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by Collins Laatsch

Sour Power

Wolf’s Ridge gears up to expand unique program

Chris Davison is a young man with an old soul—a purist.

Despite his youth—and that he’s battling a highly competitive marketplace forcing many brewers to consider to create certain styles of beer in short order—the brewmaster at Wolf’s Ridge insists on doing things the old-fashioned way.

And by old-fashioned, we mean those artful tarts first secretly smuggled into the country from Belgium, where beer has been pursing lips since the early 1900s.

Wolf’s Ridge is doubling down on their sour offerings, and that means spending the extra money to curate a selection of old school, wooden vessels for the brewery’s barrel aging program. As those barrels are depleted of their unique flavor-bearing qualities, they are rotated into WR’s souring program, a project championed by Davison soon after he took over the brewing operation.

“We do things at our own pace as our schedule and cash flow allows,” he said. “Sure, I would have liked to have done this sooner, but things get pushed for various reasons.”

One of those reasons is the runaway success of the Clear Sky Cream Ale and its brunch-worthy alter egos Daybreak, and Cinnamon Toast Brunch. Success is a problem every brewer dreams of having, but keeping up with demand forces one to leave pet projects on the back burner.

Nevertheless, Davison has managed to sock away nine barrels worth of sour ale at Wolf’s Ridge. All have been carefully sequestered in their own corner of the brewery to ensure that the assertive microbes feasting on those brews don’t migrate into the flagship offerings. Quality control and sanitation are a top priority at Wolf’s Ridge. In time, the sour program might have its own location, which is good since another 15 barrels are about to be deployed.

“I’m not really a sour brewer,” Davison shrugged. “I enjoy the style and I’ve done a lot of research. I know I don’t want to do any kettle souring. These are true sours, like those you’ll find at Crooked Stave, or Jackie O’s.”

Sour ales are a difficult undertaking for a brewer. While some craft brewers have tried to “save” a bad batch of beer by setting it aside to sour and others have stumbled into sour beers thanks to bad sanitation, a good sour—like any other worthwhile beer—is planned from scratch. A quality sour has a bright, acidic flavor with a dry finish. The first sip is always bracing, but as you continue to drink the beer, your brain seems to recalibrate and the more nuanced flavors start to come through.

Craft beer experts have been predicting a sour ale boom for years now, and it seems as though they are on the rise. But a “boom” is unlikely since true sours take so much time to produce. The influx of berliners and goses (which are typically soured in the kettle with an addition of lactobacillus) might embolden more people to try cask-conditioned sours, but the cost will keep a market explosion out of reach. That much is obvious when you take the scale of Davison’s work into account.

Soon, he will have a 15-barrel tank dedicated as a blending vessel for his first round of sours, which could be ready to go in April. Beers will be aged anywhere from a few months to over a year, depending on what was originally brewed and which bacteria are engaged for the aging process. These beers will most likely be pub exclusives, but demand will determine how the program evolves.

Amazing how something so sweet can come from something so sour.

For more on WRB’s sour rollout, visit wolfsridgebrewing.com.

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