Written by Tom Becham
Sunday, June 28, I attended the annual Stone Sour Fest. It is the largest beer festival in the world dedicated solely to sour beers. This was my third time attending, so I wasn’t new to this rodeo.
This fest is held on the grounds of the Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens, in Escondido, California. It’s a gorgeous venue; the bistro itself is constructed largely from stone and iron rebar. But the greater bulk of the fest is outdoors, amongst the trees, shrubs, herbs and water features.
And Stone tends to look after attendees quite well, with ample seating in their gardens, and many water stations. My only complaint about this year’s Sour Fest in that respect is that the food usually available for purchase outside during the fest seemed either entirely absent or strangely elusive, despite being advertised in the event flyer.
That aside, the selection of sour and wild ales was glorious!
The classic sour houses from Belgium, such as Cantillon, 3 Fonteinen, Girardin, Tilquin, and Rodenbach were all represented.
However, unlike past years, the Belgians were overshadowed by their American-made counterparts, in quantity if not necessarily quality (though many of the American sours were, in fact, outstanding).
The Usual Suspects of American sour beer were well represented: Russian River, The Bruery, New Belgium, Almanac, Cascade and Lost Abbey featured many of their favorites, and a few new treats to savor. Newer sour producers like Ladyface, Firestone Walker and Avery turned in efforts ranging from solid to excellent. And the newest and trendiest of sour producing breweries like Libertine, Toolbox, Modern Times, Rare Barrel and Paradox were all prominently featured. Stone itself even offered a strong pair of efforts, despite not having been previously known for sours.
Standouts for the festival?
Wow, that would be tough to narrow down. I think I’ll restrict myself to the sours I had not tasted prior to the festival.
Libertine Pub’s Summer Breeze Mango & Raspberries was tremendous. The mango was strong and obvious up front, with teases of raspberry at the back of the palate. Truly befitting of its name.
Cascade, it pains me to say, as I’ve always considered them overrated and overpriced, has an amazing beer in their Sang Royal. It’s a Flemish style red with cabernet grapes, aged in red wine and port barrels. It’s a sweet, sour, grape-y mélange, which would serve just as well as an aperitif as it does a beer to be consumed on its own.
The Bruery is always a reliably good sour brewer. And their Sourrento supports that reputation. The aroma is lemony, yet sweet, from the infusion of vanilla. Upon tasting, you will swear you are drinking limoncello. If you get the chance, buy it!
And Avery’s Insula multos Collibus was impressive. It’s a bourbon-barrel aged sour with added cherries. All of those elements are on display in the taste, and it melds in a very deeply complex, satisfying way.
Now, one of my pet peeves with beer culture is that many sour aficionados, and hop heads as well, seem to think that the more bitter or sour a beer they can drink, the more macho beer-cred they have. All of us have “that friend” who will swear the 5,000 IBU Tongue-Shredder they are drinking is the best beer they have ever tasted. The same goes for the sour beer community. Many will save their biggest praise for a beer so sharply acidic that you can see it stripping the enamel from their teeth.
Thankfully, the presence of such individuals seemed limited this year. Likewise, the selection offered also seemed slim on such harsh sours.
I believe the American sour beer community is maturing and improving. After all, it’s only been popular the past few years. (A friend of mine jokes that, “What do sour beers and World Cup Soccer have in common? Americans discovered in 2010 they kinda like both of them.”) As someone who has loved sours before they were the Flavor of the Month, it’s gratifying to see.
Tom “da bomb” Becham truly has a SOUR disposition… when it comes to sours. AND he loves his… WORTS. Tom is a great beer writer and, yes, he paid us to say that. The bill is overdue. Guido is knocking on your door Tom, he’s carrying a candy coated chain. Don’t even think of running. Jogging maybe, skipping, waltzing, but not running.
Kidding aside, Tom lives in Oxnard, CA, which really was NOT the birthplace of the ox, just in case you planned on… wait for it… wait for it… (writer whistles to himself) … planned on OX-ING.
(And the crowd boos. Not Tom, the bad pun, silly.)