We all know those who call themselves “wine people” or “beer people.” But what many do not know is that there are crossover beverages that will have palate appeal for even the most hard-core among them. For many wine drinkers, beer bliss can be found in the sour beer styles of Germany and Belgium.
Goose Island’s Sofie is a Belgian-style Saison that is aged in white wine barrels. The barrels lend the beer a soft vinous character with subtle vanilla and black pepper. Fresh orange zest added to each barrel provides citrusy highlights. A special strain of yeast called brettanomyces gives Sofie earthy and hay-like notes sometimes referred to as “barnyard.” Sofie’s refreshing profile is given a lively kick by Champagne-like bubbles. It would be right at home in a flute. This beer is great with fresh seafood.
Another good choice for white wine drinkers is Berliner weisse. Napoleon called this sparkling wheat beer the “Champagne of the north.” That moniker couldn’t be more appropriate. Berliner weisse is light and spritzy with a zippy lactic acidity. It’s a beautiful beer as is, but in Germany it’s often consumed with a shot of sweet raspberry or woodruff syrup. Berliner weisse is a perfect accompaniment to vinaigrette salads and lighter cheeses such as chèvre or brie. Or try it with a plate of salty French fries.
August Schell Brewing Co. in New Ulm released its own version of Berliner weisse last month called Star of the North, the first in a new limited-release series called the Noble Star Collection. Star of the North was fermented in a refurbished, poplar-wood tank first installed in the brewery’s cellars in the 1930s. Acidity leads the way in this cider-like beer, bringing bright notes of lemon and green apple. Crackery wheat provides a comfy cushion, while brettanomyces gives an earthy undertone. Schell has produced only a small amount of Star of the North. Pick up a bottle soon or you’ll likely miss out.
Pour Decisions Brewing Co. in Roseville has a wine-barrel-aged version of the style called Verity. This one enters with fresh-cut lemons and exits on notes of leather and earth. Your tongue is treated to a complex blend of green apples, pears and vanilla on a bed of fresh bread. A bone-dry finish and effervescent carbonation make it a real refresher. Verity was released in 750 ml bottles this week and is only available at the brewery’s taproom at 1744 Terrace Drive in Roseville.
For those who prefer red wine, you can’t miss with the sour red and brown ales from the Flanders region of Belgium. After an initial fermentation with brewer’s yeast, these beers are aged for up to two years in oak vessels, where they undergo a process of acidification by a menagerie of micro flora. The result is dusky, sweet/sour brews that have the character of dark cherries soaked in good balsamic vinegar. They are infinitely complex beers that change with every sip. Flanders reds and browns pair well with a wide variety of foods from shellfish and eggs Benedict to gamey meats.
In the red ale category, the benchmark for the style is Rodenbach Grand Cru. This must-try beer from Belgium delivers the characteristic cherries and balsamic vinegar accompanied by vanilla and oaky tannins. It’s vinous and tart, but with enough residual malt to keep it balanced and beer-like.
My favorite in the style is Cuvee des Jacobins Rouge. It leans more to the sour side than Rodenbach, but the acidity is smooth and pleasant. The tartness blends with a complex mix of background barnyard flavors and an explosion of fruits such as currants, cherries and cranberries. It finishes dry and tart with just a touch of lingering malt sweetness.
Flanders brown ales, or oud bruins as they are called, are less acidic and have a maltier backbone than their red cousins. In this style try Liefmans Goudenband. The balsamic-soaked cherries are there, balanced by malty sweetness and raisiny dark-fruit flavors.
Michael Agnew is a certified cicerone (beer-world version of sommelier) and owner of A Perfect Pint. He conducts private and corporate beer tasting events in the Twin Cities, and can be reached at email@example.com.