Far from being back-channel brews or peculiarities, sour beers have getting likes from beer drinkers with ambitious palates for a long time now. That said, though, interest in sours has been widening these days among craft beer enthusiasts.
For several months now, Kane Brewing has been working with batches of Belgian dark strong ales hit with brettanomyces yeast strains sourced from East Coast Yeast, plus BugFarm, a mixed culture of brett and bacteria (pediococcus and lactobacillus), also from the Jersey-based artisanal yeast-supply company.
The brett beers have been parked in wooden barrels while the yeast and bacteria do their thing. (Kane has always had a great barrel-aging program going, cycling a lot of brews through bourbon-sodden wood, and now wine barrels.)
"We have a couple wine barrels filled with different Belgian-style beers that we're doing a secondary aging on, different blends of bacteria. We're still experimenting with the stuff," says owner Michael Kane. "Assuming they come out well, we'll probably be releasing them in bottles at some point in the future. They've been going for six to eight months now.
"There's a strong interest and demand for sour beers. A lot of (brewers) are getting into it. We would be doing more, but like most people, the concern is in one facility having the bacteria with regular beer ... we don't want to make all our beers sour."
To guard against that, the sour batches are being done in the backroom reaches of the Ocean Township brewery, sequestered from the rest of the beer-making operations. There's another line of defense: Equipment used in the processes has been marked with red and yellow to flag it as part of the sour work.
"We have a very limited staff, and we all do a lot, so when you're overworked, it can be pretty easy to make mistakes," Michael says. "We want to keep the quality up on the focus, which is the non-sour stuff."
The tap list
Sours on Saturday's tap list will feature the traditional "funk" flavors associated with brett, as well as tropical fruit. Among them, Sea Change (4.2-4.4% ABV), is a pale ale fermented completely with a brett yeast. (Click the list image above to see the lineup; check the brewery's Facebook page for tour hours on Saturday.)
"This beer will be more like a traditional American pale ale, just having been fermented with a brett yeast. We did about 8 to 10 IBUs of Simcoe in the kettle, and that was it. Then we did the primary fermentation with a blend of brettanomyces … We dry-hopped it with a Citra and Mosaic," Michael says.
"It has a lot of tropical fruit flavors, more unusual pineapple, almost like caramel-pineapple flavors from the brett. It's an interesting low-alcohol brett beer, very different than normal brett beers, or what people think of brettanomyces."
What typically comes to mind with brett yeast can be found in Kane's Apiary Brett, a farmhouse saison made with honey sourced from Herbertsville Honey in Brick Township, a dozen miles south of the brewery. (Beekeepers for a decade and a half, Herbertsville Honey has had its products on local shelves since 2005.)
"We aged that in a different blend of brettanomyces that's a little more on the traditional side that you would expect from brett," Michael says. "We did a secondary on that, and we conditioned it with brett. That's a little more your traditional funk, tartness from brett."
Headlining the anniversary-event tap list is Seven Hundred Thirty, the follow-up to Three Hundred Sixty-five, the Belgian quad leavened with an imperial stout that Kane brewed last year for its first anniversary observance. There's some overlap with the two anniversary brews.
"We took some of our first anniversary beer, which is a blend, aged that in fresh bourbon barrels for another year and blended that back in. The idea is to have a little bit of each prior year in the new anniversary beer," Michael says.
Also of note
Hop-lovers will find plenty of brews to satisfy: various versions of Kane flagship IPAs, Head High and Overhead (double dry-hops with Citra and Mosaic, for instance), plus Kane's latest hop creation, Ripple session ale (4.6% ABV, Nelson Sauvin hops).
For a second year, Kane has also turned out another wet-hop version of Head High, using some nice-sized Cascade and Nugget cones from the Oast House.
The Wrightstown (Burlington County) hops farm, fresh off its second growing season, harvested 45 pounds of the hops, two cultivars out of five – about 600 bines – it had in the ground for 2013. (The others are Chinook, Centennial and Columbus; those cultivars saw low first-season yields.)
"We've had Cascades easily 2 1/2 to 3 inches long," says Beau Byrtus, co-founder of the farm. "Our Nuggets this year were beautiful, super, super-fragrant. Some of our Nuggets were easily 2 inches.
"We've had a great relationship with those guys (at Kane). We stay in touch with them throughout the season as we're growing, let them know how the hops are doing. They're a lot of fun to work with."