Review: Captain Lawrence Barrel Select Green

Can I just say: the soundtrack at Gilly’s is always so, so good (even on the days where one of the bartenders gets a wild hair and plays nothing but Phish – this is rare, but it does happen – be warned). There’s always lots of classic rock or indie playing. This day, the siren sounds of David Bowie’s Moonage Daydream were a treat for my ears. I love that song and it even inspired a short story of mine (heyyyyy anybody want to buy a 6,000 word time travel/Weird West tale?). Anyway.

The Captain Lawrence Brewing Company brings us the Barrel Select – Green, a sour ale with a nice flavor to it. This beer is a blend of several brews, which are being aged in Italian oak barrels, some for up to three years. It sports a low IBU (bitterness rating) of 15 and a moderate ABV (alcoholic percentage) of 6.5%. The taste, however, isn’t quite what I had expected.

I had this in a 10oz tulip glass at Gilly’s (I love those 10oz pours so that I can try even more beers!). It’s an faintly orange ¬†golden color that is very appealing. It is slightly hazy in appearance, but I can’t be confirm on the brewery’s website if this beer is filtered or not; other reviews talk about its haziness as well, so this is a feature, not a bug. It has a very small, whitish head with a few streaks of lacing to be seen.¬†There’s not much nose to it. This isn’t necessarily an indicator of flavor, but I do tend to like sours/wild ales that also have a sour smell to them. This does not have that, though it smells faintly of green apple to me.

Upon tasting, there is no sour punch. I was bracing for one, but this didn’t deliver – not much of a surprise considering the lack of a strong smell. It is, however, gently bright and fruity. It’s crisp. It feels more like a dry cider than a beer to me. The carbonation is pretty high on this one. It’s refreshing.

This could be a very enjoyable beer for someone intimidated by too much sourness in a beer. It might go over well with dry cider drinkers. It’s very drinkable and wonderful for warm weather. Three out of five glasses, mostly because I was looking for a greater saturation of flavor in this one.

Beer 201: Tetrahydropyridine

I like to call this one, “Excuse me, waiter? There’s some Cheerios in my beer.”

Time to drop some knowledge. So, remember the sour beer festival that I went to a few months back? Well, I ran into something that I hadn’t really been able to pin down before: sometimes, some sour beers tasted… weird. There was an aftertaste there. Something wheaty and kind of unpleasant. But I couldn’t place it.

Then my friend M said, “Ew, this one tastes like Cheerios” and everything fell into place. Cheerios! That was exactly the weird taste that I’d been getting! But what the heck would cause this kind of strange flavor that, in my opinion, clearly didn’t belong there? It was time for some Google fu.

There is a chemical compound called Tetrahydropyridine, produced by some yeasts*, that is responsible for this imperfection in the flavor of beers – and it is generally considered by brewers and wine makers (who battle this off flavor, too) to be a flaw. Brewers usually abbreviate it to THP (thank goodness, because that is not a word I feel like typing for a second time) and it is considered a ketone (which is something I actually know a bit about because of a diet I followed for years… ANYWAY). It is responsible for the Cheerios, biscuit/cracker, or – according to some people – urine-like “off” flavors in sour beers.

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What I have experienced the most is a Cheerios/dry wheat taste on the back end of a beer taste or as an aftertaste that lingers. This is apparently a pretty common experience… except I’ve read that not everyone is able to detect this funky flavor. The acidity/low pH of sour beers can mask or overwhelm the flavors (and usually the aroma, too) of THP. Since everyone’s tongue has a slightly different natural pH level itself, some folks’ mouths will cause an increase in the pH of the liquid and they will be able to taste the THP’s effects; some people’s natural pH levels won’t cause enough of change in the beer to reveal this flavor. I have a pretty attuned palate, generally speaking, so I’m not surprised that I’m sensitive enough to detect this kind of weirdness.

It sounds like aging beers will reduce or remove this flavor, in bottles, kegs, or fermenters. But this can take a few months’ time and small breweries, especially, don’t have the money or time to just sit on a beer – they have more beer to make and ship as soon as possible. I would bet money that sour beers from smaller breweries with more limited storage are more likely to have this problem.

Now, I wouldn’t say that this is a common problem; most sour beers I’ve tried don’t have this flaw. But the ones that do? Well, they stick out in my memory as being particularly off-putting. Would I send back a beer with this taste? Probably not. But I also just might not finish the glass and move on to something else.

*Brettanomyces, which is popular for sour beers and wild ales, is a common culprit for producing THP. Lactic Acid Bacteria and Acetic Acid Bacteria can also yield the compound.

 

Review: Max’s Taphouse Sour Beer Festival

While drinking IPAs with a friend at Gilly’s several weeks ago, I lamented the lack of sour beers that day. Now, Gilly’s does have sours pretty often, but didn’t this day. And my friend says, “I think there’s a sour beer festival in Baltimore next weekend.”

I WAS SO IN.

I hadn’t been to Max’s in probably 10 years, so I didn’t remember anything about it other than the plethora of taps. There are 102 of them to be exact. That’s nothing to sneeze at. The sour beer festival took place on Monday, February 20th – President’s Day. I may not celebrate the holiday, but I’ll celebrate some great wild ales or sour beers!

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We got there early – 11am – and grabbed one of the very last tables. The Belgian Beer Festival, which took up the previous three days, often results in a line out the door before the doors open. I’m grateful my friend knew that arriving early was the right choice. There were pencils and paper slips on every table along with a massive list of beers (on something like 18″ long sheets of paper) and my goal was to pick several, take my paper to the bartender, and get my many small tasters. It was possible to get full pints, but I was in it for the variety.

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Unfortunately, the bartender said she handed my my tasters in the order I wrote them, but some were almost certainly mixed up. I did my best to sort the mess out, but my notes on these beers are all wrong, so this review is moot. I had a great time trying 8 different sours that day and, while the crowds weren’t exactly to my liking, I would definitely go back and do this again next year.