By: Daniel Marcoux
Sour brews are the fasting growing craft beer style on the market right now, at least that’s what NPR told me on my way to work a month ago. They are refreshing, tangy, unique, difficult to replicate, and have alcohol. What more do you want out of a brew? What I really love about sour ales is the painstaking care that goes into each brew. But how can it be such a delicate process to craft one of these masterpieces if all you’re doing is just throwing in bacteria in the beer? Well citizens, it’s much more than that. Often, these beers are transferred to oak, are aged years upon end, and have several additions of fruits, yeasts, and anything else you might imagine along the way. As homebrewers know, making sour/wild ales is also quite risky; the bacteria and specialty yeasts used in these beers are invasive! The owner of my local homebrew shop once told me that a patron fiddled with making one of these guys, spilt some beer that was fermenting along the way, and his basement was inoculated with sour producing yeast. Every beer he brewed afterwards tasted sour. Proceed with caution.
That being said, one such brewing company that takes the challenge of sour brews head on is Jolly Pumpkin from Dexter, Michigan. I haven’t had a brew from them that lacked a little tang and the majority of beers they release spend some quality time in oak barrels. Their beers also tend to be a bit more complex than just bearing a sour punch, and this beer (Autumn Fire) is one such example. Let’s get into it!
First impression: What’s with the sad lady on the front? Cheer up hun, the beer will remedy any sorrows.
Pour: For being unfiltered, I am genuinely surprised how clear this beer is. However, this is a 750 mL bottle of beer, and I have about two more pours to go – I suspect that the yeast in the bottom will make its way out on pours 2 and 3. The color of the beer is light amber with a fluffy off white head.
Taste: First sip, I got a lot of sour notes upfront with a lot of lactic acidity. It sort of shocked my tastes buds, but on the second go around, it was a different story. The malts in the beer do shine through past the initial sour kick with a bready and caramel sweetness to them. I’m not sure if the label is subconsciously making me think about falling leaves, but the best way I can describe the taste is like going outside on a crisp fall afternoon and smelling the air – this is where I think the spices in the beer (mostly nutmeg and a pinch of cinnamon) poke through. The beer itself is not sour per sé, but it has a tart kick throughout it with continual funkiness from start to finish (barnyard, hay – the usual suspects in wild beers). The finish on this brew is dry, dry, dry. The aftertaste leaves you wanting to dive back in to satisfy the thirst this beer creates. There is also a definite bitterness on the sides after you swallow, but the taste of the brew itself is not bitter at all; I think the bitterness comes from the tannins in the wood and perhaps from the chestnuts used during the brewing process.
Final Impression: For a fall seasonal, I think Jolly Pumpkin nailed this. It truly reminds me of the tastes and smells of the northern U.S. fall season. The only gripe I have with the brew is its finish. It could be a little more rounded – some of the sweet breadyness of the malt would have been a nice contrast to the dryness of the oak. The amount of tartness is what you would expect out of any Jolly Pumpkin brew, and I really enjoy it.