In the world of American sour beer there generally is not a lot history to speak of. It is rare to see a brewery that has been making sour beers for five years and if they have been at it for a decade then they are considered an elder statesman in the American sour beer world.
Obviously, when you include European brewers the story changes but for an American brewery to have been putting out sour beers for over 20 years means they are a true pioneer in the scene. That is exactly what Deborah and Dan Carey and their team have been doing at New Glarus Brewing Co.
New Glarus is not only still making sour beers after all these years, but it is using the traditional Belgian practice of spontaneous fermentation to make them. It is one of the small number of American breweries that will use the wild yeast and bacteria that naturally occur in the air to inoculate the beer rather than the much more common method of adding a lab harvested yeast and bacteria samples. This is a much more difficult and much harder to control process, but will generally result in a more complex and interesting final product.
One of the beers produced in this manner is its year-round release Raspberry Tart. Not only is it spontaneously fermented it also uses a heavy dose of wheat along with hops that are aged for a year1 similar to the process used to make Belgian lambic. A large amount of Oregon-grown Raspberries are the final key ingredient in what New Glarus refers to as a Wisconsin Framboise Ale.
Raspberry Tart pours a muddled more red than brown color that when held to a light turns to a beautiful ruby red. The huge berry aroma emerges from the glass the moment I finish the pour. There is a sweetness to the bouquet that I did not expect that enhances the fruit character and creates a pleasingly bright aroma. My first sip is exactly what I would expect based on the nose: a ton of ripe berries with a touch of sweetness. The beer is somewhat simple, but wonderfully executed. There’s a ton of bright juicy raspberries that lead the show followed by the subtle sweetness and just enough acidity to keep the sweet fruit from becoming cloying. The acidity is very mild and not what I would normally refer to as sour but more of a secondary layer that adds character to the beer and helps to cut the sweetness. The huge fruit character overpowers the subtle flavor nuances of oak and funk one would expect from a spontaneous beer aged in oak but I am oaky with that as the berries are really the star of the show with this one. The mouthwatering finish leaves the tastes of berry puree and a bit of lemon lime sherbets that leaves me wanting another sip.