For the past few months, I’ve read that sour beers are an emerging trend and then seen them, myself, popping up on draft lists around the state. In an effort to constantly expand my beer repertoire, I’ve sipped nearly any sours accessible. They have ranged from mildly tart to face-puckering. As summer approaches, though, and the temperature reaches downright uncomfortable heights here in Georgia, one particular type hits home: the sour peach beer. This Monday afternoon, I found myself drinking two different sour peach offerings: New Belgium Eric’s Ale and Dogfish Head Festina Pêche. This was my second time trying Eric’s Ale, a limited part of New Belgium’s Lips of Faith series, and Festina Pêche was a thirst-quenching standby last summer, but this was the first time I was able to taste the two together. They certainly shared some characteristics (they both bring tartness and peaches to the table, after all). They had nearly the same light straw color (Eric’s had a slightly more orange tint) with quickly receding white heads (although, the Festina’s foam stuck around a little longer). It was the differences between the two beers, though, that was the biggest treat. Let’s take a closer look at each:
First up was New Belgium Eric’s Ale. As I mentioned earlier, Eric’s is part of the Lips of Faith program from New Belgium, an experimental line of rotating beers. Eric’s Ale is classified as an American Wild Ale, a style that seems to be on the rise but one I can’t seem to find much information about. While I can’t find much consistent information for the specifics of the style, an American Wild Ale is usually influenced by Belgian-style ales and is exposed, in one way or another, to wild yeast or bacteria, imparting a sourness to these beers. The process of making Eric’s Ale is quite experimental, indeed. A sour beer that has been aged in oak barrels for several years is blended with another beer, sweeter and higher in alcohol content. This blend then undergoes a secondary fermentation with added peach juice. The sour tartness and ripe peach flavor certainly prevail, but many other notes picked up in the complex brewing and aging process play supporting roles. Through barrel aging, the oak imparts a subtle vanilla flavor and a dryness that compliments the tart ending. I find the balance of fruity sweetness and sourness very nice, and extremely drinkable considering the 7% ABV. An alcohol content this high is uncharacteristic of a sour or wild ale, but is likely accomplished mostly by blending in that sweeter ale to the sour beer. This beer definitely makes you pucker, but that’s what you signed up for, right? New Belgium says that this is “A sour beer for those who don’t like sour beers. And a fruit beer for those who don’t like fruit beers.” I would agree, but I like both sour and fruit beers, so I don’t seem a qualified judge for the statement’s accuracy.
Following Eric’s Ale was a pint of Dogfish Head Festina Pêche. This is the Delaware brewery’s summer seasonal, considered a “neo-BerlinerWeisse”. The Berliner-Weisse style is a wheat ale that incorporates Lactobacillus, creating a sour taste from the formation of lactic acid. Traditionally, these are then mixed with fruit syrups upon serving to help cut into the sourness. Instead, Dogfish Head added pureed peaches to the beer prior to fermentation. While I haven’t had a traditional Berliner-Weisse with syrup, I have to imagine that the fruit being fermented in the beer must create more of a fruit flavor throughout, allowing the peach to take on more than a single note. The first notable difference here, compared to Eric’s Ale, is the presence of wheat. The wheat shows up in the aroma and taste, but I sense the biggest difference in mouthfeel (think of the palatable cloudiness you get from your favorite Hefeweizen). Both beers finish refreshingly dry as a result of the tartness, but the wheat also helps to coat your tongue and leave a bit of lingering sweetness. As I noted earlier, I have had this beer many times before, most often from a bottle, but tasting it on tap this time seemed a little less tart than I had remembered from my last time. This could be due to a slight recipe alteration this year, my taste buds being a little numb after the New Belgium, or simply my mind failing to accurately remember my last Festina Pêche. In any regard, the bite from the tartness (even the one a little stronger in my mind) seems more subdued than Eric’s Ale. Also a bit more tame than the Eric’s Ale is the ABV at 4.5%. One last pleasant surprise in this beer isn’t about what’s there, but what’s not: hops. There is no detectable hop flavor or aroma in this beer (true to the style). My brain and mouth were initially confused to see the fish on the pint glass but never feel the alpha acids of hops stripping the enamel from my teeth, but it’s so nice to see Dogfish Head restrain its love of those bitter buds to put a different twist on a traditional style.
Overall, both of these beers are very refreshing and perfect for the summer. The Eric’s Ale tends to bite a little harder and would serve to wake up my mind after a long summer day. It’s Festina Pêche’s sour and wheat that will have me continuing to reach for it when I seek shelter from the hot sun. They would be great before a light summer dinner or alongside a great salad. They are also something I will surely be trying to incorporate into some of recipes using Georgia peaches (I’ll update you on this later). The familiarity of fruit in these can help bridge the gap for anyone making their foray into the world of sour beers. Next time you want a nice refreshing brew, but are a bit burnt out on bitter, give one of these a try.