I sat down today with Nick Smith, Area Manager at New Beligum Brewing to talk about sour beer and this Saturday's Lost in the Woods event.
AJ: What the heck is sour beer?
Nick: Sour beer can be any beer that has been fermented by souring bacteria. The bacteria breaks down sugars and other compounds in beer into organic acids that produce funky and sour flavors. The two main types are Lactobacillus and Pedicoccus. For brewers, sometimes this a bacteria infection is intended and sometimes it is not! As in all things, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Some of the most interesting and complex beers in the world are created through years of sour aging.
AJ: How do you guys make your beer?
Nick: We create our sour beers by aging fully fermented beer from 1-3 years in our “Foeder Forest," a collection of 64 used wine oak tuns or foeders. The porous oak that makes up these foeders is the perfect home for our house culture of wild yeast and bacteria that slowly sour beer over time. We use two base beers called Oscar (dark) and Felix (light), and yes, that's an Odd Couple reference. Each foeder is unique in size, proportion and microbe population. We test the beer once a month, and once the barrel tells us its ready, we create a blend of all the best sour beer available.
AJ: How should sour beer be paired with food?
Nick: Our sours typically have bold flavors, so rich foods pair well. Wild mushrooms, bitter greens or gamey meats bring out particularly interesting flavors.
AJ: Why the event name "Lost in the Woods"?
Nick: To celebrate the annual release of the new blend of our sour masterpiece, La Folie, we host a party at the brewery within the what we call our "Foeder Forest." Our guests mingle among the foeders drinking the fruits of their labor and get “lost in the woods."
Nick: Our sour program started in 1998 when our brewmaster Peter Bouckaet first filled red wine barrels with Abbey, Fat Tire and Old Cherry Ale dosed with wild yeast and bacteria. There is a rumor he even threw in part of a returned keg gone bad. As the cultures of microbes grew, Peter blended them together, finding they worked better in harmony than independently. In 1999, we released the first La Folie, winning gold at the Great American Beer Festival under the Belgian Specialty Category (there was no such thing as American Sour beer at the time). Since then we have continued to experiment with different blends, exotic fruits and spices to push the boundary of flavors beer can create. Today our cellar has grown into the biggest wood aging beer program in the US.
New Belgium Brewing's Lost in the Woods event is this Saturday, February 6 from 5:00 pm to 8:00 p.m. at Lost & Found DC, 1240 9th St NW.