Sour beer fans by now have already heard about Firestone Walker’s upcoming release of Feral One. Detailed information from the brewery about that beer can be found in the preceding link, but the beer is a Cuvée Blend that comes off like a classic Gueuze.
I was asked if I’d like to come in and have a taste of the beer before it’s released on March 8. Well, that’s an easy question to answer.
Firestone’s blendmaster, Jim Crooks, was on hand to pour us some samples and discuss the beer. Barrelworks’ barrelmeister and Jim’s partner in these projects, Jeffers Richardson, joined us via telephone from Arizona where he was doing some promotional work. We got the better end of the deal, as we actually had some beer to taste.
The beer opens from its cork and cage with a loud pop, but there isn’t a fizzy overflow. That’s not surprising, as Jeffers and Jim have become very good at controlling and monitoring the wildness of their brews.
The aroma is full of grapefruit zest and has a slight hint of raspberry. My guess is the raspberry is in part a result of the blending of SLOAmbic, a fruited Lambic made with olallieberries. But what was most remarkable was that citrus aroma, as Jim explained it’s a very difficult scent to achieve in an aged sour beer. The actual cause of the aroma is uncertain, but Jeffers and Jim were able to speculate.
“One of the things how our beer differs from other sour producers is that we use a lot of American Oak,” Jim said. “It could possibly be that American Oak might start out with these higher harsh tannic compounds. Then when the beer oxidizes and intermingles with the flavors of the oak, that might be where this lemony zest or grapefruit zest is coming from.”
And of course, since we’re all super beer nerds, Jeffers went even deeper into the aroma.
“Something else I picked out the last time I tasted it was this undertone,” Jeffers said. “It was a vanilla oak undertone, but I picked up a slight lavender that was really interesting. That could be oak or oxidation as well. That’s the beauty of these beers – they’re alive.”
The first sip definitely provided a bit of a prickly sour experience that was enhanced by the sharp carbonation and tannins from the oak. The sourness lingered and grew slightly in intensity after the swallow. There was also a hint of vanilla after the sourness faded away.
Overall, it was a thoroughly enjoyable beer. The balance of the tartness with the slight hints of fruit and oak were masterfully done. An interesting note though was that, according to Jim, the blend was made more sour at the suggestion of Firestone’s brewmaster Matt Brynildson.
It seems like a good idea.
Perhaps the real treat of the tasting session was a little something extra Jim brought out for comparison. Feral One is Barrelworks’ first bottled beer, and Lil’ Opal is its second. I’ve edited the rest of this post at the request of Barrelworks, as the Lil’ Opal I tasted is not quite ready, and it wasn’t fair to the beer or brewers to give it a review – even if it was a positive one.
Suffice to say it’s still a work in progress that shows a ton of progress and was quite good. The picture below is Lil’ Opal in the glass.