Beer Review 0489: New Glarus Thumbprint Wild Sour Ale
New Glarus Brewing Company (New Glarus, Wisconsin) are all about keeping it local. “DRINK INDIGENOUS,” their bottle crowns say — and they mean it; New Glarus doesn’t distribute beers beyond the state of Wisconsin, saying it’s all they can do to keep up with demand just from their home state.
Founded in 1993 by Deborah Carey (the first woman in the United States to found a brewery), New Glarus started life in an abandoned warehouse with used equipment. Dan, Deborah’s husband, is a master brewer and was a production supervisor for Anheuser-Busch. Dan found copper kettles from a brewery in Germany that was to be demolished; when the retiring German brewer learned that his equipment would live on, he sold all of the goods for scrap value to Mr. Carey.
Like most craft brewers, New Glarus have a year-round series, a seasonal series, and a special, limited release volume called Thumbprint. Wild Sour Ale is a very special limited release beer in the Thumbprint series, especially given the amount of time New Glarus have sunk into the production of the brew. Just like it’s called — Wild Sour Ale — the beer is spontaneously fermented by wild yeast that collects in open oak casks where the beer is stored. New Glarus let this beer go for a year and a half before declaring it ready, describing it as a sour Brown Ale with hints of cedar, caramel, and tart plum. The beer comes in at 5% ABV (alcohol by volume) although that information (nor bottling dates) is not shared on the bottle.
This will be the first of many sour beers to come for New Glarus. Currently, the brewery are expanding to include what Mr. Carey calls the “fruit beer cave,” a facility that will house massive oak tanks and a “coolship,” a large copper pan where beer can spontaneously ferment. The addition will be located behind the brewery and is to be built into a hillside, which will allow for natural climate control. Wild Sour Ale will be a hint of things to come, so let’s dig in.
Pouring produced an average size, creamy head that lingered long after the last drop was put into the glass. Color of the beer was dark amber, nearly brown when held out of light; holding to light reveals a translucent liquid that had some lighter golden highlights. Although clear, the body had a slight bit of haze to it; there were no particles or sediment, and the lacing was minimal.
The nose gives the impression that this will be quite a sour beer as the cider vinegar hits first, along with some tart cherries and green apples. Dig deeper and the malty body comes through in the form of caramel sweetness, but this is greatly overshadowed by the tartness of a combination between cider vinegar, straight vinegar, and the more subtle tart fruits. As it warmed a bit, cranberries and grapes came out, giving this one a hint of wine.
On the palate, the flavors are initially tart but never turn obscenely sour; tart cherries mix with green apple peels and apple juice before the (what must be) large malt body brings some much needed body and a hint of sweetness. You can taste the caramel even though the tartness pops off, strong at first, then eases up, then comes on strong again for the finish. The final bow is the best part of the beer and where the fruity aspects really shine; there’s cranberry juice, apples, apple cider vinegar, and lingering cherries. After the swallow, you get just a bit of cedar, which is really pleasant in the back of the mouth. Wild Sour Ale is medium-bodied and thin in the mouth, with a very nice creamy texture and drying, refreshing feel.
Any surprises here? Yes, and no — anyone who reads this site with any regularity will know that I’m not too fond of sour beers and that I’ve been trying to get into the style. I found this beer to be totally 100% delicious, with a pleasant sourness that doesn’t overwhelm all of the complex nuances going on. The part that’s not a surprise is that this comes from New Glarus. Folks, this brewery is one of the best in the United States, and I’m not shocked that they produced this amazing beer and have plans for even more to come. Bring it, Wisconsin!
New Glarus Thumbprint Wild Sour Ale, 95 points. Price: $9.99 US for a four-pack.