Sam Fitz is a Certified Cicerone® and the Beer Director at Meridian Pint and soon to open Smoke & Barrel. Read Sam’s take on Life & Limb here.
Sam will be checking the post throughout the day to answer any follow up questions you may have.
You can’t blame people that don’t like beer. But you can help them. Generic American light
beers are everywhere, and many perceptions as to what beer actually is are generated by the
pervasiveness of mainstream brands. Craft beer, though, is rapidly expanding and brings with
it an astounding diversity that defies a single notion of “beer”. If you’re familiar with the wide
range of beer styles available, then you should be able to convert your beer-bashing friends.
Sweet, malty amber lagers and English brown ales are good ammunition for rum and coke
devotees, or other sweet mixed-drink drinkers. Whiskey aficionados are usually quite satisfied
with a hefty barrel-aged brew. Coffee stouts can wow the caffeine dependent populace (this isn’t
rocket science). But perhaps the most astonishing introduction you can offer is to the growing
world of sour beers.
Sour was once the norm for beer. Before developments in sanitization procedures and scientific
knowledge, the environment in which a beer was brewed impacted the outcome as much as
any ingredient deliberately added, and the effect was usually some degree of sour presence. If
you’ve ever had the displeasure of consuming sour milk, then you’ve been rudely introduced
to Lactobacillus, an omnipresent bacteria with a penchant for sour. Lacto lives in your fridge
and in your brewery, constantly searching for lactose and other sugars from which it can derive
nourishment and convert to lactic acid. Brettanomyces (affectionately known as Brett by sour
lovers), another souring agent, is a yeast usually found on the skins of fruit, and it has been
championed by the Belgians in the form of Lambics, Geuezes & Flemish Reds.
Continues after the jump.
With modern technology and procedures, the brewing environment is largely prohibited from
contributing sour agents, thus all but driving sour out of beer. The traditional sour Belgian styles
mentioned above were nearly extinct just decades ago. Now, the craft renaissance is exploring
the breadth of beer, and sour is returning in a big way.
You might be asking yourself, “What does this all have to do with pumpkin beers?” As those
delicious seasonal brews roll into DC, there’s no better time to debunk a very common, and
understandable, myth: Jolly Pumpkin is a brewery, not a beer made from gourds (though they do
make “La Parcela”, their pumpkin seasonal). An all-sour brewery founded in Dexter, Michigan
by Ron Jefferies in 2004, Jolly Pumpkin is at the forefront of the sour beer movement.
Using Old World techniques that require more time and patience than modern brewing, Jolly
Pumpkin ages all its brews in large oak casks that nurture their own unique colonies of wild
yeast and bacteria. Ron says the wood gives his beer “unmatched depth of character, and
subtleness of flavor,” but he also blends all of his beers from different casks to achieve the
optimal degree of influence from wild organisms. The outcome can be mildly to intensely sour,
and it is an ace up your sleeve if you’re trying to convert a wine or cider drinker to the world of
Jolly Pumpkin’s most celebrated offering, Oro De Calabaza (The Gold of the Jack o’lantern),
is definitely an eye opener. This 8% golden ale pours a cloudy but brilliant straw yellow, has
an enticing bright white head, and leaves a neat lacing pattern on the side of the glass. The
appearance matches the images conjured by the label of hidden treasure. It begs you to inspect
One whiff and the wild yeast makes itself plainly known. Scents of lemon zest, fresh green
apples and perhaps green grapes are front and center. Underneath, there is an earthiness from the
yeast that conjures thoughts of fresh-cut grass and sometimes referred to by beer lovers as musty
or horse-blankety (in a good way!). The hopping is subtle but there is a noticeable spiciness
arising from the type of hops used. Overall, the nose is complex and very appetizing.
The first sip confirms what is alluded to by the aromas. There is a bone-dry character arising
from the souring agents that is balanced by comforting yet subtle malt sweetness. The hops
are recognizable in the finish of the beer, adding a bitterness that plays nicely with the mouth-
puckering sour dryness. If you set Oro aside for a few minutes, the lingering palate flavors
continually remind you that you still have work to do–there’s a magnificent beer that cannot be
Jolly Pumpkin’s beers are as close to unique as it gets and, if you haven’t tried them, you owe
it to yourself to broaden your understanding of beer. Good beer establishments usually have at
least a couple of their offerings in 750 mL bottles, and it’s always a treat when kegs find their
way into DC. So, this autumn, help yourself and your friends. Savor a seasonal sour.