Hello Sour Beer Friends,
A few evenings ago, I had the chance to sit down and taste my first sour beer from Wicked Weed Brewing Company of Asheville, North Carolina. Wicked Weed is a relatively new brewery, first opening its doors at the very end of 2012, and has already become well known within craft brewing circles for both its GABF winning beers and for the opening of its Funkatorium, an all-sour brewpub featuring 16 draft lines dedicated to sour and funky beers. This second location also now houses the brewery’s barrel program, keeping the microorganisms responsible for producing these unique beers well away from their primary “clean” brewery. I have been interested in tasting Wicked Weed’s sour beers since listening to a very informative interview that they gave recently on The Brewing Network and, over the holidays, I was lucky enough to get a hold of a few of their different offerings. I decided that I would first taste Black Angel, a sour black ale aged on both tart and sweet cherries in bourbon barrels. According to their website, this is considered to be their flagship sour and I can see why, it is a very tasty beer!
Black Angel poured jet black with a caramel / tan colored head that dissipated within about a minute or so. The first aromas I picked up from the beer were those of lactic acid and a sweet candy-like malt. These were quickly followed up with notes of roast, cocoa, and bourbon. As the beer warmed up this enticing cocoa aroma continued to rise and I also began to detect light hay and a perfume-like fruitiness that I couldn’t correlate to any single fruit.
When tasting Black Angel, the beer’s malt profile and mild roast jumped right to the forefront with notes of cracker, toffee, and cocoa. Unlike the sweet notes in the aroma, the beer was highly attenuated and very dry in flavor with a medium level of carbonation. Immediately following these flavors of malt, came the sour beer’s acid and fruit characteristics. The souring in Black Angel is delicate and restrained to a level just slightly above the balancing point of the malt profile. You will definitely taste the acidity in the beer, but it isn’t puckering with each sip. The sourness in Black Angel seems to be about an equal blend of lactic acid from the microbes and fruit acids from the cherries. For me, the cherry flavors really come through in the middle of each sip after the malt begins to diminish. The cherry flavors are both wine-like and juicy like freshly squeezed cherries, a likely result of both the varietals used and the blending employed in the beer’s production.
It was during the end of each taste that I really picked up the contribution of the bourbon barrels that housed the aging beer. Flavors of vanilla and cocoa come through at the end of a sip and the beer finishes very dry with another touch of the mild roast. I didn’t pick up any notable hop character or distinctive yeast flavors in the beer. I also didn’t pick up any strong flavor contributions from Brettanomyces but I did taste its presence in the beer in the form of the beer’s high attenuation and light body (Black Angel was very dry and highly drinkable for a beer clocking in at 7.2% ABV). As the beer warmed, very light Brettanomyces notes of leather and hay did show their presence and I could definitely see this beer becoming funkier if cellared for a while. Lastly, there were no off-flavors to speak of.
Overall, Black Angel was a very tasty and complex beer. In my opinion, the black sour ale would pair fantastically with certain sweet desserts like fruit, spice, or carrot cake. I think this beer would also compliment red meat dishes very well. Black Angel shows evidence of a careful hand during the blending process. While the beer has a number of flavor components including roast, cracker-malt, lactic acidity, wine-like and juice-like cherries, vanilla, chocolate, and bourbon-oak, none of these elements jump out above or dominate the others. Every taste of the beer walks you through a progression of these flavors and then finishes dry leaving you ready for another sip. This beer has set the bar high and I am definitely looking forward to opening my other bottles from Wicked Weed. I highly recommend you check them out and visit The Funkatorium if your travels take you anywhere even remotely close to Asheville!
Matt “Dr. Lambic” Miller