New Belgium’s definitely steeped in tradition, but we’re also driven by innovation (hence the “new” in New Belgium). This is pretty darn evident by two forward-thinking sour beers hitting shelves this year: Le Terroir and Tart Lychee. Scroll down to learn a little about each one:
Wind the clock back more than a decade, way back to 2003. In those early days of the wood cellar program, just one foeder, No. 4 to be exact, housed Felix, one of the two base beers we use to blend our sours. And, quite frankly, wood cellar blender Lauren Salazar had no idea what to do with the stuff.
But during the hop selection that year, when Salazar came across the new Amarillo variety for the first time, she had an idea: The hop’s vibrant, pungent aroma of mango and peaches reminded her exactly of Felix.
“I asked Eric [Salazar] if we could dry-hop a sour beer, and he had no idea,” remembers Salazar. “So, I called [Firestone Walker’s brewmaster] Matt Brynildson if it was possible, and he didn’t see any reason why not. He was literally like, ‘Well, I can’t think of a reason why you shouldn’t.’”
So, the next day, Salazar got her hands on a small amount of Amarillo hop pellets, put them in a little game bag—the kind you might use to cook quail—and steeped the hops in a carboy of Felix taken from Foeder No. 4. What she came back to a few days later was the prototype for a beer way ahead of its time: Le Terroir, a dry-hopped sour ale.
Check-ins on Beer Advocate date all the way back to 2004 (when small specialty kegged or bottled versions would “leak” out to Salazar’s favorite accounts, or low-key bottle share parties), though the beer’s changed a good bit since then. While the evolving flavor of Felix in our foeders has had an impact on those changes, the biggest influence probably came from Russian River’s Vinnie Cilurzo, who suggested Salazar add an accent hop to complement Amarillo (Note: when the brewer of Piny the Elder makes a hop suggestion, it's worth listening). That’s how Citra made its way into the recipe, giving the already tropical profile a bigger boost.
This year, the recipe’s changing even more. With a nod to its name—translated to “of the earth”—Salazar decided to swap out the accent Citra hops with whatever exciting hop popped up from the ground during hop selection. In 2015 it was Galaxy. As for 2016, it’s a secret.
“Every year is different: Rain, sunshine, harvests are good or bad,” says Salazar. “If the name of the beer is Le Terroir, why not keep that in mind when you’re at the hop harvest? Amarillo would be the beer’s signature flavor, but the other new or nice hops could be the accent.”
Those accent flavors also point to another change with the 2015 Le Terroir blend: Not only are we incorporating new sour beer from the wood cellar expansion, but the flavor profile of previous barrels is also changing, leaning more toward citrus and marmalade, which pairs perfectly with Galaxy’s passion fruit and tropical fruit notes.
The first time wood cellar blender Lauren Salazar tasted lychee fruit was in a Montreal sushi restaurant in 2007.
“The chef asked me if I’d ever tasted lychee,” she remembers. “He offered it in a martini—the lychee fruit sitting on the bottom looking like a big fleshy white and pink eyeball. Once I actually fished it out and tasted it and tried to list all of the flavors I was experiencing, I knew we would make a sour beer with it.”
Salazar eventually began looking up recipes that used lychee, noticing that many listed cinnamon as an ingredient, too. Naturally, the wheels started turning and a lychee and cinnamon sour ale was in the works.
This year’s release of Tart Lychee starts as a lager brewed with lychee and cinnamon. Once that’s ready, the wood cellar crew blends the lager with a portion of sour Felix for a tart bite. The result is out of this world: Citrusy, tropical, funky and backed by a wild tart bite. Look for it when it lands this summer.
Check out New Belgium's entire sour portfolio.