It’s no wonder with the growing popularity of sour beers, that there should be events dedicated to this mouth puckering beer style. When a brewery cracks a sour, freshly kegged from a barrel, it’s often celebrated by a release party. Many bars will celebrate sours with a special tap night, putting 10 to 15 of these superb brews on draft for a single evening only. Although all of these events do homage to wild beers, it’s my belief that the Sour Beer Fest at the Cajun Cafe on the Bayou is one of the greatest expressions of admiration for the sour and wild beer style. With over twenty-five breweries and one hundred beers represented, it can hardly be argued that this festival ranks as one of the top sour celebrations of the year. Brewery’s from Anderson Valley in California to local heroes like Cigar City, and near by celebrities like NOLA Brewing gathered to put their beers on display for the public and celebrate the renaissance of sour beer.
As I walked into the event, I had no idea what to expect. I had first heard of the festival while visiting NOLA brewery a few weeks ago. As I looked at the web page, it seemed to be a fun event, with sour and wild beers from across the US converging to create a totally unique celebration. Waiting in line with several other eager drinkers to receive my tasting glass and token for free meal, I couldnt help but feel a sense of both anticipation and a little doubt. I was no stranger to beer festivals, but all the previous experiences I had were general gatherings with styles represented across the BJCP spectrum. ‘100 sours’ I thought, ‘Im going to be sick of them by the 20th taste’… Oh how wrong I was!
Upon my entrance to the festival, I found a veritable wonderland of sour beers, with famous brands from across the country united to celebrate the style. My samplings ranged from classic interpretations of sours, such as traditional Flanders Reds, Lambics, and Berliner Weisse (served with the classic woodruff and raspberry syrups) to the bizarre and unusual like the cucumber gose and the bourbon barrel aged imperial sour. The festival was the usual collection of people, spanning all across the age gap; from the barley old enough to drink to seasoned veterans of the brewing world. In short is was a classic beer festival, with all walks of life represented and united in their love of beer. The line up proved to be as diverse as the drinkers assembled at this festival. Some notable examples have been highlighted below.
- Lemon Grass Gose (Rapp Brewing): Beautiful expression of lemon grass. This beer has a nose of lemon and suntan lotion (sounds weird but it was very pleasant) and a beautiful hazy pale straw color. Its flavor reminded me of lemon candy, like sucking on a citrus warhead. Herbal aftertaste with a hint of Lemon Drops. Reminds me of the beach on a summer day.
- Whiskey Barrel Aged King Calus Imperial Sour (Point Ybel): Weighing in at a lofty 10% abv, this beer deserves its royal status. With distinctive Bourbon notes in the nose, and a chocolate aroma worthy of an Aztec god, it’s hard to believe this is a sour. One sip however, and you are transported into a world subtle sour flavor. Amazing rich notes of cocoa complement a delicate sour flavor of funk and malt. As I drink it I can’t believe the amazing velvety overtones of the bourbon oak. This is a game changer of a sour!
- Blended Lambic 2016 (Dam Raynes): This beer was brewed by a local home brewer, and it is positively amazing. The beer has a very classic lambic taste, highlighting sour notes with a restrained oak presence in the background. This is the more sour of the two blends Dam brought, highlighting acid over funk. It is an amazingly clean example of style with only ha hint of funk among a distinctive sour tone. It represents the best of Belgium… in America.
- Cheeky Otter IPA (Hourglass): This is a very fun interpretation of the sour style, accentuating guava and leeches notes. As their head brewer described, it has a strong sour note which can be very refreshing; acting as a pallet cleanser even among its sour compatriots. Even the nose has an element of tart salad dressing; giving you the impression that you already for your main course.
- Tropical Thunder (Hidden Springs): In a lineup of powerful sours, this beer may not be as overstated as some but it delivers on quality; which at the end of the day is what you’re looking for. As a kettle brewed sour, it has all the clean flavors you’re looking for, without any garbage or trash can flavors which can come about with this temperamental technique. It has a very subtle fruit overtone coming from strawberry, mango and pineapple, which lends a very refreshing note to the otherwise clean sour profile. While it wasn’t the most sour, nor the most powerful, nor the highest in abv; this beer is a classic example of what sour beer is all about.
Unfortunately, there were few beers that fell on the sword of the creativity; such as one blend of barrel beers (from Chardonnay to Bourbon) which proved to be more muttled than masterful; or the smoked Berliner (cough… sour gratzer… cough). Fortunately though, the majority of beers were beyond any critique or criticism. I happily sipped my way through glass after glass, marveling in how much unique flavor there was even among this seemingly homogenous group of beers. The event was truly eye-opening in that it gave me a new perspective on the depth of sour and wild brewed beer and has given me food (well drink) for thought in my future sour endeavors.
Overall this was a fantastic venue, providing a fun atmosphere, excellent food, and extraordinary beer. I will certainly be back next year if they decide to continue this amazing festival. I encourage anyone who enjoy sour beers to make the Tampa Bay their next vacation destination in order to enjoy this fantastic line up of brews.