We’re on a mission to drink all the good drinks. Let’s get started.
We know this guy who often shows up to dinner parties with a few big bottles of sour ales from Upland Brewing Co. He starts pouring a little here and a little there, and suddenly everyone is rapt and ditching their glasses of snoozefest pinot noir for these acidic, amazingly flavorful beers.
Sour ales are barrel-aged beers with tart, fruity and often funky character that comes from using things like wild yeast strains and fresh fruit. Upland's are intriguing, complex, rare, unpredictable — and incredibly fun to drink. Conversation pieces, really.
We wanted to know more, so we chatted with Caleb Staton, the sours director and former head brewer at Upland, to get the scoop on these award-winning beers. (He's not the dinner-party guy we mentioned. Unrelated: Caleb, would you like to come over for dinner?)
** We are giving away two passes to Upland’s Midwest Sour + Wild + Funk Fest this Saturday in Indianapolis, featuring sours from 25 breweries across the country. The 4th annual event is sold out! Learn how to win the set of passes at the end of this post. **
MIRACLE FRUIT. A ton of whole, unprocessed fruit goes into lambic varieties like peach, persimmon, blackberry and cherry — specifically, up to 3½ pounds of fresh fruit per gallon of beer, Caleb says. This is a huge part of what makes Upland’s sours so remarkable. If you’ve ever peeled and cut, say, a kiwi, you can imagine how time consuming it would be to prep hundreds of pounds of them by hand. But they do it and it’s totally worth it.
Fruit comes from local sources when possible, Caleb says. The brewery gets strawberries and blackberries from Heartland Family Farm in Spencer and peaches from Huber’s Orchard, Winery and Vineyard in Starlight. Some wild fruit is foraged, too. “We pay a guy to roam around in a van and pick up persimmons,” Caleb says.
SMALL BUT MIGHTY. Upland is more devoted than ever to sours and it even has a separate brewery dedicated to making them, but it’s still a niche product. The brewery cranks out 20,000 barrels of beer a year, and less than 300 of those are sour ales, Caleb says. The phrase small batch gets thrown around a lot these days, but it really means something here. It’s what keeps Upland’s sours program experimental and exciting.
Upland releases more than a dozen varieties of sour ales each year, but they all start as one of three base styles: lambic, a Belgian style aged in white oak; an oud bruin style, aged in white oak; and a Flanders style, aged in bourbon barrels. A blend, known as Sour Reserve, has taken home gold at the Great American Beer Festival.
PLAY TO WIN. Upland’s sour beers can be hard to get a hold of, which is part of their mystique. You can find some varieties in stores (a 750-milliliter bottle is around $25), but most are released in small quantities via lottery. Five lotteries are planned for 2015, and the next lottery in June will feature beers aged on orchid and kiwi, among others (keep an eye on Upland’s social media and website for lottery announcements). If you’re super serious about sours, you can join the Secret Barrel Society to get first access and more bottles than the lottery route. Annual membership is $250.
BETTER TOGETHER. Upland’s sours have always been a collaborative effort. The brewery made its first sour beers in 2006 using spent red-wine oak barrels from Oliver Winery in Bloomington. That partnership still exists today — in 2014, Upland released VinoSynth Red and VinoSynth White sours, both which are aged on Oliver grapes, in Oliver barrels. “To me, that really showcases that the program has come full circle,” Caleb says.
VinoSynth Red won Best in Show at the 2014 Indiana State Fair.
Upland is clearly having fun fraternizing when it comes to sours. It recently teamed up with Yazoo Brewing Company in Nashville, Tenn., to make a tropical-tasting, rosy-hued ale with kiwi and cherry, called Three Degrees North. Yazoo will release a companion brown ale called Three Degrees South. Another upcoming collaboration with Great Raft Brewing in Shreveport, Louisiana, uses mayhaw fruit, which is like the crabapple of the southern wetlands.
SHARE, PLEASE. The next time you head out to a dinner party, take a cue from our popular dinner party friend and bring sours. Sours make you a fun party guest, and even though they’re flavorful on their own, they’re surprisingly interesting with food, too. “In some ways, they open up your palette like wine would,” Caleb says. Pour them either at the beginning of the meal — they really shine with charcuterie and cheese plates, he says — or with dessert.
OK, giveaway time! Upland’s 4th Annual Midwest Sour + Wild + Funk Fest this Saturday in Indianapolis is sold out, but we snagged two passes for one lucky winner. Here’s how to enter: Take a photo of yourself with an empty glass. Post it to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #soursplease and tag Cardinal Spirits and Upland Brewing Co. Enter just once, play fair and all that good stuff. And we’ll pick one winner at random at 5pm on Thursday, 5/14. Best of luck!