it was supposed to be. This happened about 4-5 years ago, so I cannot be 100% certain, but possibly it was so sweet that it was undrinkable (to us).

                        Since my companion was a brewer, if it had been infected or defective, I would expect he would have said something.

                        1. re: ThomasvanDale

                          Even with all of their categories, Beer Advocate calls Angel's Share a "strong ale". I doubt it was infected - it is a strong, boozy sugar bomb, and that certainly is not everybody's style.

                          1. re: RB Hound

                            I think you have pointed out the correct problem. For someone who samples this for the first time, it is quite a shocking and unpleasant experience.

                            1. re: RB Hound

                              The infected bottles I had were about 6-7 years ago, so it sounds like Thomas had one from a non-infected batch. To the original point of this thread, though, Angel's Share isn't meant to be a Belgian-style beer, nor is it sour. Lost Abbey, for all the grief I've given over Angel's Share, does make a pretty good gueuze, though it's very hard to come by. Still not the equal of Oud Beersel or Hanssen's Artisinaal IMO.

                        2. re: ThomasvanDale

                          I'm having trouble finding where the Silly website says that their sour is sold exclusively in the US. (actually having trouble finding any reference to the sour at all). That said, it's not "quite extraordinary" that said brewery would produce a sour when not located in the Flemish region... they also produce a barrel aged scotch ale and a pilsener.

                          I truly love the Belgian sours including Rodenbach, Duchesse, Jacobins, Monk's, etc. However, the US producers aren't cashing in on either "name or characteristics" of "more famous" beers. First off, Rodenbach Grand Cru and Monk's Cafe aren't exactly famous in the US and second, the US brewers are doing new, sometimes better, things based on the same brewing, aging, and blending techniques. Trying the originals is certainly one route to take however, one might consider "why not drink local?" or "why not try something more interesting and multi-dimensional?"

                          The fact that one (or several) German macro brewers has added caramel color to their exported Oktoberfest(s) is not evidence that many European brewers produce beer exclusively for what you've implied are unsophisticated American palates.

                          Which brings up the final point- your most recent comment reeks of European elitism. What seemed to be the problem with the American "geek" beer? Possibly a hoppy IPA? Maybe it was poorly care for and had turned? What did it taste like? Are you truly unable remember the name of the beer that you literally had to spit onto the floor. (I don't think RR has any "angel" beers). Your anecdote, while amusing and important in reinforcing your elitist position, is useless without these details.

                          1. re: Beachowolfe

                            I doubt that Oktoberfest beers are colored with caramel, at least not the ones from Munich breweries (which technically are the only authentic Oktoberfest beers). More likely they are shipping traditional Maerzen beer that complies with the Reinheitsgebot.

                            1. re: Jim Dorsch

                              Märzen is not a specific color of beer. They are golden blonde and also very dark ones. How are the bottles labelled in the US? Märzen or Oktoberfest?

                              1. re: ThomasvanDale

                                I believe most are labeled Oktoberfest, although last time I looked Spaten was Ur-Maerzen, but it also said Oktoberfest.

                                In the US "Oktoberfest" is a pretty loosely used term, sort of like the "Champagne" means any sparkling wine to a lot of people. See the attached photo, for example.

                                1. re: Jim Dorsch

                                  Thanks. Erdinger doen't list either Oktoberfest or Märzen on their website as one of their products. However, the German wikipedia article does list a Festweiße as one of their standard products, so perhaps that is it.
                                  Take a look here:
                                  This is perhaps from where the Germans got the idea that Americans expect a darker Oktoberfest beer.

                            2. re: Beachowolfe

                              Because someone has a different point of view does not automatically make them "elitist." I never suggested anywhere that export-only beers rely on "unsophisticated" American palates - that is your own conclusion.

                              The fact that Silly sour is not shown on their website is evidence that it is not sold locally. Secondly, Scotch ales and pilseners are not necessarily beers tied to a specific location. Scotch ales are quite popular in Belgium and quite a few breweries make them. I seem to recall that a Scotch brewery many years ago opened a facility in Beligum.

                              As I thought I had made quite clear in the post you are finding fault with: I said tastes are different. American breweries undoubtedly brew beers for American consumers. The fact that so few American beers are exported is additional proof of the point.

                            3. re: ThomasvanDale

                              Monk's Cafe, though brewed by Van Steenberge, does seem to be brewed specifically for a bar of the same name in Philly.

                              1. re: Beachowolfe

                                It's brewed for Monk's in Philly, but also sold at wholesale to other establishments. We can buy this beer in Virginia, for example.

                              2. re: ThomasvanDale

                                I understand that Oktoberfest beer has evolved into what I believe is called Wiesen (which looks an awful lot like Weisse, but isn't), a golden lager beer.

