Rodenbach glass WM

Last week, I did a piece called Beer Science: Sour and Funky Beers, which was all about the basic science of brewing and the special fermentation microbes used in brewing sours. This week, I’d like to step away from the science (just a little) and into the fun! I wanted to pay homage to the eight beers that inspired me to write about sour beer in the first place. Although my love of sour beer began over five years ago with my first sip of Dogfish Head’s Festina Peche, the inspiration for this deep dive into the world of sour brewing was inspired by an event I attended in August called Summer Sour Brews, held at the Historic Sixth & I Synagogue. It was a rare opportunity to taste brews from different local breweries side by side and hear tales of brewing from the expert panel of brewers. The breweries highlighted were:

Bluejacket 
300 Tingey St SE (Waterfront)
bluejacketdc.com
Brewer: Greg Engert
Right Proper
624 T Street NW (Shaw)
rightproperbrewery.com
Brewer: Nathan Zeender
Franklin’s
5123 Baltimore Ave (Hyatsville, MD)
franklinsbrewery.com
Brewer: Mike Roy

Brewers Greg Engert from Bluejacket, Nathan Zeender from Right Proper, and Mike Roy from Franklin’s ladled out knowledge by the pint, while offering us tastings of eight sour and funky brews from their respective brewpubs. Emcee Chris O’Brien, author of Fermenting Revolution: How to Drink Beer and Save the World, and self-proclaimed Beer Activist, added his own insight and kept the night moving. I learned a lot and had a wonderful time! I’ve included a synopsis of each beer below, including my personal review and ranking and a sound clip of the each brewer describing his beer in his own words (so cool!). Some of these beers were produced in very limited quantities, so it’s unclear if all of them are still available at the breweries (call ahead if you want to try a specific beer).

Sour Beer 1Brewery: Bluejacket
Beer: Gander
Style: Gose
Stats: 4.2% Alcohol by Volume (ABV), International Bitterness Units (IBU) 6.7
In a word(ish): Briny, herbal
Description: Bluejacket’s Gander is a wheat-based sour beer which is light in color and flavored with a pinch of salt, coriander seeds, and coriander flowers. Gander is actually the product of two separately brewed beers—a beer soured by Lactobacillus (a lactic acid producing bacteria), and a coriander wheat beer.  Brewing them separately allowed Bluejacket to control the exact balance of acidity and herbal notes in the final beer.
My review: Bluejacket’s Gander is one of the most satisfying sour beers I’ve ever had, and it was my favorite of the eight beers tasted at the Summer Sour Brews event. I prefer my sours to be noticeably tart, but with some complexity, and if I can get it, uniqueness. Gander had all of that. The sourness grabs your attention, and then the herbal, citrusy, floral notes of the coriander add a layer of complexity and interest. The slight saltiness of the beer gives it an overall warmth that isn’t common in other types of sour beer (or beer in general for that matter). The elements of this beer were inspired and expertly crafted, with every flavor element apparent, pleasant and in perfect balance.
My ranking: First place
Sour Beer 2Brewery: Right Proper
Beer: Astral Weeks
Style: Farmhouse Pale Ale
Stats: 4.4% ABV
In a word(ish): Funky, hoppy
Description: Right Proper’s Astral Weeks is a dry, pilsner-based ale that’s open fermented with their house culture, which includes four strains of yeast, including Brettanomyces, and a strain of Lactobacillus bacteria. The Brettanomyces brings funky aromas of overripe fruit, the Lactobacillus adds a slight sourness, and the remaining yeasts lend pilsner-like flavor to the brew. A combination of Galaxy (citrusy) and Equinox (sticky) hops offers a complex hoppy character that makes this ale stand out. The combination of sourness and hoppiness is apparently quite rare, so Astral Weeks capitalizes on this unique blend of flavors.
My review: Right Proper’s Astral Weeks is a good example of a funky ale that isn’t too sour. The shining point of Astral Weeks is its hop character—at once noticeable and complex, without being overly bitter. This would be the perfect sour ale for someone who’s a fan of hops, not just for their bitterness, but for all of their complex flavor characteristics. Astral Weeks is also great for those who only like a slight hint of sour. Personally, I’m not a lover of hoppy beers, and I like my sours to be have a noticeable punch of acidity, so this beer wasn’t my favorite of the night. However, I could definitely appreciate that it was a well-crafted beer, and I’d recommend it as a first choice for a hop lover who’s looking to dip a toe into the world of sour beers.
My ranking: Sixth place
Sour Beer 3Brewery: Right Proper (in collaboration with The Brewer’s Art)
Beer: Hallogallo
Style: Wermutbeir (translation: Vermouth Beer)
Stats: 4.7% ABV
In a word(ish): Herbal, summery
Description: Right Proper’s Hallogallo is a refreshing beer intended to mimic the herbal and vinous (wine-like) qualities of vermouth. It’s infused with the flavors of a variety of botanicals, including fresh cropped mugwort, yarrow, and anise hyssop, to mimic the herbal attributes of vermouth. Nelson Sauvin hops bring a spicy yet grape-like flavor. Like Astral Weeks, Hallogallo is open fermented with their house culture, which includes four strains of yeast, including Brettanomyces, and a strain of Lactobacillus bacteria.
My review: Right Proper’s Hallogallo is a wonderful example of botanicals in brewing. The anise flavor stood out in particular. It wasn’t overbearing, but any amount of anise flavor can be polarizing for some. Luckily, I like anise, and I found it to be an interesting addition. The hop and sour characteristics of this beer are light. This is a perfect beer for someone who likes anise, aperitifs, and/or interestingly spiced foods. I would definitely get this beer again.
My ranking: Fourth place
Sour Beer 4Brewery: Franklin’s
Beer: Ludicrous
Style: American Sour Ale
Stats: 6.1% ABV, IBU 17, Original Gravity (OG) 1.057
In a word(ish): Puckeringly sour
Description: Franklin’s Ludicrous is a “clean sour,” meaning its formula is similar to a regular American ale, except it’s been soured. Franklin’s uses pilsner, rye and munich malts for the base, adds Tettnang hops, sours the beer with Lactobacillus, then finishes off fermentation with an ale yeast.
My review: Franklin’s Ludicrous is bold in its sourness. The base beer does have a clean flavor, but the lactic sourness of this beer was a bit overwhelming. I like my sour beers tart, but this one was puckeringly sour. Perhaps the ale base is a little too clean tasting to stand up to the acidity. This is a good beer for those who like a lot of sour without any funk.
My ranking: Seventh place

