In the world of craft beer, there are always fads. Craft beer enthusiast love their beers bigger, stronger, rarer (especially rarer), and now, more sour. Breweries like Jolly Pumpkin, Russian River, Lost Abbey, Cantillon, and Drie Fonteinen have all cashed in on the popularity of the popularity our sour and funk.
For the longest time, I have been afraid to jump into this style of beer. As I've noted before, some of my favorite beers are sweet stouts. There's very little that could be as completely difference to that as a mouth puckering drink that has been aged with wild yeast. Luckily I am curious enough to not be able to resist anything that I haven't tried before. In a recent trade I acquired four wild/sour ales from Russian River Brewing Company, the same brewery which makes the previously reviewed, delicious Blind Pig IPA.
After soliciting a little advice as to in what order I should try them, I was told that Sanctification is the least complex, and therefore should be my first stop. Sanctification is a blonde ale that uses only Brettanomyces during fermentation. What exactly is Brettanomyces?
From Russian River:
"Brettanomyces (also known as Brett) is feared by most brewers and winemakers alike. In fact, there are some local winemakers who will not set foot in our brewpub in Downtown Santa Rosa due to our use of Brettanomyces. Brettanomyces is actually yeast, it ferments and acts the same as every other "conventional" yeast, it just has the propensity to continue fermenting through almost any type of sugar, including those natural sugars found in the wood in an oak barrel. Brett is very invasive and if not handled properly can become out of control in a winery or brewery, but, if used properly with care, it can add rich aromas and flavors of earthiness, leather, smoke, barnyard, & our favorite descriptor-wet dog in a phone booth."
Sounds strange, huh? Now you know part of the reason I was hesitant to dive into this style. Regardless, I have the bottles and now it's time to see what I got myself into.
Sanctification is definitely a beautiful beer. It pours a pale, translucent yellow with an inch high head that is so bright white that if I were prone to painful comparisons based on beer names, I would evoke angelic descriptions. The smell is when I know that I'm getting into foreign territory. It has a yeasty funk, like the funk found in many saisons, but much stronger. It actually smells sour, kind of like a Lemon Head; definitely a very citrusy sour.
The taste, to my surprised is not quite as shockingly sour as I expected. Sure, it is definitely sour. There is, however, a slight sweetness that starts off the progression to the tart finish of the beer. Perhaps the hesitation was for nothing? I get the citrus from the nose in the taste, along with a little grassy notes. Maybe I haven't been exposed to the style enough, but while this beer is tasty, I don't get much complexity from it.
The carbonation is relatively low, which I didn't expect, but doesn't detract at all. The creaminess and medium body works perfectly with the tartness to create a crisp, very refreshing beer. It's not your typical summer beer for hot days, but I'd put it up there with any good pilsners or IPAs.
I think it's obvious from my review so far that my hesitation was in no way warranted. This is a great beer and one which others who are interested in getting into sours should definitely give a try. My only knock on it would be its relative lack of complexity. While it was delicious, I could have gone for more nuance and variety in the flavor department. I give Sanctification by Russian River Brewing Company a good, solid A-.
I have three more different bottles of Russian River sours in the fridge, so more of these will definitely be reviewed in the near future. Stayed tuned!
Style: American sour/wild ale
Beer Advocate: A
Acquired in a trade from a generous Beer Advocate from California. Russian River products are not distributed in Ohio, so if you want some, you're going to have to work hard to get it!