Friday, April 01, 2011

A follow-up note on the Coldwater Cru

Russian River Brewing hosted a crowd of brewers for a symposium on sour and barrel-aged beers last week. I had the pleasure of being there, and we contributed the Coldwater Cru. It was one of a dizzying array of beers offered to a crowd that pushed 250 and spilled between the fermenters and barrel-aging areas. Food was provided by Sean Paxton, the homebrew chef himself. The list of breweries with representatives there was truly stellar, from giants like Garrett Oliver from Brooklyn and the Russian River crew down to a couple of ne'er-do-well startups.

There were good beers — stellar beers — and rare beers. New Glarus was there with some interesting bottles, and Allagash brought a run of their coolship bottles. Cantillon and Brasserie de la Senne were there with some treats not easily found in the states. There were some bad beers — a lesson that even good breweries can make mistakes, and a lesson that not every beer should be soured or aged. In general, though, it was an incredibly educational and inspirational experience.

Our Coldwater Cru fared pretty well. I say pretty well because we discovered inconsistencies in the bottles. Some were progressing better than others. In general, we discovered that the beer was sick, however. And we discovered that this is a good thing. At the shortest version, it meant that the beer hadn't had enough time to convert the various yeasts and bacteria into a finished product. Sick meant that it was still young, and that it was still evolving. It would be one thing to hear this from homebrewers, but we heard it from one of the top voices in Belgian beer — Yvan de Baets, a specialist in sours and ales. He carefully explained that the flavor profile was ideal and outlined what the beer would go through as the "sickness" cleaned up. And he started pouring it for everyone around us and extolling its virtues. This was, shall we say, a very proud moment.

In the end, we headed back to the hotel with a mind-blowing array of names and faces — and a realization that it is possible to drink too much sour beer at one time.