I don’t usually post commercial beer reviews/tastings, but I thought I’d make an exception for a few sour beers from Modern Times! These were the batches that I grew the microbes for while in San Diego during summer 2013, and contributed to writing the recipes for.
Today’s subject is Empty Hats, which was originally brewed to be a Flemish Red (codename Bebop). However, the color, gravity, and resulting flavor were deemed closer to Oud Bruin. As a result the Oud Bruin recipe I wrote was lightened and converted into the Flemish Red (dubbed News From Nowhere). After aging, Empty Hats falls somewhere between the two “styles” more acidic/dry and barrel-forward than traditional Belgian/Flemish Oud Bruins, but maltier than the average Flemish Red. Hard to quibble over the line between two arbitrary styles, but the question remains, from a hedonistic standpoint is it a delicious beer?
Appearance – Pours with a frothy white head. Decent retention for a sour beer, but by the time I take my first sip most of the bubbles have collapsed into the clear reddish-auburn body. Color-wise it is right on the line between reds and browns.
Smell – Nose displays a wonderful mix of red fruit from the wine barrels, fruity Brett, and a touch of farmyard. I also get a toasty-cereal edge that may need a little more time to drop out. Nothing off-putting about it, lots to really like.
Taste – Bright lactic acidity leads, has a sharp/quick edge that makes me think malic, SweeTarts(without the sweet). Very much an “American” oud bruin, minimal acidity compared to all of the Belgian versions of the style. The finish is wine-like, rounded oak spice, and plums. I don’t get the cereal, “Cheerios” finish, so maybe that aroma is just the toasted oak or Vienna/Munich malts? Luckily I also don’t detect any acetic acid or ethyl acetate (praise be to San Diego’s mild weather!).
Mouthfeel – Not too thin or tannic, despite the low FG and more than a year in 100% first-use red wine barrels. The firm carbonation works with the beer because it isn’t roasty.
Drinkability & Notes – Trying to be as objective as I can, I’d put Empty Hats in the same league with my favorite widely released American sour red/browns: Bruery Oude Tart and New Belgium La Folie. It has plenty of bold flavors (malt, bugs, and barrel), but enough balance for the acidity to retain good drinkability. I’m interested to see how it does with another six months in the bottle, more Brett, less cereal?
I’d really like to thank head brewer Matt Walsh, and resident brewer and microbe guy Andrew Schwartz who did the work of turning my ideas and bugs into an actually physical bottle of beer (not to mention the palates of Derek, Jacob et al.). Great team effort!
As of today Empty Hats is sitting at a 4.2 on BA, and 4.3 on Untapped (#7 in the style, sitting right between De Dolle Oerbier Special Reserva 2009 and 2010, talk about a compliment). Not bad for a first effort!