143 of the Best Sour/Wild Ales, Blind-Tasted and Ranked

On some level, what you’re about to read is the most schizophrenic of all Paste blind tastings. Approaching “sour beers” or “wild ales” for this style of tasting is like venturing into a quagmire of conflicting styles and substyles—you’re just hoping to find your way out again, when all is said and done. Every beer just raises further questions about which other beers should be included. Fruited vs. neutral? Kettle sours vs. barrel-aged sours? Different strains of bacteria and wild yeast? How do you compare all of them to each other? And what of other “sour beer” styles that are now better defined in the American market, such as Berliner weisse or gose?

In the end, the only way is to make a decision and stick with it. This is a large tasting, and a wide-ranging one that includes beers from some of the country’s most sought-after sour beer producers. It includes many styles of beer, brewed with a dizzying array of fruits, spices, barrels and strains of funk-forward yeast and bacteria. Some of these beers bear a passing resemblance to each other. Others are so uniquely bizarre that we barely knew what to do with them.

It’s perhaps easiest to simply state which types of beer were NOT included: Saison/farmhouse ale, Berliner weisse and gose. There are plenty of tart saisons, but as you probably recall, we just blind-tasted 116 of them last month. Berliner weisse and gose, on the other hand, are so well established now on their own that each of them really deserves its own tasting—something that we will address in the August tasting, which will tackle gose specifically.

Everything else that is tart in the world of beer can be found in this tasting. Flanders red ales and oud bruins are alongside dry-hopped American kettle sours, which are alongside oak-aged fruited sours and other beers freshly dumped from whiskey or tequila barrels. You might say that the only other requirement is that the beer must be sour—or at least claim to be. So let’s get started, and let the best tart beer win.

A Note on Beer Acquisition

As in most of our blind tastings at Paste, the vast majority of these sours were sent directly to the office by the breweries that choose to participate, with additional beers acquired by us via locally available purchases and the occasional trade. We always do our best to reach out to breweries we’re aware of that make exemplary versions of particular styles, but things always do slip through the cracks. We apologize for a few significant omissions that we couldn’t acquire, either due to seasonality or market shortages. There will never be a “perfect” tasting lineup, much as we continue to try.

Rules and Procedure

- As explained above, this is exclusively a tasting of sour/wild ales, largely determined by how the breweries chose to label their products. Nothing labeled as “saison/farmhouse ale, berliner weisse or gose” was admitted. There was no ABV limit. When in doubt, we simply allow a brewery’s marketing to define a beer’s style, and expect them to stick to the designation they’ve chosen.

- There was a limit of two entries per brewery. The beers were separated into daily blind tastings that approximated a sample size of the entire field.

- Tasters included professional beer writers, brewery owners, brewmasters and beer reps. Awesome, Paste-branded glassware is from Spiegelau.

- Beers were judged completely blind by how enjoyable they were as individual experiences and given scores of 1-100, which were then averaged. Entries were judged by how much we enjoyed them for whatever reason, not by how well they fit any kind of preconceived style guidelines. As such, this is not a BJCP-style tasting.

25 Essential Colorado Breweries


Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales (Denver)

Former Future Brewing Company co-founders James and Sarah Howat started Black Project as an outlet for their more outlandish ideas, like brewing sour beer with the gnarly microbes that naturally occur in Denver's air. When the Great American Beer Festival slapped a bronze medal on a fruity golden ale called Black Project #1, the couple decided to devote more time to their diffusion line and eventually reboot the brand from the ground up. Former Future officially became Black Project last summer, making it the Mikkeller of Mile High City. (Much like that cult Danish brewery, Black Project routinely draws hour-long lines for limited batches of Lambics that evoke fine wine, cider and beer in every sip.) blackprojectbeer.com

Colorado Brewery of the Year


Once under the radar, Black Project made its formal debut this year on South Broadway in Denver, replacing its sister operation Former Future. James and Sarah Howat’s brewery specializes beer that is spontaneously fermented with microbes in the open air, creating beer with complexity and a sense of place. Other yeast strains are isolated in the lab to make unique saisons and India pale ales.

Black Project “continues to push boundaries with their methods of harvesting and isolating wild yeast from their Denver rooftop and their marketing decision to solely focus on native microflora for fermentation,” said Chris Marchio, the former brewer at Joyride Brewing.

The unique approach gave Black Project the nod, but this category was close, with a dozen breweries in contention. Four of the state’s IPA masters finished tied for second place: Cannonball Creek, Cerebral, Comrade and Odd13 are redefining styles and pushing hop flavors to new places with each brewery hitting a new level in 2016.

