I’m an enthusiastic advocate of Ohio beer, but there are certain styles that local brewers have been slow to embrace. Ohio has a bounty of delicious double IPAs and imperial stouts, including many celebrated award winning beers, but choices are much more limited when it comes to sour beers and wild ales, especially those made using slow, old world techniques. Cincinnati’s Rivertown makes an excellent line of sours that are distributed in Columbus. Before they closed up shop Indigo Imp was brewing some interesting, if somewhat inconsistent beers using open fermentation. People rave about Jackie O’s sours, but their availability is largely limited to Jackie O’s bottle releases. Other than that options tend to be limited to the occasional kettle soured beer or one off release. Among the Columbus area breweries Actual Brewing seems to be the most serious about getting into the sour beer game. So when I heard they were releasing two barrel aged sours earlier this month I was curious to see how their beers would measure up.
I got a sneak preview of the two special releases, Tenacity Brett Beer and Leviton Sour Stout, when Fred Lee and Jonathan Carroll from Actual appeared on the inaugural Pat’s Pints podcast earlier this month. Both were interesting, complex beers that left me wanting more. This past weekend I was able to spend some time taking a closer look at Tenacity.
- Brewery: Actual (Columbus, OH)
- Style: Brett Beer
- ABV: 5.8%
- IBU: 25
- Cost: $22 for a 750 mL (25 ounce) bottle
Before I get into the tasting notes let’s take a moment to discuss how this beer was made. For those who don’t know, Brett beer is a rather vague term for beer where the latter stages of fermentation (or in rare cases all of the fermentation) is done with Brettanomyces (Brett) yeast. In the case of Tenacity the first step was to brew two different base beers the conventional way with Saccharomyces yeast. The brewing process for these beers was designed to leave behind some residual sugars for the Brett to chew on (in brewing speak the beers were underattenuated). The base beers were then blended and transferred to Woodford Reserve Bourbon barrels where two strains of Brettanomyces yeast, bruxellensis and claussenii, were added. Although the oak barrels used for the long slow Brett fermentation were bourbon barrels in a former life, they had already been used several times for aging beer, thus leaching out most of the “bourbon” flavors. After nearly a year in the barrels the beer was transferred to bottles where it sat for another two months carbonating and evolving before it was ready for release. The long, complex brewing process helps to explain the high price tag that accompanies this and most barrel aged sours.
The label follows the classy and highly distinctive Actual theme, with a faceless woman lounging in a hammock while a sloth looks on from a nearby palm tree. The characters were clearly chosen to emphasize the slow and steady pace of Brett fermentation. The bottle is hand numbered 76 out of 565. The label description is as follows:
“This enduring Brettanomyces sour has been hanging around steadfast in oak bourbon barrels for ten months slowly growing more fabulous. Then eventually it’s conditioned in this bottle where it must patiently remain until your resolve weakens and your mouth finally triumphs.”
Tenacity pours a translucent tawny color as you can see in the picture above. The head never amounts to much, reaching a maximum height of roughly 1 cm before quickly dissipating. The nose is bewitching, simultaneously tart and fruity. The fruity scents are not so much the lemon and green apple aromas that I associate with many lambic beers, they lean more toward pineapple. I get a hint of acetic acid, not full on vinegar, but a subtle nod in that direction. It may be my imagination but I could swear I detect just the slightest hint of buttery diacetyl as well. If present that wouldn’t be too shocking because one of the bacteria responsible for the “sour” in a sour beer, pediococcus, is known for producing diacetyl. The taste is unquestionably tart, but not sour enough to elicit a pucker. My taste buds register a mélange of fruity esters that are not easy to describe, but in a pinch I would say there are elements of underripe blackberries and tart green apples. The malt base is richer and more caramelized than I was expecting, something like a lite-version of a Flander’s red. Within this complex flavor and aroma profile there is no discernable hop flavor or aroma, or at least none that I can detect. The finish is dry and clean. The mouthfeel is light bodied and vinous.
When I think “Brett beer” I tend to think of pale, moderately hoppy beers like Orval or Crooked Stave’s St. Bretta series of beers, where the funky and fruity flavors from the Brett yeast combine with spicy, floral notes from dry hopping. Tenacity is not made from that mold, instead the richer, darker malt base and trace amounts of acetic acid seem to be a nod toward the Flander’s red style, though nowhere near as rich and balsamic as a Rodenbach Grand Cru. The fact that it has neither enamel stripping acidity, nor excessive amounts of barnyard Brett funkiness, make it quite approachable for a sour beer. That’s not to say it doesn’t have several layers of complexity, there’s a lot going on in this beer. Overall I think it’s an extremely encouraging way to kick off Actual’s barrel aged sour program. I’ve got a second bottle that I’m going to lay down for a while. It will be interesting to see how it develops, a little more Brett funkiness would not be a bad thing.
If you are still reading at this point you may want to head over to Episode 1 of the Pat’s Pints podcast, where we talk more about Tenacity, Leviton, and sour beers in general with Fred and Jonathan from Actual.
Rating scale: 10 = perfection, 9 = excellent, one of the top beers in the world, 8 = very good, one of the top beers in its style category, 7 = good, a solid beer I’m happy to be drinking, 6 = average, not bad but not something I’m likely to buy again, 5 = below average, 3-4 = poor, should be avoided, 1-2 drainpour.