Tag Archives: Sour Beer

Helix Brewing – Sourworx and some non-sours

I had not previously visited Helix Brewing until they announced their Sourworx program. I was glad to see that they ensured they had a variety of beers available for the launch. Their goal of having the entire three boards full of barrel-aged sours is impressive. I tried two that were fruited and two that were aged for the longest to get a general taste of the quality of the sours released. From what I tasted, I would sooner make the drive to Helix over visiting my neighborhood California Wild Ales because they have the complexity and level of flavor that I crave. They also have enough to differentiate their sours from others on the market to draw visitors. They are one of the few breweries that allows for growler fills of sour beers and they currently have no plans to start bottling.
I started with a raspberry and a passionfruit sour. The raspberry was a light red color as expected while the passionfruit was hazy yellow and closer in appearance to a hazy IPA. The raspberry was a bit more subtle than I would have liked and restrained on the fruit. It had a good balance overall with nice caramel base and low acidity that at times resembled raspberry pie. I like the decision to add cherries to an already red base beer. The passionfruit sour was juicy with strong passionfruit flavor at the front and a nice mild funk on the finish combined nicely with medium oak and mild vanilla. This was my favorite of the day and I am excited to see how they work this style into future versions with other fruit.
On the non-fruited side, I asked for the two beers that were aged the longest and was suggested the Walking Through Windows and Betting on Stars. Walking Through Windows was intensely oaky, dominating over other flavors. In the back it had mild caramel and notes of brandy with a lingering tart finish. It was interesting to get the prominent oak when many breweries choose to blend various beers together to reduce it somewhat. Betting on Stars, a dark sour aged in port barrels, was smoky on the nose with notes of cherry and roasted malts. Flavor wise, it resembles more of a sour stout than anything else and the wine barrel gives it a unique flavor. It is refreshing that they chose not to simply make their attempt at a Belgian style Lambic but instead chose to do their own versions of an American Wild Ale.
Clean beers next door 
After the four sour beers I was ready for some more classic styles. With my palate already used to the sours, I found both beers to be quite sweet, likely more so than I would have if I started there. I decided to order a half pour of Prague Nosis, a red lager in the style brewed in Prague, and 1492 IPA, the freshest IPA they had and also one they described as the most balanced.
The Prague Nosis was delicious and easy drinking with notes of crackers and caramel and a light sweet finish. The IPA was nice and balanced with notes of pine and light herbal hops with a subtle bitter finish. I enjoyed seeing the contrast between the two buildings next door to each other. This allows for a welcoming atmosphere that the sour fans can drink with others who may not be interested in sours. The Sourworx side had a much more sophisticated feel to it as compared to the homey tasting room feel of the main brewery.
Top 2: 
Future Futures, passionfruit sour
Walking Through Windows, golden sour

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney serving clients in San Diego California.

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Indian Joe and Battlemage – Vista San Diego