Year in Review | The Best Beers of 2016

The 2,016th year of the Common Era has come and gone, leaving many high and low points in its wake. Some people may argue that this was one of the worst years in recent memory, but PorchDrinkers don’t like to focus on negatives. We are a mostly optimistic lot, who choose to remember all the positive and happy moments. For many of us, those moments began with a sip of a surprisingly great beer. Together, as a team, we want to to celebrate the best beers of 2016.

A call went out to the entire PorchDrinking.com staff. We wanted to know what great beers they discovered this year. Below, you will find the answer. Without further ado, I’ll turn this over to the writers and editors, who will sound off on their favorite beers and describe those libations that made 2016 so memorable.

In our humble opinion, these are the best beers of 2016!

Peach Rye Dreamland | Black Project Spontaneous and Wild Ales

Submitted by Jared Hardy

It’s not exactly a new headline that Denver’s Black Project Brewing makes great beers. The Peach Rye release of their popular Dreamland series just happened to be my favorite in a long line of exceptional beers. Dreamland is a golden sour solera (fresh beer replaces the beer pulled out to be kegged, so that at any time you’ve got beer of varying ages all mixed together). This particular version was especially complex with the addition of 84lbs of peaches and aging in a very fresh A.D. Law’s Secale Rye Whiskey barrel.

Tristan’s Other Picks from 2016

LUNEX Corvus Coffee Sour | Black Project Spontaneous and Wild Ales

One flavor profile that still blows my mind when done right is the combination of coffee and sour beer. Crooked Stave’s Nightcap was the first to expose me to this game changing flavor profile but James and Sarah at Black Project has created a beer that rivals that initial experience via their Lunex Corvus Coffee Sour.

The Top 25 Beers of 2016


IN THE LAST FEW YEARS, WE’VE WITNESSED AN EXPLOSION of new beer styles. Where sours were once obscure, today American wild ales and their fruited variants are the darlings of craft beer. Where session IPAs initially had us scratching our heads (How are they different from pale ales? Are they supposed to be less alcoholic or less bitter than IPAs, or both?), they’ve now distinguished themselves as one of the most popular beer styles on shelves.

But 2016 was different: Unlike in years during which we celebrated wholly new styles, this time around we relished in a deepening and broadening of the types of beer we’ve celebrated in the past. We found a 14%-ABV barrel-aged blend from Deschutes and Hair of the Dog that was gorgeously layered but surprisingly easy to drink, and a balanced Czech Pilsner from Live Oak Brewing that was wonderfully complex. We saw IPAs that took on new forms—but were still IPAs at heart—with cloudy, juicy and fruited versions landing among our favorites. And while brewers are still playing with fun, unusual and exciting ingredients in beer, this year we enjoyed the thoughtful flavor construction of their food-infused brews.

This was the year that the thrill of finding something novel was replaced by the delight of experiencing something expertly crafted. These 25 beers, all new or newly packaged in the last 12 months, are a testament to where beer is today—and, we can only hope, where beer will continue to go.

Peach Rye Dreamland

Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales
Denver, Colorado
Rye Whiskey Barrel-aged Golden Sour with Peaches
Tart, fruited wild ales continued their meteoric rise this year, but few boasted such graceful and balanced barrel character as this one-off variation on Black Project’sDreamland sour. Peaches (84 pounds’ worth)lend their juicy ripeness while a wet A.D.Laws Secale Rye Whiskey barrel contributes custardy vanilla and a warm coconut flavor.Soft acidity deftly slices through, tempering pastry-crust malt richness reminiscent of spiced peach pie a la mode.

25 Breweries on the Rise


James and Sarah Howat began fermenting the first Black Project beer in February 2014 in a back room at Former Future, the Denver brewery they were preparing to launch. Both breweries have found success, but Black Project stayed under classified status for a while.The husband-and-wife duo didn’t even tell most Former Future employees what was happening in that room; it remained an Area 51 until eight months later. Once the first Black Project beer was released, the floodgates opened. Geeks clamored for the sour and funky brews, all made with native, wild microflora (the Howats don’t purchase any yeast for Black Project beers from a lab). After two Black Project beers, Flyby and Ramjet, won medals at GABF in 2014 and 2015, word spread nationally. “You hear about engineered scarcity, but we’ve never been able to produce more than a few barrels at a time on our four-barrel system,” says James. “Right now, we’re literally trying to brew and bottle them one beer at a time.” The beers age 10-12 months on average and don’t lend themselves to repetition. But that’s not what the Howats seek anyway; Former Future is their outlet for clean, if not always repeated, beers including the Singularity Principle series of single-malt, single-hop pale ales. Black Project prizes variation. “Wild fermentation isn’t boring and it’s not even really understood,” James says. “It takes a long time to find your answer.” The Howats favorite results have been Ramjet, a red wine barrel- aged dark sour brewed with cherries, and Kalmar, a spontaneously fermented gose that has only improved in the bottle since its November 2015 release. Black Project is currently looking to expand production and distribute to other states. Safe to say the secret’s out.

