A trip to Philly sets in motion my seemingly inevitable souring on beer…

Towards the end of last winter I was in Philadelphia for a family wedding. Having never been, I scoured BeerAdvocate and Ratebeer for a good spot to try a few beers that aren’t available in Massachusetts. If you’ve ever been or are lucky enough to be from the area, you won’t be the least bit surprised that I ended up at Monk’s Cafe. The draft and bottle list was on par with any I’ve seen and I was able to sample a couple of IPAs from local brewers, Victory beers that don’t make it to Massachusetts, and one of my all-time favorites, Mongo from Port Brewing/The Lost Abbey. So how did this seemingly blissful hoppy experience sour me on beer? For the answer, we have to fast forward to last Sunday at Western Mass’ slightly superior, vaguely secret craft oasis the Moan and Dove in Amherst.

It all started innocently enough, a fantastic glass of Wormtown’s Be Hoppy a Baxter Brewing Stowaway IPA… good times. And then it happened. I noticed on the board there was a beer called Monk’s Cafe. I inquired of the barkeep, what is this beer and is it from Philly? The answers to both led me to immediately order a pint. It’s a sour beer, a Flemish Sour Red Ale brewed for Monk’s Cafe in Philly by a very well know Belgian Brewery Brouwerij Van Steenberge. I enjoyed it a lot. Having to this point avoided the building craze over the buzz words Sour, Wild and Brett, I now was getting a  sense of what all the fuss has been about. Which brings me to today and the moment I’m writing this piece. I’ve since hunted down this beer in bottles at Table and Vine in West Springfield and while there picked up two other higher rated beers of the same style and origin.

At this point in the sour experience I don’t feel ready to try to critique or really value the style as it relates to the building craze. I will however add a few more comments before delving back into my tasting. This style of beer is brewed with a wild yeast or airborne yeast as well as an acidifying bacteria that is primarily responsible for the sour factor. Nearly all available examples are blended meaning a very young beer was mixed with a fully aged version to produce the desired level of flavors, sourness, etc. They are all aged in wood barrels. This is primarily due to the barrels providing the seemingly perfect level of porosity providing the perfect levels of O2 over the long aging process. Most add copious amounts of cherries during the aging process though I don’t believe they are ever used during the brewing process. To be frank, I’m not overly fond of most Wild Ales or Brett creations that I’ve tried. All the more reason I was astounded to enjoy a Flemish Sour Red. If you’ve yet to venture into the world of sour beer or found it wasn’t for you, give Monk’s Cafe a try and be prepared to pucker a little and surprise yourself at how fast you drain your glass.



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