Russian River – Consecration

Date: May 12, 2011
Style: Belgian Style (American Wild Ale)

I was introduced to American wild ale or Belgian sour ale via Rodenbach on tap at a local pub. Admittedly, I was completely caught off guard. I certainly did not expect the strong vinegar taste in a beer and frankly I thought there was something wrong with my beer. My initial reaction was so negative that I hastily decided that I didn’t like these “wild” or “sour” ales.

The concept is that “wild” yeast strains ferment the beer. Of course, I know you just don’t want any old organism getting into your beer — so brewers “inoculate” wooden barrels with “select” strains. So, not everything is totally wild — call it a controlled wild.

Russian River continues the legacy of Pliny the Elder, Pliny the Younger and Blind Pig, but they are really producing critically acclaimed American wild ales. I’m fascinated and infatuated the more I read. The Russian River area of California is know for world class wine and probably an abundance of wine barrels. Russian River Brewing’s concept is to brew ales in “worn” oak wine barrels. They also are introducing fruit as additions to these “wild” ales. I’ve been able to acquire several of Russian River’s American wild ales (Consecration, Supplication and Redemption). I’ve decided to start with Consecration.

Consecration is described as being brewed in cabernet sauvignon barrels with the addition of currants. I’m pouring this into a new strong ale glass (yes — I’m departing from my standard pub pint glass). From the label — Batch 004×4. 10.0% ABV.

Fizzy head that dissipates quickly. Aroma of sour cherry and vinegar. The first sip is a swirling sensation of oak, cherry and yeast. It’s very tannic (that “puckery” sensation you get when drinking wine). Funny, I also get the same “musty basement” taste as I would from a “bad” corked bottle of wine — but somehow it lends itself to the fizzy balsamic sourness. Finishes with dry, sour and musty that lingers. Sipping is exactly how this should be experienced. This isn’t a traditional ale – and if you try American wild ale expect a totally different flavor sensation – somewhere between wine, beer and a vinaigrette.

I have to admit, I’m still a little slow to warm up to this one, but I’m enjoying moderately more as I work my way through this 375 ml bottle. I started at 65 points — but I’ll give my whole experience 75 points. I’m glad I was introduced to this style and look forward to future tastings. This one is a good benchmark. I’ll have to double back once I have a few more under my belt.

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