January 18th, 2011

The First Sip: La Folie – New Belgium Brewing Company

Today’s foray in my “You Gotta Try This” series is a beer that I’m going to assume many of you haven’t had – and if you have had it and didn’t know what to expect, you probably didn’t like it. I find it a shame that people can get turned off of craft beer all because a beer doesn’t meet an expected result. Trying new craft beer is great, but having an idea of what you are trying really helps you appreciate it that much more.

La Folie, by New Belgium Brewing Company, is heralded in the craft beer community as one of the best, if not the best, examples of an American brewed sour ale. That’s right… sour ale. For the beer novice out there, let me first give you a little background on the style. Sour ales have their origins rooted in Belgium. There are a few different sub-categories of the style, La Folie falls under the Flanders Red category. Flanders Red is considered to be the most “wine-like” of any beer style due to the complexity of fruit flavors derived from dark malts and specialty grains as well as the wood aged character that comes from barrel aging.

The biggest difference between sour ales and other ales, is the fermentation addition of lactobacillus (pronounced lack-toe-bas-ill-us) bacteria and a special strain of wild yeast called brettanomyces (pronounced brett-tan-oh-my-sees). As the name “sour” indicates, brewers are, quite literally, infecting a beer. (Don’t worry… there is nothing in beer that can make you ill.) Lactobacillus and brettanomyces are used in brewing for the myriad of interesting flavors they add to beer, most notably due to the lactic & acetic acid they produce. These acids give a puckering flavor that adds sharpness to a beer.

Let me say this one last thing regarding sour ales: These beers aren’t for everyone. Some people, like myself, try the style for the first time and instantly fall in love with it. Some people try it and instantly hate it. Some warm up to it over time. I have friends who are hardened beer geeks who HATE sour beers. There is no rule saying that just because you want to like craft beer, you have to learn to love sour beers. The taste of lactic and acetic acid isn’t something that can be taken lightly. These are not chugging beers or beers that you will typically drink a six pack in a sitting. Drink slowly and enjoy! Now, on to the beer!

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Here is the description from the New Belgium website:

La Folie Wood-Aged Biere, is our original wood-conditioned beer, resting in French Oak barrels between one and three years before being bottled. Peter Bouckaert, came to us from Rodenbach home of the fabled sour red. Our La Folie emulates the spontaneous fermentation beers of Peter’s beloved Flanders with sour apple notes, a dry effervescence, and earthy undertones.

You can buy this beer at most local Spec’s liquor stores where it’s sold exclusively in 22 oz. bombers. For starters, pour this beer into the proper serving vessel, a snifter or tulip glass, and let it warm up a few minutes. Immediately, you’ll notice in the aroma some of those tannic, acidic and woodsy aromas. If you have never had sour ale, make that first sip a small, delicate one and be prepared! Up front, the flavor is tart and puckering as that lactic acid smacks your taste buds. After the initial punch, the flavor gives way to some nice dark cherry and wood flavors. The beer finishes dry which is reinforced by the sour, which leaves you, almost instantly, ready for another sip!

After you’ve got the initial impact out of the way, go ahead and graduate from small sips to full drinks and really let the flavors of the beer come to full fruition! I’d recommend opening and sharing with a friend or two. For added fun, find that friend of yours that is a hard and true Bud Light drinker and offer them a sip… then watch as hilarity ensues! (No, no… don’t do that. Bring them into the craft beer fold gently).

As always, stay crafty, my friends! Cheers!

— Jeff

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