You don’t need tons of oak to make sours, however. Smaller breweries can get in the mixed-culture game as well. Take LTD Brewing in Hopkins. They’re just over two years old. They wanted to get into sours from the beginning but were holding off until they had their standard beer procedure down.
“We were actually pushed into doing it earlier than we had originally planned by one of our employees, Emily, hence the ‘Emily’s Dream’ name.” says Blake Verdon, LTD owner and co-head brewer.
All the beers in the Emily’s Dream series are kettle-soured and, starting with #5, all spend around six months in a barrel. They have three French oak red wine barrels and three American oak whiskey barrels. They’ve also started experimenting with adding fruit to the barrels to kick off a secondary fermentation and get some additional character and organisms into the beer.
Since they’ve turned the same six barrels over several times now he’s starting to get an idea for the different characteristics each barrel imparts to beer. Verdon wasn’t sure how the beers would go over with local clientele in Hopkins, but reception thus far has been overwhelmingly positive.
Emily’s Dream #10 will be a Belgian-style saison aged in red wine barrels. Emily Dream #11 is still under wraps.
For each brewery meticulously dissecting their sour program down to the last microbe, there’s another brewery that has a little more devil-may-care in their approach. In the Twin Cities, the latter mindset is championed by Bartley Blume and Kristen England at Bent Brewstillery in Roseville.
Blume and England have a track record of innovation-through-recycling. They save potato peels from the compost bin at Anchor Fish & Chips by instead distilling them into an Irish-style moonshine called poitín. They barrel-aged a stout, gave the barrel to a sriracha-maker, then took back the now-spicy barrel for aging more beers and spirits.
Bent Brewstillery’s Funked Up series of sour beers displays that same philosophy. If they have a spare whiskey barrel, expect a sour beer to land inside. If they brews a gose, some fruit might hit the barrel with it. Each Funked Up entry represents a singular burst of inspiration, which befits the brewer who, perhaps more than anyone in the Metro, is willing to go out on a limb with experimental brews.
Stop by the beer fridge to the right of the bar in their Roseville taproom. You’ll find a backlog of Funked Up beers, and you might just get a peek at Blume and England planning their next concoction.
Surly Brewing Company’s best-known sour, Pentagram, evolved out of Surly FIVE. It’s a dark sour made with Munich malts, fermented in stainless steel with 100% Brettanomyces, and then placed in red wine barrels to age. Every year, barrels from different years are blended and packaged in 750-milliliter bottles. Pentagram also on draft year-round at the Beer Hall and Brewer’s Table. The 2016 plan is to release a limited amount of Rye Whiskey (double) Barrel Aged Pentagram.
Another Surly sour is the limited-release Misanthrope, a Belgian saison finished with Brettanyomyces and aged in a blend of white wine and virgin oak barrels. It is available in limited quantities at The Brewer’s Table throughout the year and will eventually be a bottle release (dates TBD). The brewery’s kettle sour series is relatively new; so far they’ve made three iterations: One Time Session Sour, with cranberry and sea salt; Ginger Bear with pureed ginger, kaffir lime leaves, and sea salt; and Surly Gose, the original base beer (mostly Pilsner malt) with just sea salt added.
In addition to these, Surly has also made multiple 100% Brett IPAs over the past few years. The most recent was Brett Mikkels, a Belgian IPA that was a collaboration with Mikkeller and available in draft and 750-milliliter bottles earlier in 2016.