I can be, if you must know, an exceptionally lazy person sometimes. I’m terrible with staying on top of dishes and laundry. I routinely get hundreds if not thousands of miles behind on my oil-change regimen. And a handful of times over the last few years, I’ve waited until the closing days of the year to enter all my Great Taste beer notes into Untappd. Yes, the Great Taste of the Midwest is in August.
Untappd, a social network built around logging and rating the beers its users drink, is great for indexing and searching for beer tasting notes, but only if you actually put them in there. And a knot of 40-some beers is a daunting pile of data entry in the days after the Great Taste. Lord knows I’m not going to try to keep up with that while I’m actually at the event. I want to be comprehensive, and that’s a losing battle, friends.
So last week, I set aside some time to finally plug all those notes and ratings into Untappd, and in doing so, I was reminded of some really exceptional sour beers from the state of Minnesota. It’s a state that’s had its beer industry hamstrung by oddball beer laws over the years, falling behind its neighbors in craft beer innovation. But Minnesota’s catching up.
The standard-bearer of Minnesota sour/wild/funky beers, at least as far as what’s easily available in Wisconsin, is the August Schell Brewing Company. Schell’s has been cranking out Berliner weisse beers as part of its Noble Star series since 2013, with each release offering some fruity flourish or elaboration on the base style.
Star of the North, its first in the series, was a straightforward Berliner weisse. Then Schell’s added raspberries; that was Framboise du Nord. Swap in rye malt? Apparent Horizon. Treat an American adjunct lager recipe like a Berliner? Cypress Blanc. Maybe the least nuanced but most fun variant was Starkeller Peach, which used almost three tons of peaches to create a beer so thick with fruit it was damn near jam.
The newest Noble Star beer is Harmony of Spheres, a fairly standard recipe amplified with gooseberries and Lemondrop hops. Gooseberries have a strong lemon-lime flavor, and give Harmony of Spheres the characteristics of white wine and underripe fruit. It’s brisk and complex.
Minnesota brewers like to do their sour beers in a series format, like Noble Star or Fulton Beer’s new Culture Project series. Madison just received the first in that brewer’s new sour effort, simply titled Culture Project One. It’s a Flanders red-style ale aged in red wine barrels. I found it well-made but a bit too gentle; the flavors of oak barrel and caramel sweetness faded too quickly, with insufficient acidity to back them up. A solid first effort.
Of course, the mighty Surly Brewing has cranked out a sour or two. Five, a dark and potently tart barrel-aged sour in its anniversary beer series, was one of my first sour loves way back in 2011. Pentagram is Surly’s continuation of that one-off beer’s recipe, and a whiskey barrel variant hit Madison in very small quantities a few weeks ago. It is, sadly, long gone; regular old Pentagram will be coming back in a few months.
Those very tardy Untappd checkins reminded me of the Sour Delores series of beers from Dangerous Man, a Minneapolis brewer most well-known for its Peanut Butter Porter, and Indeed Brewing’s Wooden Soul series. First in that series was Heliotropic, a tart saison aged in white wine barrels. Neither of those brewers are distributed to Wisconsin yet, but serve as further evidence that sour beer culture is flourishing in Minnesota’s great white north.