The Sour Sessions

Not only tasty, but totally on point with your life jacket.

Not only tasty, but totally on point with your life jacket.

There are good beers, there are OK beers, and then there are the beers that are so interesting, so different, so jolt-your-tastebuds that you’re wandering around a barbecue at 6 p.m., shoving your pint under everyone’s nose, demanding “try this.”

Right now, Parallel 49 Brewing Co.‘s sour beer lineup manages to encompass all three.

Even in the variable world of craft beer, sours are strange beasts.

Usually fermented with wild yeasts and special bacteria, and sometimes aged for a year or more to develop flavours, these brews can push the limit on what even a reasonable widely-drunk craft beer fan might have encountered in the liquor stores and pubs of Kamloops.

Depending on the beer, a sour can offer the same lip-smacking sensation sour mix brings to a cocktail — minus the heavy sugar and dish-soap fake lemon.

Parallel 49, out of Victoria, is going heavy on the sours this sumer. So far, I’ve picked up three locally. And, to play into all the beer snob cliches, they seem to get better the more specialized and limited they are.

Apricotopus (6.3 per cent ABV) describes itself as a sour saison with apricots, and that’s kind of what it tastes like — in that it’s kind of fruity, kind of wheat-y and kind of tart. While it’s crisp and refreshing thanks to souring bacteria, it’s the least memorable.

More interesting is the Sour White Ale (7.5 per cent ABV) out of the brewery’s barrel-aged series, which seems like the perfect beer to buy the avowed wine drinker in your life.

Aged in Chardonnay barrels, this wild-yeasted beer’s got the richer mouthfeel of wine, a bit of oak and a note of not-quite-ripe pear.

There’s a funkiness here you won’t find in wine (something that’s apparently common with sours), not to mention more carbonation, but drinking it felt like crossing the line into sommelier territory.

Different still from both of these is the brewery’s third anniversary offering, Lil Redemption (6.7 per cent ABV), a sour cherry beer that lives up to its description.

This beer pours nearly opaque red, with inches of lacing on the glass. It’s got a taste to match, pulpy with the flavour of sour cherries and with a gorgeous earthiness courtesy of its wild yeast. Yet, a good amount of carbonation kept it from feeling overwhelmingly heavy.

According to Parallel 49, this one spent two years in Cabernet barrels before the cherries were blended in. While I didn’t pick that up at all in drinking (I’m really not a wine person), the sheer amount of care and time paid off in one of the most complex, interesting sips of the summer.

Rumble in the Bramble: Seattle Cider’s PNW Berry vs. 2 Towns’ Throne of Thorns

PNW Berry and Throne of Thorns

PNW Berry and Throne of Thorns

It’s summertime, which means all manner of fruits and veggies and flowers and trinkets at the various farmer’s markets scattered throughout the Seattle area. In the past, I’ve been known to buy a truly outrageous amount of blackberries at the market near work on Thursdays, intending to use them in pies and cooking, but usually they end up unceremoniously dumped in a bowl and eaten as-is.

This summer brings us not one, but two berry-themed seasonal/limited-release ciders (actually, probably more than that, but these are the ones I’ve found so far) — Seattle Cider’s PNW Berry and 2 Towns’ Throne of Thorns. I’ve pitted them against each other for your (and my) enjoyment and edification.

Color: Seattle Cider gives us a lovely rosy peach color in the PNW Berry, while 2 Towns goes for a much more dramatic garnet.

Aroma: 2 Towns has a strong aroma, sweet-tart and fruity, while the PNW Berry has very little in the way of aroma at all, just a soft hint of sweetness.

ABV: PNW Berry clocks in at 6.9% to Throne of Thorns’ 6% even.

Flavor: These two ciders are a great illustration of how you can go very different places from a common start.

Despite the light, sweet aroma, Seattle Cider’s PNW Berry is quite dry, with some mild acidity and light fruit aspects coming through in the taste. It’s a fairly subtle interpretation of the “berry cider” concept (PNW Berry has a little blueberry in addition to the blackberry and raspberry).

On the other hand, Throne of Thorns is sweeter, stronger in flavor, more tart — it really centers the berries and lets them assert themselves. Throne of Thorns is a shout where PNW Berry is a murmured aside.

Overall: I wouldn’t say either one of these ciders is better than the other — they definitely both have their places. If there’s food involved, I would make sure to pair Throne of Thorns with something that’s going to stand up to its bold flavor, while PNW Berry could go with something that has lighter, more nuanced flavors.

One night only woes

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(L to R: Moon Under Water’s Berliner Weisse and This is Hefeweizen. Also my knitting bag because that’s how I roll.)

If there’s any style of beer that is a total quality crapshoot in North America, it’s the hefeweizen.

For the past couple months I’ve been drinking every heffe I can get my hands on — from an alright Columbus, Ohio offering to a Seattle brew that asked the question: who puts ginger in a hefeweizen? (A: someone who apparently hates the actual taste of hefeweizens, but likes those Lipton nighttime teas a whole bunch).  For the most part, I’ve been disappointed.

Which is why I’ve been dying to try Moon Under Water’s This is Hefeweizen (5.5 per cent ABV). If there’s a heffe with hype behind it in B.C., it’s this one.

So, when my favourite local hipster watering hole Red Beard announced a Moon Underwater tap takeover this past Friday I was there, and This is Hefeweizen was first on my list of beers to drink.

Now I’m almost regretting attending, because this is Hefeweizen blew so much of what I’ve been stuck with out of the water and I’m not sure I can go back.

Like Russell Brewing’s White Rabbit, my other fave so far this year, this beer actually features those notes of clove and banana all lesser hefeweizens only promise. Moon is more mellow and traditional, with a banana flavour that stays clean and true all the way through the sip, rounded out at the end by those spice notes. It’s much less sweet than a lot of heffe pretenders, and more consistent. Where other versions seem to go a bit of kilter the more time you spend with them, the complex, hazy flavour stayed with me until the tail end of the tasting session — when I ordered an appetizer with arugula and garlic and messed up my taste buds hard for about half an hour.

Worth a note as well is Moon’s Berliner Weisse (3.2 per cent ABV), a nice lower-alcohol sour option that reminded me of my Tom Collins and whiskey sour drinking days. It’s got a super-light profile and made late-evening patio drinking bearable even in the Kamloops heat.

Light Side of the Moon and Hip as Funk, were good as well, though both are less engineered to my own personal tastes.

But, here’s the dilemma: Now that I’ve started to fall for this Victoria-based brewery, I have no idea where to find any of what I liked again. While I’ve seen Moon’s stuff for sale locally, it’s only the IPA (whatever) and the dunkel (not a summer option in my books). Kamloops, take pity on a humble beer blogger and stock this stuff outside of one-night events.