Beer Advocate Review : JUMPSEAT

INTENSE, FUNK, STONE FRUITS, PUCKERING | The second beer form Former Future's side project is a solera barrel-blended dry-hopped wild ale. It's hazy blonde with a snappy, short-lived head and an incredible nose of funk, white pepper, must, and stone fruits Lively and sharp on the tongue with more stone fruitless (peach galore), citrusy smack and rindy tartness. Granny Smith Apples-a bot Jolly Rancher-like-emerge eventually, with plum skins and an acidic puckering edge. A leafy bitterness struggles to leave its mark, while some breadiness emerges as the beer warms, but is ultimately pushed back by a bone dry, bitter, flowery linger. Intense and exciting, I'm really looking forward to more Black Project. [Todd]
LOOK 3 SMELL 4.25 TASTE 4.5 FEEL 4.25 OVERALL 4

Vermont and Colorado Breweries Top Untappd’s Highest Rated Breweries


It should come as no surprise that Colorado breweries rank amongst the highest when comparing the best breweries in the industry. Such was the case once again when social beer app Untappd released it’s most recent update on the top rated breweries in the country.

While we generally don’t give a rat’s ass about rating beer, it’s still pretty cool to see Colorado kicking ass nationally and in a pretty significant way. To be considered for the list, a brewery had to have at least 1000 ratings within the app, and have at least 5 beers in their portfolio. Additionally, Untappd’s list was based off averages of ratings from Untappd’s own arbitrarily created rating system, with various weight placed on top beers blah blah blah, let’s find out which breweries are awesome.

Brewery – Rating – Location

  1. The Alchemist – 4.587 – Waterbury, VT
  2. Schramm’s Mead – 4.436 – Ferndale, MI
  3. Side Project Brewing – 4.431 – St. Louis, MO
  4. Tree House Brewing Company – 4.408 – Monson, MA
  5. The Andall – 4.405 – Richmond, VA
  6. 3 Sons Brewing Co – 4.346 – Dania Beach, FL
  7. Lawson’s Finest Liquids – 4.322 – Warren VT
  8. Casey Brewing and Blending – 4.322 – Glenwood Springs, CO
  9. Hill Farmstead Brewery – 4.307 – Greensboro, VT
  10. MAZURT Brewing Company – 4.285 – Atlanta, GA
  11. The Ale Apothecary – 4.267 – Bend, OR
  12. de Garde Brewing – 4.266 – Tilamook, OR
  13. Trillium Brewing Company – 4.259 – Boston, MA
  14. The Rare Barrel – 4.25 – Berkeley, CA
  15. Sante Adairius Rustic Ales – 4.239 – Capitola, CA
  16. The Veil Brewing Co. – 4.227 – Richmond, VA
  17. FiftyFifty Brewing – 4.218 – Truckee, CA
  18. Russian River Brewing Company – 4.21 – Santa Rosa, CA
  19. Casa Agria Specialty Ales – 4.203 – Oxnard, CA
  20. The Answer – 4.18 – Richmond, VA
  21. Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales – 4.18 – Denver, CO
  22. Bissell Brother – 4.139 – Portland, ME
  23. Fiddlehead Brewing Company – 4.138 – Shelburne, VT
  24. Dionysus Brewing Company – 4.136 – Bakersfield, CA
  25. Toppling Goliath Brewing – 4.125 – Decorah, IA
  26. Cycle Brewing Company – 4.125 – Saint Petersburg, FL
  27. Steady Habit Brewing Company – 4.112 – Haddam, CT
  28. Grassroots Brewing – 4.111 – Greensboro Bend, VT
  29. The Brewery at Bacchus – 4.105 – New Paltz, NY
  30. New England Brewing Co. – 4.091 – Woodbridge, CT
  31. Cascade Brewing Company – 4.089 – Portland, OR
  32. Oddwood Ales – 4.083 – Austin, TX
  33. Brick & Feather Brewery – 4.07 – Turners Falls, MA
  34. Crooked Stave Artisan Ale Project – 4.059 – Denver, CO
  35. WeldWerks Brewing Co. – 4.058 – Greeley, CO

Vermont led the pack with five breweries in the top 35, California and Colorado followed with 4 breweries. Colorado’s acclaimed breweries include Casey Brewing & Blending, Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales, Crooked Stave Artisan Ale Project and WeldWerks Brewing Co. Congrats to all of our Colorado breweries!

