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It’s nice to have generous friends.

I was recently invited to a beer sampling over at a homebrewing friend’s house with the general theme of sour and/or funky brews, meaning any beer that puckered your lips or smelled like the Miracle of Birth barn at the State Fair was invited to the table.

The list was impressive, including a number of beers I’d never tried before that aren’t readily available around these parts. Here’s what we sampled:

  • The Bruery Saison Rue
  • Jolly Pumpkin La Roja
  • Jolly Pumpkin Oro de Calabaza
  • Russian River Consecration Batch One
  • Russian River Consecration Batch Two
  • Russian River Supplication
  • New Glarus Belgian Quadrupel
  • Boulevard Saison-Brett
  • Brouwerij Verhaeghe Vichtenaar
  • New Belgium Lips of Faith Transatlantique Kriek
  • New Belgium Lips of Faith La Folie
  • Lost Abbey Cuvee de Tomme
  • Allagash Confluence
  • Ommegang Ommegeddon
  • Goose Island Sofie

The wild ale thing is definitely on the rise in popularity, as evidenced by my time at GABF this year, with many brewers experimenting with wild yeast strains and bacteria to give their beers characteristics and outcomes that are very unique, adventurous, and often uncontrollable.

But there were a few misses for me, including Vichtenaar (far too young and sweet to include in this tasting), and Jolly Pumpkin’s La Roja (great fruit aroma, but didn’t get enough of the sour I was looking for).

However, the big winner of the night for me was Russian River’s Supplication, a superbly crafted wild ale that I had the fortune of first trying at Falling Rock in Denver. Somewhat reminiscent of a lambic in its intensely tart aroma and flavor (it gets ya here, and gets ya right here) with some cherry, vanilla, and vinous qualities. Really one of the masterpieces in the category.

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Contrary to popular belief, attending the Great American Beer Festival is not just all about drinking phenomenal craft beer and celebrating the growing beer culture across our country. 

OK, fine. I lied. That is really what it’s all about.  

But drinking fantastic craft beer for an important charitable cause… now that’s something anyone can get behind.  

Friday afternoon at the GABF I was able to attend the Denver Rare Beer Tasting at the Wynkoop Brewery nestled in Denver’s LoDo district, an event benefiting the Pints for Prostates campaign. Sponsored by All About Beer and BeerAdvocate.com, proceeds from the 450 tickets sold went to help support education and advocacy efforts to promote screenings for prostate cancer, one of the most common forms of cancer in men in this country.

Wynkoop is the city’s first brewpub, founded in 1988 by Denver’s current mayor, John Hickenlooper. And what a cool place for the event…ornately decorated wood décor and furnishings throughout, large timber pillars and pressed tin ceilings dating back to the mid to late 1800s when the building was used as a mercantile exchange for miners and pioneers settling the western frontier. The entire upper level was packed with people clamoring to get a few sips of some incredibly rare beers, including:

  • Alaskan Smoked Porter 1999 & 2008
  • Allagash Fluxus 2009 
  • Bison Reunion ’09 — A Beer for Hope Double White Ale 
  • Samuel Adams Utopias 2009 
  • Brooklyn Wild 1 
  • Deschutes Double Black Butte Porter XX 
  • Dogfish Head Raison D’Extra 2006 
  • Foothills 23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle Barrel Aged Total Eclipse Stout 
  • Great Divide Old Ruffian Barley Wine 2008 
  • Harpoon 100 Barrel Series Glacier Harvest ’09 Wet Hop Ale 
  • Highland Big Butte Smoked Porter 
  • Jolly Pumpkin Biere de Mars Grand Reserve 2006 & 2007 
  • Lost Abbey The Angel’s Share 2009 Brandy Barrel Finish 
  • Mich Brett 
  • New Belgium Trip II 
  • New Glarus Golden Ale 
  • Odell Crimson Shenanigans 
  • Oskar Blues Wet & Whiskeyed Gordon
  • Rogue Ales John John Hazelnut 
  • Saranac Imperial IPA 
  • Sierra Nevada Barrel Aged Scotch Ale 
  • Stoudt Old Abominable Barleywine 2007 
  • Stone 2008 Old Guardian Barley Wine Aged in Red Wine Barrels
  • Wynkoop Barrel Aged Berserker Mead

We arrived toward the tail end of the event, so unfortunately much of the selection had already poured out. But I was able to get my hands on a few notables, including Foothills 23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle Barrel Aged Total Eclipse Stout, probably the most intense bourbon-style stout I’ve ever had (think Goose Island BCS on steroids), as well as Avery Voltron, an intensely puckering wild ale. I also tried the Lost Abbey Angel’s Share, and New Belgium Trip II, both incredibly solid.

Probably the most interesting beer of the night was Michelob Brett, what I’d consider to be the rarest beer of the lot considering there was only a single experimental barrel in the entire country developed by brewmaster Adam Goodson. According to Adam, they fermented in primary with their standard lager strain, then dosed the beer with brett and conditioned for many months to give it its distinctive leather, barnyard characteristics. A seriously good beer, and much more balanced and smooth in its brett quality than most other beers I’ve had of this variety.

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I was very fortunate recently to try out a beer I’ve heard a great deal about, from a brewery that I’ve also been very fond of ever since I tried one of their Belgian-style triples aged on oak.

Allagash Brewing out of Portland, Maine is a fantastic little brewery that’s been around since 1995, focusing most of its efforts on brewing traditional Belgian-style ales, with somewhat of an American twist. They don’t distribute to the Twin Cities, so for most of us they’re tough to find (I’ve seen their stuff across the border in Wisconsin, though).

Interlude is classified as a wild ale, the first release in their “Serie d’Origine” experimental series, with vintages that go back at least a few years. According to the brewery, “farmhouse” yeast is used for primary fermentation, creating what I’d say is a base beer that falls somewhere between a saison and Belgian strong pale ale. For secondary, they add Brettanomyces to give the beer its distinctive wild funk, and then they age a portion of the beer in French Merlot and Sirah barrels. The result is a hugely complex beer that continually surprises with new flavors and nuance with each sip.

Having been cellared for a couple years, the 2007 vintage we enjoyed had time to come into its own, with the Brett leading the way in the aroma. The vinous, wine characteristics also are certainly apparent, with nice spice notes balancing the mustyness up front. The mild tartness of the beer hits your taste buds first with some fruity characteristics, maybe green grape or pear. After the first rush, some cherry notes also come into play, which was very nice and unexpected. Finishes relatively dry and crisp, with some slight heat from the 9.5% ABV (wasn’t distracting, however).

Really impressed with this one, and Allagash in general. 

Rating: A-