Hello Sour Beer Friends!
Today I had the chance to swing by Pizza Boy Brewing in Enola, PA and try a brand new beer from their sour program. Bleurbon Berry is a blueberry sour aged in a bourbon barrel. A creation of head brewer Terry Hawbaker, Bleuron Berry is based on a blend of sour beer previously released in various forms under the name Royal Tannin Bomb. More than a year ago, this blueberry sour, previously served on draft, was also put into several wine barrels and one bourbon barrel to age. Bleurbon Berry is a product of this single bourbon barrel and due to its small batch size is only available to drink on the premises.
Today, after tasting this excellent sour, I had the opportunity to talk to Terry and ask him about the beer and his processes. Terry utilizes various strains of both Lactobacillus and Pediococcus in his souring program as well as Brettanomyces strains that he has personally selected over the years. As I have tasted in previous Pizza Boy sours as well as in Bleurbon Berry, these strains of Brettanomyces produce high levels of attenuation and pleasant fruit esters without producing stronger, funkier, flavors of leather, cheese, or barnyard. Terry prefers a cleaner sour profile in his beers and he most definitely achieves this goal. A clean, lactic profile is a hallmark of Pizza Boy sour beers such as their Raspberry Sour, reviewed here a few months ago.
“There’s a time and a place for dirty funk in a beer, but I prefer a cleaner sourness in the beers that I brew.” -Terry Hawbaker, Head Brewer, Pizza Boy Brewing Co.
When I poured Bleurbon Berry, I was greeted with a deep burgundy colored beer with a thin layer of white head that dissipated quickly. The first pour was brilliantly clear with all subsequent pours somewhat hazy. The beer presents strong aromas of both fruit wine and bourbon oak. Additionally, subtle lactic notes betray the fact that this beer has some acidity before you taste it. The fruit notes remind me of red wine and sherry while the bourbon oak smells of both whiskey and tobacco leaves.
The enticing aromas didn’t disappoint when tasting Bleurbon Berry. There is a very pleasant balance of blueberry character and bourbon oak. A moderate lactic souring boosts the perception of fruit as well. There are only the slightest background pale malt flavors present to confirm that this is indeed a beer as opposed to some type of complex, sour, carbonated wine. There is no hop presence that I could detect. The sour profile is almost completely comprised of lactic acid with maybe some small contribution of other fruit acids from the berries. There is a slight edge of ethyl acetate in the flavor profile however this doesn’t take on a solvent character. Additionally, there is no presence of vinegar. The sour profile reminds me somewhat of a mild version of Hanssen’s gueuze without the farmyard funk. The bourbon oak flavors in this sour really set it apart from many others that I have tasted. There are distinct flavors of whiskey present, adding to the complexity of the blend without overpowering the fruit or making the beverage taste like liquor.
It’s obvious that Pizza Boy uses real fruit in this sour beer. The blueberries contribute a deep red color and a fruit character somewhere between raspberries and purple grapes. While I don’t know if I could specifically identify blueberries in the beer without knowing of their use, the fruit notes are bright and pleasant. The blueberry skins add tannins to the blend which both boost complexity and add a nice dry astringency to the finish. It has been my experience that most beers that use real blueberries will take on these red wine characteristics while beers that use extracts taste more like blueberry candy (I prefer the real fruit).
The beer has no residual sweetness and is very highly attenuated. The body is thin and the carbonation is medium. Brettanomyces presence in the beer is notable through its dryness and light mouthfeel. As I noted earlier, Terry’s Brettanomyces strains produce some light fruitiness which tie the other flavors of the beer together without adding additional funkiness.
Overall, Bleurbon Berry is a very tasty and well crafted American sour ale. I am definitely looking forward to trying future barrel projects from Pizza Boy. I got a chance to chat with owner Al Kominski today and in addition to being rightfully proud of Bleurbon Berry he was excited to release a series of barrel aged grape sour beers in the coming weeks. Recently, they began releasing bottles of Abascio-Cell, a golden sour base-beer which has been aged in white wine barrels. This beer has been blended with different grape varieties to produce their forthcoming series of grape sours. I would encourage any sour fans who have a chance to visit the brewery to do so, you won’t be disappointed!