Thirty Amazing Colorado Beers From 2015

Jumpseat
Former Future/Black Project
Denver


Former Future Brewing debuted a side project in 2015 called the Black Project, dedicated to spontaneously fermented creations that owner James Howat inoculates with whatever yeast lands in the “coolship” on the roof of his brewery. But before Black Project was born, Howat poured Jumpseat, an early incarnation of a Black Project beer, at the 2015 Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines Festival in Vail. It was unusual, to say the least – a dry-hopped wild ale that was at once funky and bretty, but also full of soothing, always-sweet apple, apricot and tangerine flavors.

Introducing the 2016 Imbibe 75

When James and Sarah Howat were planning Denver's Former Future, they launched a Kickstarter to buy barrels and a custom coolship, spontaneous fermentation in their crosshairs. Though the fundraising failed, "we decided to do this on a shoestring," says Howat, a former science teacher. While making reinterpreted historical styles (salted caramel porter, sherry cask-aged gose) he secretly stuck wort-filled stockpots on the roof and let native microbes feast. "We didn't tell people we were doing it, partly because we didn't know how it was going to work out," he says of what became Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales, one of America's smallest, and most exciting, wild-beer initatives. Instead of following Belgian tradition, Howat uses spontanoues fermentation as a jumping-off point and ferments a range of base beers-some dark, some heavy with oats or rye. The common thread is his neighborhood's microflora: "We get a really great peach flavor," says Howat, whose singular creations, aged 10 to 12 months, have medaled at the last two Great American Beer Festivals. "We're doing what lambic breweries aren't doing, or aren't suppose to be doing," he says. -JMB

First Drafts’ Favorite Colorado Beers of 2015

John Frank’s favorite: Black Project, Ramjet
The funky sister brewery to Former Future let this sour red ferment in the wild (AKA the coolship), put it in a red wine barrel with Montmorency cherries and aged in the bottle for months before the June release. With a touch more of funk in the bottle, Ramjet is tart and complex with flavors of oak and cherries, earning a GABF bronze in the wide-ranging experimental beer category.

Great American Beer Festival 2015 | Bronze Medal

RAMJET

Bronze Medal - Wild Ale (16C)

This beer was made using our coolship and aged for close to a year in a single red wine barrel. Montmorency Cherries were added to the barrel for a second fermentation. Finally the beer was bottle conditioned using the spontaneous microbes (we don't use bottling strains). Ramjet will age and develop in the bottle for years if treated properly.

Deep red with clingy, bright white head. Big tart cherry aroma mixed with lactic tartness. Flavor is complex and balanced. Mild tart cherry acidity and lactic acid mingle with doughy-malt flavor and a dose of traditional brettanomyces "funk".

10 of the Best Sour Beer Breweries in Colorado


Former Future Brewing’s Black Project

Black Project’s brews feature local yeast and ingredients © Dustin Hall/The Brewtography Project

Former Future Brewing, open only since February 2014, has already drawn acclaim for its tasty beers and its historic brewing methods. That dedication to traditional pedigree can be witnessed in the brewery’s Black Project, which focuses on sours. But these aren’t just any sours: freshly made wort (the name for pre-fermented beer) is left open to the air to be inoculated with the wild yeasts and bacteria that surround Denver. Think of it as beer’s version of terroir.

Top Craft Breweries In South Denver Metro Area

Former Future Brewing Company

Former Future Brewing Company founders Sarah and James Howat built a stylish beer joint with a bar made from old airplane wings and charismatic light fixtures. Located in south Denver on Broadway with plenty of parking, this is a fun neighborhood microbrewery and is a Great American Beer Festival medal winning brewery. All the beer is brewed on site and only 120 gallons at a time. Whether it is an afternoon of fun or maybe a late night drink, you can relax and enjoy one of the great six beers on tap. The Countinghouse is a lighter cream ale that you can savor while taking in the atmosphere. Be sure to check out the many events that are always going on at the Former Future Brewing Company.

