Hello Sour Beer Friends!
While homebrewing with friends last weekend, I had the chance to sit down and drink several very nice sour beers. We started the evening with a great sour beer that I’ve had the opportunity to drink only once before, Red Poppy by The Lost Abbey. The Lost Abbey, from San Marcos California, focuses on the production of Belgian, barrel aged, and sour beers. The brewery was founded in 2006 and is a sister brewery to the popular Pizza Port chain of brew-pubs. Brewmaster Tomme Arthur has won several accolades at the Great American Brew Fest (GABF) including small brewery of the year in 2007 and a bronze in American style sour ale for Red Poppy in 2010.
Red Poppy is based on a brown ale which is then aged on tart cherries in oak barrels for 6 months before being bottle conditioned for release. The beer pours a dark reddish brown with a thin white head that disappeared very quickly. Funky Brettanomyces aromas of horse blanket are prominent along with some strong vinegar and cherry pie aromas. More subtle are notes of dark dried fruits and bourbon barrel oak. With my nose in the glass really hunting for scents, I was able to detect some biscuity malt and light grassy hay aromas.
When first tasting Red Poppy, the flavors that jump to the foreground are those of the sour cherries. The blend of cherries used gives the impression of drinking fresh tart cherry juice. Tannic flavors of cherry skins or wine-like red grape skins as well as the light almond flavor of cherry pits are also present. The souring is fairly mild in this beer, with the sour profile tasting like a mixture of 75% malic acidity from the cherry addition and 25 % lactic acidity from bacteria in the fermentation or aging process. The vinegar notes that were fairly strong in the aroma are pleasantly subdued and complimentary to the sour and fruit flavors once you taste the beer. There is no detectable hop bitterness or hop character in the product.
Red Poppy’s barrel aging makes itself known with a medium to high level of oak flavor with a light bourbon barrel note and some nice wood tannins which add complexity and meld nicely with the other flavors. The body of the beer is fairly thin while the carbonation is high. The funky Brettanomyces aromas carry through when drinking the beer to yield dough and plenty of leather with a lightly musty edge. The Brettanomyces in Red Poppy are also evident in the product’s high degree of attenuation and dryness in the finish. Tannins from both the cherry skins and the oak come together with the attenuation and high carbonation to add a pleasant astringency to the dry finish of the beer. Meanwhile, cherry esters and potentially some more complex sugars left over from the brown ale base beer keep Red Poppy from being overly sharp.
Overall, Red Poppy is a very tasty American sour beer with a healthy dosing of fruit flavors and a nice layer of funk and oak to add complexity. Thus far, it has been my favorite beer produced by The Lost Abbey. Differing from many of the higher ABV and sweeter, less attenuated, beers produced by Tomme Arthur, I find that Red Poppy strikes an excellent balance between flavor intensity and refreshing drinkability. I look forward to tracking down and reviewing more of The Lost Abbey’s sour beers such as Duck Duck Gooze and Cable Car Kriek. While Red Poppy would be equally delicious year round, it felt to me like a perfect springtime beer. We drank this one on my front porch, enjoying the weather, sunshine, and smell of flowers blooming and freshly cut grass. The beer was a perfect companion and really enhanced the overall experience. While it is difficult to find, especially and the east coast, Red Poppy is worth tracking down.