Sour Beer 5Brewery: Franklin’s
Beer: Ridiculous
Style: American Sour Ale
Stats: 6.4% ABV, IBU 15, OG 1.058
In a word(ish): Sour, toasty
Description: Franklin’s Ridiculous uses the same basic process as their Ludicrous, but with a different malt lineup. In Ridiculous, pilsner, Vienna, crystal, black, wheat and maize malts are used. This too is a “clean sour,” but this time, the base beer is more in the style of an amber or a red.
My review: The complex malts used in Franklin’s Ridiculous give it a dark color and sweeter, maltier flavor than the Ludicrous. Its toasty caramel notes act as a counterbalance to the acidity, giving it a better overall balance than the Ludicrous. This is my favorite of the three sours from Franklin’s.
My ranking: Fifth place
Sour Beer 6Brewery: Franklin’s
Beer: Psychedelic Smokehouse
Style: American Sour Ale
Stats: 5.35% ABV, IBU 15, OG 1.049
In a word(ish): Smokey, BBQ
Description: Franklin’s Psychedelic Smokehouse is first and foremost a smoked ale. Made exclusively with locally sourced mesquite-smoked malt, you can’t miss the smoke on this one. The hop, Lactobacillus, and yeast profiles are the same as the Ludicrous, so with the exception of the smokiness from the malt, this too is brewed to be a “clean sour” with low funk.
My review: You can smell this ale coming like a pound of bacon. Franklin’s uses 100% mesquite smoked malt in this brew, and it’s fun to sip but hard to finish. Mesquite is the same wood often used to smoke bacon and BBQ, so a sip of the Psychedelic Smokehouse is surprisingly food-like, with a sweet smoky aftertaste that can linger for over a minute. Almost like you’re standing right over the smoker with a beer and a BBQ sandwich. As Franklin’s brewer Mike Roy said himself, “The probably two most polarizing sub-beer styles you’ll probably see out there are smoked beers and sour beers, so we added them together, and it’s a real love-hate relationship.” Although I found the smoke overpowering for my taste, this beer is memorable and has novelty value (it’s certainly unique). Though it was (imo) the least drinkable beer of the night, Psychedelic Smokehouse is perfect for that person in your life that subscribes to the “everything’s better with bacon” motto. This is a smoked beer for hardcore fans of the genre. What I appreciate about this beer, and many of the others in this tasting, is that it demonstrates how unafraid these brewers are to experiment with bold flavors and combinations. It’s in the spirit of sour beer to do just that.
My ranking: Eighth place
Sour Beer 7Brewery: Bluejacket (in collaboration with Brian Strumke of Stillwater Artisanal)
Beer: Pyro
Style: Smoked Sour Saison
Stats: 5.9% ABV, IBU 20
In a word(ish): Fruity, hint of smoke
Description: Bluejacket’s Pyro uses just enough beechwood and oak-smoked malt to give this fruity saison with medium acidity a subtle smoky perfume. Chinook and Citra hops add complexity without too much bitterness, and saison ale yeast and Brettanomyces claussenii add fruitiness, funkiness, and spice.
My review: Bluejacket’s Pyro has a tingling punch of acidity that fades quickly into a clean, slightly smoky finish. The fruitiness comes though as pronounced mango and peach. Beechwood smoke imparts malt with fatty, spicy notes that complement the funk and spice naturally found in a saison. This is a great beer with a complex interplay between bright acidity and fruit and complex spice and smoke. I would definitely order one of these at the pub.
My ranking: Third place

