A sour ale conditioned on fruit is not exactly a rare occurrence in the craft beer world, in fact, there is probably an example of this style of beer being poured or sold in just about every craft brewery in the country at one point or another.
However, out of all of the creations that have been produced over the years, very few of them incorporate apples as the singular fruit, and fewer still are actually brewed with juice instead of being conditioned on the whole or pieces of the actual fruit.
A brand new ale from Ava, Ill.-based Scratch Brewing Co. that was released on Dec. 10, 2018 actually hit both of the above points. The somewhat appropriately named Barrel-Aged Apple Ale is a 5.7 percent ABV bottle-conditioned sour ale that was brewed sans hops and incorporated grain from Sugar Creek Malt. After being refermented with pressed juice from southern Illinois apples, the brew was aged for a year in barrels that previously held red wine.
The finished beer was then packaged in 500ml bottles, priced at $20 each and released at the brewery on Dec. 10, 2018 with four other beers:
- Barrel-Aged Blackberry and Lavender
- Wild Blueberry
- Turmeric Tonic
Barrel-Aged Apple Ale pours a vibrant golden straw color with plenty of aggressive carbonation in the glass. It starts with about a finger of off white head that quickly dissipates, leaving a thin ring behind. Aroma from the glass is a combination of citrus fruits, oak, tannins, earth, apple skin and a touch of cinnamon.
I know this was not going to be a normal barrel-aged sour from the first sip, which brings a distinct yet light sweet apple fruitiness along with earth and oak flavors on the palate, while the finish is full of a sour apple note. As expected, the carbonation is lively, more like Champagne than beer and shows no signs of calming down anytime soon.
As it warms, the year the beer spent aging in red wine barrels becomes more evident as the tannins and oak notes slowly take over the top spot on the palate, although the sweet apple note is still very much present. In addition, the sour apple note on the finish increases just slightly. While the carbonation fizzles out near the end, by the last sip it still is at a higher level than most beers.