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Thursday, June 13,2013

Five hours of sour

Boulder SourFest highlights fan-favorite style in all its rarity

By Steve Weishampel

On the heels of last week’s sugary-sweet trip to Wild Woods, things turned sour.

Avery Brewing Company once again hosted the Boulder SourFest, a massive, packed and tart five-hour celebration of the nation’s sourest brews. Tickets to the charity event sold out in less than a minute, and fans predictably clamored for more — two days, three, a ticket lottery, sours in bottles for sale, anything.

So Avery’s national marketing director Darin McGregor sounds — and admits he is — just a little defensive about the event.

“Why don’t you just do another day? Because we can’t,” McGregor tells me after the event. “One of the reasons is with these beers, not only are they really hard to brew and they take forever, but coming up with the proper blend for a beer like Eremita V can take up to three months of multiple, multiple sessions.”

The range within sour beers is staggering, even though many are based on the same source beers: saisons, reds, strong ales, the occasional brown. But what breweries do to the base beer — what they age it in, what they age it with and for how long — opens the style up to millions of possibilities. It’s how you wind up with sour beer descriptions 10 times the length of any other beer, typically naming cask type, duration, any fruits or flowers tossed into the mix and yeast strains and bacteria more familiar to chemists than weekend drinkers.

Standouts from the sour fest were too many to mention. Colorado beers dominated the day, from the highly sought-after bottles from Crooked Stave to Colorado’s biggest craft brewery, New Belgium, which might have had the strangest beer of the bunch with its Oscar-Worthy Coffee, the brewery’s dark sour blended with cold-pressed coffee. Multiple people cited it to me as a favorite. I might not have cited it back, but that’s OK. Host Avery just might have had the strongest group top-to-bottom, with an unexpected star in its homebrew club’s submission.

But of all times, faced with so much variety, it might be time to address the elephant in the room. Or at least a small, experimental arm of one of them.

I’m talking about the big, mass-market beer companies: MillerCoors (a joint venture of SABMiller and Molson Coors, so that’s Miller, Coors, Molson, Blue Moon, Killian’s, Keystone, Milwaukee’s Best, Leinenkugel and Pilsner Urquell, among 140 others) and Anheuser-Busch InBev (that’s Busch, Budweiser, Corona, Labatt, Stella, Beck’s, Natural Ice, Michelob, Shock Top and Goose Island, among 200 others). No, I never thought the multinational beer companies — since the goal of many of these brands is apparently to erase taste from beer, let’s not call them brewers — would appear in this column.

But. Let’s zoom in on that one arm of one of them: AC Golden, housed in the Golden Coors facility at the foot of South Table Mountain.

Call it, as the Brewers Association did, “crafty” because it’s an attempt by the big boys to sneak into the craft beer market. But AC Golden was on hand with a few sours. And they were really, really good, balanced and delicious. You won’t catch me stocking up on Bud Light, or even Colorado Native, but a 750-milliliter bottle of Peche once in a while is now on my shopping list.

Those curious about sours — which, judging by ticket sales, is everyone — can learn more at an Avery event June 24 that will explain how the brewery blends sours, including allowing participants to blend their own sour with a measuring cup and a range of eight barrel-aged sours to mix. Tickets are on sale for $60 at Avery’s tap room.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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