Best New Brewery Taproom 2015

 

Former Future had a bumpy landing when it opened in February 2014, running out of beer immediately and limiting its hours. But the brewery, helmed by the adorable James and Sarah Howat, has soared ever since. Based on a steampunk-like historical-futuristic theme, Former Future pours an eclectic lineup of beers — everything from a pre-Prohibition-style cream ale and a sour red to a salted-caramel porter and a barrel-aged Russian imperial stout — that you can drink at the bar, which is made from the wing of a Cessna airplane. The experience is deepened by the Howats' ever-present elegance behind that bar and other well-thought-out design touches, such as lights made from old whiskey barrels and runway lights, barbershop-style bar chairs and tabletop terrariums. In October, the brewery won a medal at the Great American Beer Festival for a beer that it spontaneously fermented on its roof. Look for more leaps forward into the past this year.

 

Colorado's Best Breweries of 2014 Have Risen to the Top

Good beer leads to good conversation. And so it was recently at New Belgium's excellent Lost in the Woods sour celebration, when talk arose as to what Colorado's best new brewery of 2014 was.

There was no shortage of standout entrants. Casey Brewing and Blending brought new precision to the centuries-old saison style. Comrade Brewing brought a freshness and excellence to the IPA genre. And Chain Reaction Brewing arguably made the single best beer produced by a rookie brewery with its Pink Peppercorn Saison.

But with two months of the new year fully gone - the same amount of time Oscar voters get to look back before having to decide a top movie of the previous year, I'd like to point out - two of last year's new breweries have, in this beer geek's opinion, risen above the rest. And not only have Former Future Brewing and Mockery Brewing elevated themselves to the top of the class, but they've done it in different ways.

Former Future, which opened less than a month into 2014, earns its stripes with some really bold experimentation that has produced increasingly better results over the past year. The standout of the offerings is the Black Project spontaneously fermented series, especially the Jumpseat dry-hopped sour ale that came out a few months ago and offered a unique level of pucker combined with an earthy backbone.

But that same creativity can be found in Former Future's everyday beers as well, from its SweeTart-scented Synthia wild sour ale to its cotton-candy-tasting Bel Esprit Bretta saison, a beer that makes as good a case for the current session-ale movement as anything out there. And when they mix up regular offerings with experimentation - as they did last month in producing a 12.7 percent ABV coffee-infused bourbon-barrel Russian imperial stout that was dangerously sweet and drinkable - it reminds you how much more can come from these artists on South Broadway.

Mockery, meanwhile, opened only in November, meaning that it's still working its way into the vocabularies of Denver beer lovers. And it's doing it not by coming up with its own new styles of ales but by perfecting types of beer that have been around for a while - and then often adding a twist.

Our Favorite Beers of 2014

Former Future - Putin’s Brother Brett: The tap room opened in February 2014 and the first-year lineup proved intriguing. For proof, look no further than Putin’s Brother Brett, a Russian Imperial Stout spiked with Brett. It’s captivating with a clean sour bite and yet still roasty and complex. Weird, in a great way. When not on tap, the Prim and Porter, an English robust porter, on nitro is a silky temptress.

Great American Beer Festival 2014 | Bronze Medal

FLYBY

Bronze Medal - Wild Ale (16C)

Notes of ripe tropical fruit, dominated by a fresh peach flavor and aroma. We used a special coolship technique that generates minimal "funkiness" and mild acidity that will both increase up to 10 years in a cellar. FLYBY is also Colorado's first spontaneous ale.

ZAGAT | 30 Under 30

Rock Stars Redefining the Industry

James Howat and Sarah Howat

“Divide and conquer, right?” laughs Sarah Howat of the separate roles she and her husband, James, play at their Platt Park hit, Former Future. As head brewer, James relies on both his fascination with history and his training as a former science teacher to build beers on the twin foundations of tradition and innovation — be it his signature salted porter or his Singularity Principle series: Each release showcases a single malt and hop variety. All his mad tinkering serves the couple’s shared vision, however. “In early America, the local pub was the place people would meet — if there wasn’t a church in town, they’d have church services in the pub,” James says. “We’ve always wanted to have a real community-focused place.” That’s where Sarah comes in — not only to manage the bar but to coordinate outreach efforts like the membership program, the success of which has exceeded even her expectations. “One thing that’s surprised me is how diverse this neighborhood is,” she says. “Any given Saturday, we have people who just turned 21 and 70-year-old couples, people who come with their kids and bring the dogs. It’s awesome.”