Beer drinkers always argue over who brews the cleanest pilsner, or the fruitiest IPA, often at great length, and over many pints. More often than not, however, the only way to really decide is to sit down and taste them all without any idea which is which, pushing past biases and preconceived notions about how a certain beer should taste. That’s why the New York Times beer panel sat down for a blind tasting of the best sour ales in the country, and Cascade Brewing – a Portland, Oregon brewery where Manual writers often find themselves – took home top honors.
There are a few steps that separate sour ales from your standard ales and lagers. First, the brewery cooks up a regular old beer, usually a red or a brown ale, but doesn’t carbonate it. Instead, after the beer’s primary fermentation, it goes into a second fermentation in a wood cask. Cascade typically uses a blend of base beers, mostly red, for the Kriek, all of which are aged in oak barrels for as long as eight months. Then, they add Bing and sour pie cherries for another six months, along with exotic sour yeast strains particular to their barrel house.
If you’ve had the chance to try Cascade’s cherry-imbued sour ale, particularly the 2014 vintage the New York Times was tasting, this won’t come as much of a surprise. The fruit’s tartness compounds the aggressively funky yeast, with a touch of sweetness and a deep, oaky complexity.
The tasting team over there praised it for its consistency, calling it “bright, lively, distinct, and complex,” but they didn’t stop there, awarding it the highest possible four stars, a rare honor that the 2010 Cascade Kriek also claimed in the 2011 tastings.
“We are extremely grateful for this honor and to have lightning strike twice,” commented Ron Gansberg, Cascade’s brewmaster. “This is a testament to our people, our brewing philosophy and our process, in which our staff takes great pride in making the best sour beers possible.”
The other good news is that Cascade’s sour ales are hardly limited to the Portland, Oregon area. In fact, the brewery distributes in 40 states, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the UK, and in various countries across Europe, although you’re more likely to find the 2014 Kriek at the Barrel House in Southeast Portland or at Cascade’s Raccoon Lodge brewpub in Southwest. No need to worry if you can’t make it, we’ll make sure to head over and have a celebratory glass on your behalf.
[Photo credit: Cascade Brewing’s Facebook]