Hello Sour Beer Friends,
This past weekend, while brewing a table Saison with Cale Baker, I had the opportunity to taste my first sour beer from Cigar City Brewing of Tampa, Florida. Cigar City Brewing, well known amongst craft beer enthusiasts, sold its first beer in March of 2009 and went on to win its first GABF medal later that year, earning a gold for its Humidor Series IPA. Additionally, the brewery’s imperial stout Hunahpu’s, released once annually, is sought after and traded amongst beer geeks with the same fervor as other high-ABV stouts such as Three Floyd’s Dark Lord, Westbrook’s Mexican Cake, and The Bruery’s Black Tuesday.
From the beginning, Cigar City has produced sour beers, focusing on the incorporation of a wide variety of local ingredients such as guava, tangerines, limes, strawberries, peaches, mangos, and passion fruit. In the past six years, the brewery has produced a number of low ABV Berliner Weisse style beers as well as higher ABV American Wild Ales. Lactobacillus Apricot Grove, just released for the first time last month, is an American Wild Ale soured with Lactobacillus and then fermented with a Belgian yeast strain. This base beer then receives an addition of apricots which in turn sparks a third fermentation. The sour and fruit-forward Apricot Grove clocks in at 8% ABV, although you would never know it from the taste, as the beer is devoid of any alcohol heat or off-flavors.
Lactobacillus Apricot Grove pours a hazy orange color with a moderate level of head that quickly dissipates. The presence of Lactobacillus makes itself known in the aroma with notes of tart lactic acid and a bacterial mustiness indicative of primary fermentation with this bacteria. There is a perfume-like fruitiness and a touch of stone-fruit sulfur. We detected the subtle aroma of freshly sliced white peaches as well. Absent are traditional characteristics associated with Brettanomyces (which is not used in this beer’s fermentation) such as leather, wet hay, cheesiness, or horsiness. As the beer warmed up some light fruity Belgian yeast phenolics became noticeable.
When tasting Apricot Grove, sour apricot fruitiness and a high level of carbonation jump to the forefront. The beer is spritzy and quite tart, with the souring being entirely composed of lactic acid. There is no vinegar (acetic acid) in the sour profile. A touch of wild musty character is also present, but like the aroma, there is no true “funk” in the taste. The flavor of apricots and white peaches is bright and does not taste artificial or candy-like. Once my palate adjusted to the level of souring present, the beer’s malt backbone revealed itself to taste like baked crackers. As the beer warmed, more of the Belgian phenolics became apparent. These were of the fruity variety, without any significant amount of spiciness or clove being tasted. The finish is dry and refreshing and reminds me of the finish in a fruity white wine such as Pinot Gris. The high carbonation provides a light mouthfeel to an otherwise medium bodied beer.
Overall, Lactobacillus Apricot Grove is a very tasty and refreshing American Sour. The beer focuses on bright fresh fruit flavors and a clean sour profile balanced against the lightest of phenolics and a crisp cracker-like malt backbone. Absent are layers of earthy complexity or funk associated with Brettanomyces, but in a beer this bright and fruit-forward, I wasn’t left wanting these characteristics. If you have a chance to pick up bottles of this, I definitely recommend that you do so. I also would advise against aging this beer. It is tasting awesome fresh and, without Brettanomyces in the profile, it does not stand to gain anything from age while continued aging will likely reduce the fresh fruit flavors. I am definitely impressed with my first sour offering from Cigar City Brewing, and I look forward to trying more of their beers in the future.