It’s Valentine’s Day, and if you’re like I am, the holiday evokes images of roses, chocolates, wine and strawberries — rarely beer. What styles would you choose? Many would likely suggest chocolate stouts and similar dessert beers, all perfectly acceptable, and recommendations I’ve made myself.
This year, let’s draw inspiration from the traditional wine and berries and explore fruit-infused sour ales. For many, the first beers that come to mind when discussing fruited sours are the Lindemans family of lambics. Lambic is a rustic Belgian style of beer that is spontaneously fermented with wild yeasts and bacteria and left to age in barrels for up to three or more years. The finished product can be extremely sour and is often blended back with younger and sweeter lambics to temper the acidity.
Lindemans Brewery of Belgium takes that a step further and also blends fruit into its base beer to great effect, producing a product that has a fruited champagne-like quality. Its lineup includes Kriek (cherry), Apple, Cassis (black currant), Peche (peach), Strawberry, and my favorite, Framboise (raspberry).
Framboise, in particular, is a vivid dark pink in color and exudes the essence of sweet raspberries with a tart bite of the underlying sour beer. You won’t believe you’re drinking beer when you sip it, as it’s luscious, jammy, and delicate and is not unlike a berry-infused aperitif. It’s a terrific beer to pair with decadent chocolate, with the raspberry complementing the chocolate while the sour lambic cuts through the richness.
If you’re in the mood for something a little different, Peche offers up summery notes of stone fruit and pairs particularly well with cheesecake.
Closer to home, American breweries often employ the method known as kettle souring to produce a sour wort that is fermented with standard ale yeast. Lactobacillus bacteria is used for the souring, the same organism employed in making yogurt, and the resulting ales can range from softly tart to sharply sour with a lactic tang.
These types of beers tend to marry quite well with a wide variety of fruit, including berries, blood orange, passion fruit, and more. I believe the acidity helps to highlight the essential character of the fruit better than many other styles.
Locally, Bend Brewing Company was the first to gain acclaim for kettle-soured beers, the best known of which is Ching Ching. The base beer is a Berliner weisse, a German sour wheat ale, with pomegranate and hibiscus flowers added. These give it a rosy pink hue and a crisp, tart snap reminiscent of fresh cranberries and SweeTarts candies. A lively, spritzy effervescence brings to mind a fruity pink champagne.
Newcomer Spider City Brewing Company has a similar beer that’s been attracting attention lately, Soleil Rubus. It’s billed as a mixed berry sour, with a blend of raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries giving it a color that is vibrantly ruby pink with hints of orange. It strikes a good balance of sweet berry pie flavors and soft grainy acidity.
Several other Central Oregon breweries offer their takes on the fruit kettle-sour style as well. 10 Barrel Brewing Company produces its Crush line of such ales, which includes Cucumber and Raspberry brewed year round, and rotating limited varieties of other fruit. Currently, Lemon Crush and Apricot Crush are on tap at its Eastside Pub.
Redmond’s Wild Ride Brewing Company brews Tarty to the Party, a seasonal sour ale that features different fruits with each new release. The latest variant is Blood Orange Pomegranate, while past flavors have included Huckleberry, Sugar Plum, and Watermelon Lime. And Immersion Brewing Company serves its Sexy Girlfriend, which incorporates mango and passion fruit.
Trying one or more of these specialty sours is a great way to mix things up this Valentine’s Day.
These will all pair well with a variety of foods, but if you’re especially interested in pairing with dessert, try one of the Lindemans fruit lambics. Framboise will pair particularly well with chocolate-covered strawberries as you toast to your Valentine.
— Jon Abernathy is a Bend beer blogger and brew aficionado. His column appears in GO! every other week.