Indian Joe

Indian Joe Brewery is in Vista and I didn’t get up to visit the brewery until recently, mostly because I don’t really hear much about them. What made me want to stop by was their choice to expand into a larger facility. I tried a few tasters and while I was drinking a few beers I was invited to check out the beers barrel aging in the back. That was where I realized that they are a real hidden gem.
I started with two berliner weisse style beers. One with dragonfruit and guava, and another with apricot and peach. Both were a bit sweet for the style and also stronger than usual at almost 6.5% abv. The guava dragonfruit was not particularly fruit flavored but mostly sweet with a light tart finish. The apricot peach was also pretty sweet with a white cake base and some mild apricot notes. I didn’t really care for either but thankfully I was introduced to their proper sours shortly after.
The head brewer took me and one of his regular visitors back to the barrel aging area where there were a variety of sours and imperial stouts in different manner of oak barrels. What impressed me for most of the barrel-aged beers was how dry they all were. Lots of beers over 9% alcohol tend to be thick and sweet with all the residual sugars. All the beers I tasted in the barrels were fully attenuated and had a dryer finish more like wine, both stouts and big sours.
Two that most impressed me were the dark sour aged in cabernet sauvignon barrels, which was incredibly balanced and had lots of red wine notes. Another impressive beer was the imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels with chocolate. It was also incredibly dry and had tons of fudge notes.
My experience with the barrel aged beers led me to order a strong dark barrel aged sour immediately after finishing. This beer was brewed with blackberry and blackcurrents. It was incredibly dry with lots of jam and berry notes with a light tart finish. While tasting the beers, I asked the head brewer why these beers aren’t released in some sort of online pre-sale or as limited bottles in the tasting room. He answered that he wants them available for the regular visitors so they simply tap them when ready..
I finished with Indian Joe IPA which was dry with notes of cirtus and pine with a mild bitter finish. The beer had a nice balance and was properly west-coast style. Beer geeks I suggest avoiding the various fruited berliners and stick to the IPA and stronger barrel aged sours and other barrel aged beers if they are available.
Indian Joe is one of the few local breweries that impressed me where I hadn’t heard much about them before hand. To me this makes them more underrated than most local spots.

Battlemage

I tried four tastes while at Battlemage. I liked the RPG theme, which made it stick out among the other similar breweries in the area. They appeared to have completely moved from any West Coast IPA to brewing full hazy IPAs based on the tap list.
I started with the alt beer, a german style tending towards the malty flavors. This version had notes of cherry and caramel with light hop notes. While it was fairly authentic, it would be even more so if they served it on cask. If you missed it, I recently posted my experience visiting Dusseldorf to try the alt beer at its source. The brown ale was roasty with notes of cherry and light smoke. The beer had a dark red color and mild bitterness on the finish that balanced with a nice roast.
The hazy pale had tons of tropical fruit and citrus with a good thick body and medium hop acidity on the finish. It was the best balance of the two. The stronger hazy IPA had notes or herbal hops with melon and pine and a lingering bitterness. While they nailed the mouthfeel on this one, it was a bit too bitter for the style. Both hazy beers were well done and up to the level of most local versions.
Battlemage had some solid beers and is a great spot to visit if you are up in the Vista area. They seem to have the hazy mouthfeel down even if they tend towards a bit of a west coast style by giving them additional bitterness.

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney serving clients in San Diego California.

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Almanac Brewing Company – San Francisco and Alameda

Almanac has been around for quite a while though they only recently opened two large locations you could visit. They were originally known for their barrel-aged sours, which was for a while all that they produced. I remember enjoying both their series of fruited sours with local fruits and dry-hopped sours usually with a single variety of hops. With the opening of two new facilities, they also started brewing other styles of beers. Now they have a variety of options available not just sours.

On a recent visit to the San Francisco Bay Area I checked out the two locations for Almanac brewing and decided to visit the one in Alameda because I was staying with family nearby. I also selected that location because it is a larger tasting room as opposed to the brewpub in San Francisco. Brewpubs tend to get more crowded with the addition of food. The tasting room is in the same old naval yard where Faction opened their brewery. It has a similarly large building that appears to be a re-purposed hangar.

There are numerous picnic tables to sit at inside plus bar seating and more picnic tables in an enclosed outdoor patio. Even with the high ceiling the inside area was noticeably louder than sitting on the patio so we moved outside once seating opened up. During my visit I tried two sours, a hoppy pilsner, and a hazy IPA. I left with cans of the pilsner and cans of an oak-aged vienna lager. They also had a crowler machine for beers to-go.

Apricot sour.

Of the two sours, I was most satisfied by the Interstellar Apricot. Though it was a saison as a base beer, it had plenty of apricot so that it had a thick creamy mouthfeel. The beer was like apricot puree and went down easy thanks to low acidity. The cherry supernova was a bit more subtle with the fruit despite a name that suggested a similar fruit explosion. It was well-done but I would have preferred more prominent fruit. It was only slightly more fruity than most of the fruited beers from Societe in San Diego, which I find to be too subtle for my tastes.

