The more experienced a beer drinker you become, the rarer those ‘aha!’ moments become. Those ‘aha!’ moments are the drinking experience that change you forever, where your taste buds are blown away and your perception of what beer is and can be will never be the same again.
When those ‘aha!’ moments do occur, you do appreciate them even more, and I was fortunate to have one of those moments at the Russian River brewery.
Russian River Brewery was high on my list of places to visit in the USA so I made a special trip to the town of Santa Rosa, a few hours north of San Francisco, to visit their pub. When I asked the waitress whether they had any tasting size beers available, I was told I could get a paddle with all 20 of their beers on tap – perfect.
Pliny the Elder was the beer I had heard the most about and basically the reason I came. It was a big piney West Coast Double IPA, the beer was certainly fresh and bursting with flavour but its taste was not unfamiliar either. It was a great beer but it didn’t give me an ‘aha!’ moment either.
Instead that moment came from tasting the sour barrel-aged beers Supplicant and Consecration. Supplication is a brown ale aged in pinot noir barrels with sour cherries and strains of yeast such as the notorious ‘brett’ (brettanomyces). Brewers and winemakers are usually afraid brett will ‘infect’ their beer but in this instance it adds a lovely sour funk to a rich and complex beer.
Consecration was a similarly complex and rich tasting beer aged in cabernet sauvignon barrels with black currants and a similar mix of funk-giving bacterias.