In the Northwest we're blessed with a wide variety of fresh hops. As a result, amped-up IPAs are ever-so-popular, giving rise to the question: How many International Bitterness Units can you cram into a Northwest IPA? Answer: All of them. Don't get me wrong--I love hop-driven ales, but you can only drink so many. The newest trend is to substitute sour for bitter. Of course, this is nothing new in Belgium, where they've been on the cutting edge for centuries. Here are three great choices that take a walk on the tart side.
Bourgogne des Flandres
There's a ruby tint to this mahogany-colored brew, which has a light mocha head. This brown ale from Bruges spent six months in oak, resulting in a definite smoothness without any wood flavor. The aromas are a mix of sour mash and lightly sweet malt. Tart cherry fruit drives the palate, with a creamy, sweet malt middle that is balanced by more tart fruit on the finish. This is an easy-drinking charmer.
Cuvee des Jacobins Rouge
If there were a measure for International Sourness Units, this bright brown Belgian brew would be off the chart. It opens with big sour fruit aromas with a bit of oak (it spends 18 months in cask). Touches of vanilla and brett lurk in the background, but bright citrus and green apple dominate the palate. This deliciously unique ale shines when paired with a salty snack.
Monk's Cafe Flemish Sour Ale
With a light brown pour with a thin tan head, this beer's aromas are an intriguing mix of spicy fruit, light banana and soft malt. It's a beautifully balanced sour, where ripe apple plays against creamy citrus, all backed by smooth malt. The finish is crisp and clean with touches of lemon zest and wheat. This brew ranks somewhere in between the other two on the sourness scale.