Hello Sour Beer Friends!
On Saturday night, during a homebrewing session, I had the pleasure to drink my first sour beer from Jester King brewery of Austin, Texas. Jester King, opened by Jeff Stuffings and Ron Extract in 2010, is an artisanal brewery focused on the production of small batch beers using a mixture of spontaneous, bacterial and Brettanomyces (along with traditional Saccharomyces) fermentations combined with barrel aging and bottle conditioning. The brewery has received a fair amount of buzz amongst sour and funky beer fans recently, and after tasting a bottle of their Atrial Rubicite, I can see the attention has been very well deserved!
Atrial Rubicite is a sour raspberry beer produced by blending fresh Washington state raspberries with mature barrel aged sour beer. The product is then re-fermented to full dryness and bottle conditioned. The beer has a moderate 5.8% ABV and the bottle even lists the pH at a low (highly acidic) 3.36.
The beer pours a deep burgundy red with a moderate level of light pink head which dissipated fairly quickly. I have noticed that low head retention is common for a number of sour fruit beers made using real fruit in large quantities. The beer presents a strong and enticing aroma of fresh crushed raspberries. The aroma is perfume like and I detected several aspects of the fruit in the aroma including raspberry juice, skins, and crushed raspberry seeds. The beer also smells sour of malic fruit acids and slightly sharper lactic acid. There is no noticeable barnyard or leathery funk or other characteristics specific to Brettanomyces in the aroma.
Upon tasting the beer, the flavor is no let down from the great expectations set forth by the aroma. Like a raspberry punch to the palate, in a completely positive sense, the fruit flavors in this beer are fresh, intense and delicious. Mirroring the complexity of raspberries in the aroma, Atrial Rubicite has flavors of whole raspberries. I detected not only the juicy parts of the fruit but also the tannic skins and a mild pleasant bite from the seeds. There is a high level of acidic souring up front mirroring or slightly exceeding the true tartness of fresh raspberries. The sour profile tastes like about two thirds of the acidity comes from the fruit itself (malic acid), while the remaining one third comes from lactic acid present in the already soured base beer. The souring is soft and very pleasant. There were no detectable acetic acid (vinegar) flavors or other off flavors in the fermentation. There is some light malt presence most likely attributable to American pale malt or pilsner malt.
The presence of Brettanomyces in the beer is primarily detectable in the light body and high degree of attenuation. The carbonation is medium and helps to round out the light tart body in regards to the mouthfeel of Atrial Rubicite. The tannins imparted from the raspberry skins and seeds add a layer of complexity to the flavor and really shine in the finish of the beer by enhancing the crisp dryness at the end of a drink. Each sip leaves your palate refreshed and looking for more. While the beer is attenuated completely with no residual sugars to impart sweetness, the fruit esters from the raspberries and potentially from Brettanomyces do add a perception of sweetness which blends wonderfully with the sour experience. These esters keep the very dry and tart beer from being overly sharp or biting.
Overall, I was extremely impressed with Atrial Rubicite. There is a quality to both the fermentation and ingredients that is very evident in this product. I personally am a huge fan of raspberries in sour beers. When comparing Atrial Rubicite to other quality sour beers, the one that comes immediately to mind is the lambic framboise Rosé de Gambrinus by Cantillon which is one of my favorite beers in the world. The flavor intensity and overall delicious nature of Atrial is right on par with Rosé. In the case of these two beers, Rosé’s flavor complexity comes more from its lambic base while Atrial’s complexity comes more from the quality of the raspberries used. While Jester King’s beer doesn’t have the funky leather or barnyard Brettanomyces characteristics of Cantillon’s framboise, Atrial Rubicite’s raspberries actually taste fresher and more complex to me than those used in Rosé. Both beers have a deliciously high level of souring which tastes soft and well rounded. Also, please note that the comparisons I make here are not intended to downplay either beer… Quite the opposite, I bring up the similarities with Cantillon to highlight the world-class nature of Jester King’s Atrial Rubicite. While the beer is far too uncommon on the east coast to keep it stocked in my cellar, it will certainly be kept there when I can find more! I highly recommend this beer to any fan of sours or well made fruit beers in general. I will certainly be on the hunt for more of Jester King’s beers after tasting this one. Atrial Rubicite has definitely been one of my most enjoyable drinking experiences this year!