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Friday, August 13, 2010

Sour Ale + Barbecue

Scouting out superb suds to serve with your smoked meats can be an overwhelming task.  With the incredible rainbow of beers that craft breweries offer all over the world, how can you pick just one or two?

Well, if you have a little bit of cash to spend, sour ales might be your friend.  You might be wondering what sour ale is.  Sounds a little off-putting?  Some of the most complex ales on earth are sour ales, such as Flemish ales, "wild ales," unblended lambics, and lambics blended with fruit.  A majority of their flavor generally comes from wild yeast as a result of spontaneous fermentation.  And yes, they are mouth-puckering and tangy, which makes them the perfect compliment to barbecue with a tangy, sweet sauce, or to the vinegar-basted barbecue of Tennessee and South Carolina.

Many of you have probably seen Lindemann's Framboise around your liquor stores.  This is a raspberry lambic, which is considerably less sour than many other lambics, but possibly the most readily available of the style.  It tastes more like raspberries than raspberries do and has a high price tag, but this is typical of most lambics and other similar styles.  Some consider it the quintessential gateway "girl beer" due to its fruity flavor, red color, and pink foamy head, but it's a valid compliment for any thickly sweet-sauced barbecue.

Petrus is another Belgian brewery whose beers tend to be brewed on the sour side.  These ales are also fairly easy to find in a reputable liquor store or beer store, and generally won't break your wallet as badly as many other similar beers. However, if you want to explore beyond the most mainstream, there's plenty more to look at.

Unblended lambics, such as Cantillon Vigneronne, do not have fruit in them.  They are straight up wild yeast ales, generally brewed with a certain percentage of wheat malt for complexity.  Flavors range from vinous to briney to cider-like to lemony and beyond.  Beers such as these would be a perfect compliment to Carolina style pork barbecue.  Many unblended lambics, such as geuzes, take years to make, as breweries like to brew one batch, age it for a year or two, then blend it with a younger batch.

Flemish ales are among the most complex beers on planet earth, hailing from the Flanders region of Belgium.  Generally, there are two "colors" of these ales; usually we see the red ones, but beers labeled "oud bruin" (or "old brown") are generally in the Flemish ale category as well.  One of our favorites at Sizzle Grove is called Duchesse de Bourgnone.  This crimson red ale is lightly sour and vinous, subdued by a distinctly sweet vanilla + oak + brown sugar flavor.

Most sour ales are not overwhelmingly high in alcohol, so you won't have to worry about your friends driving home after doing a beer and barbecue day.  If you really want to share them, that is.

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