Two sours side by side.

The pilsner was true to style except for the addition of modern hops. It exploded with citrus and bubblegum hop aroma without much bitterness. I have enjoyed a few cans since visiting the brewery and really enjoy this one. Of course if you want to enjoy the hop explosion, make sure that you get fresh cans. The oak-aged vienna lager I only tried briefly at the brewery but have had a few cans of since leaving. The oak gives it mild butter character to blend nicely with the caramel notes of the base beer. It also has some notes of plum.

Pint of pilsner.

I finished my visit with a pint of the Hazy IPA brewed for Ales for ALS. The beer had a nice creamy body and prominent hop aroma with notes of pineapple and mild herbs. The beer was mildly bitter and low in hop acidity making it quite crushable. I have seen their hazy cans outside of the brewery but hadn’t tried them yet because so many breweries label new IPAs as hazy when they are simply imitations. This is the real thing.

With such easy access to Almanac beers throughout California, it isn’t essential to visit them at the source. Though they were selling vintage bottles to go they didn’t have rare bottles for on-site consumption. If you happen to visit family in Oakland or Alameda though, it is worth taking a stop by the Alameda tasting room. You could visit Faction during the same trip.

Known for:
Almanac is known for fantastic barrel-aged sours and recently branched out to brewing other styles. They had a solid hazy IPA and fantastic hoppy pilsner.

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney serving clients in San Diego California.

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Toronto Breweries – Halo, Blood Brothers, and Burdock

Halo

Halo was enjoyable for this visit initially because they had strong air conditioning blasting. We stood for about 15 minutes before some seats opened up. I had two beers that day, a hazy IPA called New Wave, and a tart saison called Day Star.

The New Wave seemed initially to be overly harsh in hop acidity as if it was tapped too soon. Hops came through mostly with flavors of apricot though thankfully as it warmed up a bit the acidity faded and more of the candied fruit flavor I remembered from my visit a year earlier came through. The tart saison was nicely balanced with subtle notes of apricot and funk with some lingering acidity.

Halo’s tasting room is tiny but it is a nice place to spend some time if you are nearby and it is hot outside. They are quite a distance North West in Toronto but once you are up there it is fairly short walk to two other breweries, Burdock and Blood Brothers. Though if it is hot, I suggest doing Burdock next because they have air-conditioning.

Blood Brothers

We went to Blood Brothers next mostly because it sounded like the IPAs at Burdock were more on the hazy side and we assumed my friend would prefer that style. When we got there, he announced he was done with beer and wouldn’t be having any more there. If it is hot outside and you are doing a tour around the area, try to visit Blood Brothers later in the day because they don’t have air conditioning and it gets quite hot inside. Though clearly the crowds didn’t care how hot it was.

Beer wise, my notes were mostly taken on Untappd because despite the heat the place was packed and there was nowhere for me to put my beers down. I started with the Shumai IPA, a hazy IPA that was creamy and a nice blend of herbal and citrus hop character. The beer was restrained in hop acidity and not too bitter. After tasting a friend’s beer of Paradise Lost Razzle Dazzle, I had to order one for myself. This is a beer with raspberry and vanilla served on nitro. It was super fruity without being overly sweet and was extra creamy on nitro. I would love to see this in nitro cans to enjoy outside of the brewery.

Other friends were drinking their delicious tequila aged sour while I was there and it was so good that most of them ordered their own glass after having a sip. It isn’t a beer style that I would have expected to enjoy but worked quite nicely. If I had a cooler with me I might have bought a bottle to bring with me to-go. But it was so hot outside i didn’t want the beers to heat up too much. Hopefully if it cools down during my stay in Toronto, I will make another visit to Blood Brothers before I fly home. [It didn’t]

Burdock

Burdock was our last stop for the day, a short walk from Blood Brothers. Everyone at the table saw the cherry and other fruits can-conditioned sour called Cherry B and went straight for that one. It was nice and refreshing with powerful cherry and mild mix of other berries while not very acidic. It was especially nice to enjoy as we cooled down from the hot brewery before hand. I also ordered a dry-hopped sour called Te. It was nice and funky with light herbal hops. Burdock impressed me last year with the quality of their sours and again on this visit. They also have a restaurant.

