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Hello Sour Beer Friends!

The second to last beer review from my spring equinox sour beer tasting is an iconic American sour beer from Santa Rosa California, Russian River Brewing Company’s Consecration.

There are a handful of buzz words in the brewing world that gets beer nerd ears to prick up and pay attention and Russian River is without a doubt near the top of the list. Originally opening in the 1990’s under Korbel Champagne Cellars, the rights to the Russian River brand was purchased by the company’s brewmaster Vinnie Cilurzo and his wife Natalie in 2003. Even before owning and expanding the brewery, Vinnie was experimenting with souring bacteria and Brettanomyces in barrel aged beers. His experience shows itself in the varied line-up of excellent barrel aged sour beers produced by Russian River. The brewery has gained notoriety for more than just their sour projects as well.  Their famous double IPA, Pliny the Elder, is frequently voted to the top of the charts of best craft beers in America.

Vinnie’s sour beers have even been honored with the appellation “American lambic” by Jean van Roy of the iconic Cantillon brewery.  Vinnie has been dubbed a member of the “Brett Pack” which is an unofficial group of American brewers who were early adopters of sour brewing techniques and Brettanomyces use.

Consecration begins its life as a Belgian strong dark ale. Black currants are then added to the beer and it is aged in cabernet sauvignon barrels for 4 to 8 months. While in the barrels a full assortment of souring bugs (including Lactobacillus, Pediococcus, and Brettanomyces) have time to both sour and dry out this complex beer.

When we poured our eight-month old bottle there was a low level of carbonation and the low volume of head that formed on the beer dissolved instantly. The beer is a dark purple-brown and produces rich aromas of earth, chocolate, tobacco, leather, overripe fruit, bile, lactic acid, vinegar, Belgian candi syrup, and currants.

Russian River ConsecrationAs the aromas might suggest, this is a truly complex beer from a flavor perspective. This bottle of Consecration has a medium level of souring with a sour profile of approximately equal parts lactic and acetic acid (vinegar). The acids of this beer would likely be more puckering in a lower ABV and more delicate beer, but in this rich beer they provide a nice moderate level of souring which is well balanced in intensity against the sweetness from dark malts, currants, and the higher alcohol content.

While the carbonation is low, the beer is not still (flat) and retains a medium body and mouthfeel. The malt character of the beer is one of dried fruits and raisins with the black currants added to the product rounding out this flavor. Some sherry oxidation of the malt character is evident from the barrel aging but this is pleasant and the beer is not stale or over-oxidized. There is a fair presence of wood vanilla and oak character from the barrels as well as some flavors of the cabernet housed in the barrels before this beer. You can taste some higher alcohol character in the beer and this alcohol presence is warming as one drinks. The alcohol presence is not solvent-like or fusely and no detectable off-flavors are present.

This beer provides a complex and unique experience while drinking. The aromas are intense and pop out of the glass despite low carbonation. The flavors of this beer are deep and rich, mirroring many of the aromas, and present a satisfying balance of souring acidity with malt and fruit sweetness. The oak, wine, and leathery Brettanomyces funk add further depth to the flavor profile. The beer finishes dry on the palate with a lingering aftertaste of oak and raisins.

Living on the east coast, it is generally difficult for me to find bottles of Russian River beers but I do occasionally get a hold of them through the distribution chain in Philadelphia and I keep Consecration stocked in my cellar whenever I can.  I have had a number of different batches over the years and, while each has been unique in its own way, they have always been excellent.  I highly recommend you seek out and try this wonderful and complex sour beer.


Russian River Consecration