                                Some of these are sold in the US. Hofbrau, for example. Others are the traditional Oktoberfest/Maerzen beer.

                                I can't address your issue with American beer, of course, but I do suspect that Europeans (Belgians, at least) typically look for more nuance and balance.

                                I have been to dinner with Belgian brewers, and even they drink wine with dinner.

                                1. re: ThomasvanDale

                                  Most likely it was Angel's Share, Russian River has no beers with Angel in the name and I guarantee they make nothing you'd spit out. Lost Abbey, on the other hand...

                                  1. re: Josh

                                    Think about how repulsive a beer would need to be to make you actually, LITERALLY, spit it out on the floor.

                                    That sounds to me like a mishandling issue rather than a difference in taste issue.

                                    1. re: Beachowolfe

                                      The infected Angel's Share I opened was literally that repulsive. It geysered like you wouldn't believe, and the taste was like spoiled milk. Immediately spat it out into the sink.

                          2. re: ThomasvanDale

                            Tried the Silly Sour the other day. Probably my least favorite of those I've sampled. As another poster called this style "vinegary"... that applies.

                            Definitely have fondest recollection of Cafe Monk's Flemish Sour... but looking forward to trying "better" ones.

                            1. re: TombstoneShadow

                              Yeah, that's why the Flanders red is a style I generally avoid. Duchesse, Rodenbach, etc. They all are heavy on the acetic acid vs. lactic. Berliner weisse, gueuze, and the sours from Jolly Pumpkin and Russian River are more in the lactic vein.

                      3. Monk's is one of my favorites. Cafe Bruges in our town has it on tap which is interesting as the actual cafe seems to only serve the bottles. I try to keep it stocked in my house but it is costly since I have to buy it by the case in PA.

                        Recently tries Rodenbach and it was also very good. Sour ale just seems to be my "thing" when it comes to beer. I have tried some others too. I love the vinegary notes.

                        1. Quite a few American craft breweries are producing sour ales of various types. Jolly Pumpkin and Crooked Stave are two of the best, with almost all (if not all) of their production devoted to sours. Others who have achieved recognition in this area include Russian River, Allagash and Jester King.

                          In my home state of North Carolina, several breweries have released limited editions of sour beers, as well.

                          It is a trend that is gaining popularity and I would guess that wherever you are located, you should be able to find some American produced sours if you make a concerted effort to find them.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: brentk

                            Good recs from brentk here. Jolly Pumpkin's Oro de Calabaza is one of my favorites.

                            You might also look for beers from Prairie Artisan Ales. Puncheon is a really nice sour from them.

                            The traditional Belgian sours are typically either the Flanders Red (Rodenbach, Duchess, Monk's) which have a more acetic acid sourness (vinegary), vs. the wild-fermented lambics and gueuzes which are more lactic-acid based. The flavor difference is pretty distinct.

                            Since you bought Flanders red styles this time, next time you should try some gueuze. If you can find Oud Beersel, Drei Fonteinen, or Cantillon (good luck on that one) you should give them a try. Another good one in this vein is Petrus Aged Pale Ale. That's a great gateway sour.

                            1. re: Josh

                              I also had Petrus somewhere in the mix recently... liked it.

                            2. re: brentk

                              Russian River sours are excellent. Looking forward to a bottle if Beatification this evening.

                              1. re: JAB

                                Russian River makes some great sours, but I think they're starting to be challenged on several fronts. I guess that's always the way it is, though, when you're a pioneer.

                                1. re: Josh

                                  Nothing wrong with that. Pliny this and Pliny that but, their sours...

                            3. I'll toss out Cuvee de Jacobins as another flanders style worth a try.I like the Duchesse but it can be a little sweet sometimes.

                              Cascade's The Vine, Russian River Supplication, couple decent ones out of the Bruery as well (Tart of Darkness, Sour in Rye).

                              Sour is the new hops.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: Beachowolfe

                                Cascade is basically a "sour brewer". Most of their stuff is good- kriek, Sang Noir, etc.

                                1. re: Beachowolfe

                                  My experience w/ Cascade has been pretty mixed. I think they release their bottles too young. Many I've tried have that weird, almost metallic, chewable vitamin tablet flavor going on, which I've noticed pretty often with young sours in the Flanders red (i.e. acetic acid) vein. It seems to disappear with age, though. I had a Cascade Apricot I opened after a year of aging and it was amazing.

                                  1. re: Josh

                                    I've only had their beers at their place on tap in Portland. Some are better than others but it sure is a fun experience trying them all together. I consider it a must stop in that town and always recommend it. I think it's cool that they are a committed sour brewer.

                                  2. re: Beachowolfe

                                    Thanks, I'll have to look for Cuvee de Jacobins.

                                    "Sour is the new hops." ... Well said!

                                  3. Petrus makes an awesome sour ale.