If you want to read about my visit to some of the same breweries in my 2017 trip, you can find the old post here.  During the 2017 visit I ended up ordering a bottle of sour to enjoy on site because they had a nice reduced price bottle that day.

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney serving clients in San Diego California.

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Boise Breweries – Barbarian and Boise Brewing Company

Barbarian Brewing

I tried six tasters that barbarian brewing based upon recommendations from my friend suggesting that this is the best spot in the city. None of the beers particularly stood out as favorites and the sours were not particularly exciting compared to my top 5 sour producers in the country. For sours from a small brewery they are fairly average and I preferred the sours at Woodland Empire personally.

I started with wheezing the juice, a hazy IPA. It was creamy with strong hop acidity, suggesting that it was quite fresh, with notes of pineapple but otherwise fairly muted hop aroma. The acidity was a bit overpowering the rest of the beer. The Imperial Stout was lightly smoky with notes of cherry though overall not a ton of flavor.

Blackbirds sour was acidic and berry forward with a nice tart finish while not overly sweet with an acidity that lingered at the finish from the berries. This was the better of the sours, although I have had better examples of a similar beer. The Red Sonja, was nicely balanced red sour with light oak and a strong tart finish that balanced nicely with notes of white cake.

Tooth stains, blueberry sour with coffee, was an interesting blend of blueberries and coffee though the coffee overpowered. The beer was quite tart and acidic on the finish although I did not particularly care for the mixture flavors. Pisco sour, an interesting take on the Peruvian mixed drink, had mild oak character and on Nitro at least had a similar mouth feel to the original drink. Overall, it felt a little bit too subdued in flavor for the style and the drink it is meant to imitate.

While I had a couple of sours that I enjoyed here, they were not at the level that I would suggest someone make a trip specifically to visit them. Fans of sours would likely enjoy the blackbird and/or Red Sonja, though they are both fairly average in the sour category. Still a sour fan will likely find one or two sours they enjoy here as long as they aren’t expecting world-class sours.

Top two:
Blackbirds berry sour
Red Sonja

Boise Brewing Company

I tried six tasters at one of the older breweries in Boise on my second day in town. While I was not expecting much, I was quite impressed by the flavor and balance of the various IPAs and Hoppy beers that I tried. I started with the red session, which I expected to be more of a balanced smooth red ale but instead was a take off the session IPA style with a little more malt character. The beer was super dry with an herbal hop bite, mild bitterness, and light caramel malt base that worked in line with the session IPA style.

The Porter was fairly thin with notes of cherry and coffee and mild caramel. It was fairly average and not particularly remarkable. The Irish red was decent, with cherry character from the malts and a dry finish. I would’ve preferred a little bit more roasting malt base or body to the beer. The American pale ale was quite dry with a medium bitterness on the finish and a nice mixture of herbal hop right with tropical fruit on the finish. It was nice because the bitterness did not linger on the tongue and the hops were not particularly overpowering.

The two IPAs, called obstruction and hip check, were both quite excellent with extremely dry finish and fairly mild bitterness. Of the two I preferred obstruction with its hint of tropical fruit character, though neither one of the two was particularly hop aroma forward. Hip check was a bit more malt forward, balancing toasty malts with resin and pine. Though both beers claimed to be 100 IBUs, I did not experienced them to be that bitter. Though none of the beers were particularly hypermodern, or exploding with hop aromas, they were excellently crafted and none of them lingered on the tongue more than they should.

Top two:
pale ale
obstruction IPA

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney serving clients in San Diego California.

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