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is Avery Sour Fest getting worse every year?

Boulder, Colorado

Sadly I believe the answer is yes. The 3rd Annual Boulder SourFest at Avery Brewing was a study in lackadaisical technique, uncontrolled bacteria fermentation, unbalanced esters and acids, and all around poor brewing. 27 breweries offering 60 beers and not more than 6 of them were worth drinking more than an ounce.

Do I sound like a hater? I get that sometimes, but I’m not going to apologize for being honest and forthcoming with my opinions. The beer world is cluttered enough with cheerleading fanbases. I’m not here to make friends with industry folks and I don’t make money advertising on this site. Opinions tend to offend only those who lack a true sense of who they are and what they enjoy. So here’s my honest take: the 3rd Avery Sour Fest was achingly disappointing.

Trust me, I wish I liked what I was drinking at the Sour Fest. I’ve spent enough time in the beer-rich cultures of the world to appreciate the history and enjoy the modernization and innovation of beer. I’ve traveled extensively throughout the United States and have followed the birth and growth of this American sour/wild ale style, and I have to ask, is this it? Butyric acid may be the most offensive acid in lambic and sour beer (giving the smell and flavor of rancid cheese, vomit and stomach acid / bile), and nearly a dozen beers being served at Sour Fest had levels so high they ought not be allowed to served to humans.

The rest? Acetic acid (balsamic vinegar) and ethyl butyrate (tropical / pineapple). I’ve never seen such a concentration of poor and mediocre wild yeast fermentation in my life. Belgians would be ashamed with what we’ve done. Years ago I believed that American brewers knew to follow Vinnie Cilurzo (of Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa, California). Now, I’m not so sure.

Somebody has to be a critic. Avery, you run the fest very well, you bring in a number of beers new to almost everybody (something terribly difficult to achieve in today’s word of beer), but quality was lacking.

American brewers have seemed to gravitate towards this fuzzy middle-ground style definition for “sour ale”: acetic acid is acceptable, high alcohol (and as a result high level of ethyl acetate) where it’s unnecessary, and obvious faults and flaws in ester and acid levels that trained brewers should be able to pick up.

So what would I suggest? Be more discerning about what beers are allowed at the 2013 Sour Fest. Cut out a number of brewers who brought obviously poor products this year, and if the result is a half-dozen less brewers in attendance, throw in some bottles of traditional Belgian lambic along side the American sours, to give people a chance to see what sour beer could and should be. You’re not going to fool your fanbase for much longer; people are growing more discerning with their tastes, and they are slowly learning that unbalanced, raw, and wretched acidity doesn’t automatically make a good beer.

Until next year….

Beer List
beer name description
AC Golden Dark Kriek Dark sour aged with Colorado sour cherries
AC Golden De La Vigne Sour beer aged with Merlot grapes
AC Golden Imitation Pale sour aged for 2 years in oak
AC Golden Syrah Sour Dark sour aged with Syrah grapes
Asher Apple Fun Barrel Barrel aged IPA blended with organic apple juice
Asher Fun Barrel Kriek Barrel aged IPA blended with organic cherry juice
Avery Bad Apple pale Belgian sour in oak barrels for 1 year with Granny Smith apples for 6 months
Avery Dihos Dactylion sour ale aged in Cabernet barrels; From February 2011
Avery Immitis Merciless dark sour blended from 11 first-use Zinfandel barrels
Avery 3rd Annual SourFest Blend Light sour blended from 3 beers; made just for this year's SourFest
Avery Bolder Weisse sour Brett ale aged in oak for 6 months
Avery Eremita I blend of 3 sours aged 1-2 years in 10 different Cabernet and Zinfandel barrels
Avery Eremita II single batch sour blonde infused with apricots and peaches
Avery Eremita III dark sour blended from 12 Cabernet barrels aged 9 months to 3 years
Avery Grapes of Wrath strong sour made with Cabernet Sauvignon grapes; aged for two years
Avery Ross's Mom Blended red sour
Cambridge Brett Grisette Pilsner malt; Hallertauer hops; B.bruxellensis dreii and B.custercianus
Cambridge Ozymandius Cambridge's 23rd Anniversary beer. 15% ABV. Strong. Sour. Black.
Cascade Blueberry
Cascade Sang Noir
Cascade Sang Royal
Cascade The Vine
COOP Ale Works Wild Wheat Wine Wild yeast and 150 pounds of alfalfa honey
Crabtree Berliner Weisse Old-style German wheat with short lactic fermentation
Crabtree Peachtree Cezanne Saison aged in Pinot Noir barrels with peaches for 6 months; and brett fermentation for the last 4 months
Crabtree Sauer Power 100% fermented bastard with peaches and our own house Lactobacillus
Crooked Stave Blackberry Petite Sour Brett fermented; aged 9 months
Crooked Stave Persica Wild Wild Brett Aged 9 months in oak barrels with peaches
Deschutes The Stoic American Quad aged in Rye Whiskey barrels
Dry Dock Saison D'Funk Saison refermented in Chardonnay barrels
Fort Collins Sour Kraut Berlinner Weisse Traditional German sour with Lactobacillus
Full Sail Chris's Summer Delight Berliner Weisse; unfiltered and tart
Funkwerks Brett Dream Brett saison
Great Divide Bretty Yeti
Grimm Brothers Brett Bock Aged doppelbock conditioned with brettanomyces
Grimm Brothers Once Upon a Time Brettanomyces blended hefeweizen
Left Hand StrangeBrett original Stranger APA fermented with brett
Lost Abbey Cuvee de Tomme
Lost Abbey Framboise de Amorosa
Lost Abbey Red Poppy
Mountain Sun Saison D'Tesh Sour-mashed farmhouse ale brewed with white rice and rye
New Belgium La Folie 2010
New Belgium Le Terrior
New Belgium Tart Lychee
New Belgium Clutch
Odell Friek
Odell Saboteur
Odell Crimson Shenanigans ale aged in oak with brettanomyces
Redstone Meadery Black Brett Blended black raspberry nectar refermented with brett
Redstone Meadery Black Folie Black raspberry nectar blended with La Folie
Rockyard Rock Weisser
Russian River Sanctification
Russian River Temptation
Sam Adams Kosmic Mother Funk Brett Belgian aged in oak barrels for 1 year
Sierra Nevada Anything Gose golden ale brewed with lemon peel; coriander and salt
Upland Raspberry Lambic
Upland Sour Reserve Blend #2 Blend of three lambics
Upslope Dark Belgian Sour 33% aged in whiskey barrel for 18 months; 33% in Zinfandel barrles for 5 months; 33% in Cabernet barrels for 5 months
Upslope Sour Belgian with Cherries

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