Sour Beer 8Brewery: Bluejacket (in collaboration with Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery and Peter Boukaert of New Belgium Brewing Company)
Beer: Rheinard de Vos
Style: Sour Brett Red
Stats: 7.0% ABV, IBU 15.2
In a word(ish): Beaujolais wine, fruity
Description: Bluejacket’s Rheinard de Vos is modeled after a lesser-known French wine called Les Petites Fleurs by Domaine Tricot. The wine has a pinot noir and gamay grape base and is similar in flavor to a Beaujolais wine—light and refreshing. Rheinard de Vos is unfiltered, mildly funky, rich in flavor, and mildly tart with notes of earth and fresh strawberries. This beer is fermented with 100% Brettanomyces bruxellensis yeast.
My review: Bluejacket’s Rheinard de Vos is truly reminiscent of a Beaujolais. It’s acidity is bright and in good balance with the fruit and funk notes from the Brettanomyces yeast. I enjoy this beer particularly for its funky, earthy, vinous character and its drinkability. Definitely one of the best beers of the night.
My ranking: Second place

To sum up, here are the eight beers listed in order of my personal preference: Gander, Rheinard de Vos, Pyro, HallogalloRidiculousAstral WeeksLudicrous, and Psychedelic Smokehouse. It’s safe to conclude that my overall preference lies with Bluejacket. They consistently offered complex brews with impeccable balance and a noticeable (but not overpowering) sourness. I think Bluejacket’s sours are as good as and better than almost any sour I’ve ever had from a bottle or tap, including many Belgian and German imports. There’s no question in my mind that Bluejacket is headed for sour beer fame (if there is such a thing to be had) and is worth going out of your way to visit. However, there’s no right and wrong when it comes to tasting, since each of us perceives foods differently. I simply offer my thoughts as a gateway for you to make your own judgments. Whether you agree with my reviews or not, it’s safe to say that DC has an excellent sour beer scene with a lot to offer. So don’t take my word for it, go out a grab a beer at your local brewpub and taste for yourself!

Bonus sound clips

As a treat, here are some bonus sound clips from the event. Many thanks to Sixth & I and Chris O’Brien for giving me permission to share these with you.

Pairing food with sour beer

Difference between beer and ale?

Color of beer

Open fermentation

Equinox hops

Joke about Psychedelic Smokehouse

2 Responses to Eight Sour and Funky Beers from the DC Area

  1. John says:

    Thanks for an entertaining and informative article! Made me want to do a similar tasting and see how our reviews compared!

  2. Amber says:

    Thanks for the beer recommendations! The Bluejacket Pyro sounds really interesting – fruity and smokey. Going to keep my eyes peeled for it

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