My wife has a bad habit of ‘accidentally’ buying shoes. Me? I ‘accidentally’ fill up a cart at Total Wine & More from time to time. Stopping in for a few beers often leads to a lot of ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ moments, and even more ‘oh shit’ moments when checking out. Among the aisles and aisles of distinct wines and spirits, beer sits comfortably in the back corner, organized confusingly by type.
The one thing I love about beer shopping at a big store is it reminds me of record/CD shopping before the MP3 player was invented. A rare import or bootleg album is the equivalent to finding a great bourbon barrel aged stout, a triple IPA or a nice sour from Belgium. Thankfully, beer can never be digitized. Let me tell you, finding a sour at TW&M isn’t easy. My latest trip I found several: The Bruery’s Rueuze, Petrus Oude Bruin and a Monk’s Cafe Flemish Sour Red Ale.
Tasting Notes on the Three:
The Bruery’s Rueuze pours a dusky yellow fiz. The head is like Marie Antoinette at the guillotine; your glass serving as the landing basket. “Let them eat cake!” I yell to my wife as she makes dinner while I sip. “What the hell are you talking about?” she yells back. Lively on the nose are notes of lemon curd, shortcake, light brown sugar, over-ripe fruit and a touch of wild apple cider. From a distance it looks completely flat, up close, tiny bubbles cling to the side and provide a pleasant body to keep things interesting. This dry gueuze is tart to the point it forces a grin no matter how glum you may be! As it warms, call a search party for the carbonation; its soul escapes, leaving a vinous sour that remains worthy until the blade drops.
Monk’s Cafe Flemish Sour is a great entry point to the huge landscape of sour beers. This beer is easily approachable to someone that is making the leap to craft beer from wine or light American lager. Pours dark with ruby red highlights, lace sliding down the glass like soap at a carwash. A scary amount of halloween candy haunts my nose with notes of Sweet Tarts, Bottle Caps candy, and fresh pomegranate. This is a very easy to drink beer with a mild creamy mouthfeel. Belgian candi sugar flavors and sweet malt hang around, finishing with an subtle mineral water character. Pair this beer with a spring salad and raspberry vinaigrette or perhaps a fruity tartlet.
Petrus Oud Bruin is somewhat similar to Monk’s Cafe. It’s a little darker, dryer, and more complex. Notes of oak and cabernet grapes round out this highly quaffable beer. It’s almost too easy to drink for how long it’s aged! As it warms, swirling the glass will give some nice fruity plum and dried cherry notes. The sour factor is also enhanced as the temp rises. If Monk’s Cafe is Kindergarten, this is the second grade…both accessible, delicious and super high quality.
Overall, sour beer at a store like Total Wine & More is still somewhat hard to come by. It’s a gentle start, but I won’t be satisfied until there’s at least a dedicated sour section filled with gems from around the globe. Their selection of wine and spirits tells me, it’s damn possible.
Get a sour in Orange County recently? Share where!