Almanac does well on our leaderboards, and their expanded distribution suggests it does well in the marketplace, too. Sometimes, though, you'll hear what sounds like shade thrown on their beers from industry stalwarts.
They aren't usually above board and named, but as maybe the sourest sours in America, Almanac is a standard bearer, and there is sniping. There's the Rodenbach brewer talking about a California sour infected by diacetyl. There are jokes on twitter from industry insiders about bottling citric acid in order to make money. You'll hear code words about accessibility. You might hear about complexity of flavor. Not enough fruit, a few reviews will say.
Those last two, though. Sometimes you will actually get into a rut with Almanac sours. The Dogpatch sours, the citrus sours, they are pretty intense. They'll pucker you right up. And if you took the label off the beer, you might have a hard time telling the difference between a few of the Dogpatch and the Farmer's Reserve varietals.
Here in our chats and comment sections, a few people have mentioned this. Even reviewers that like them.
This summer is a great time to revisit the Almanac beers if you haven't tried them in a while. A few new beers have showed that they have a breadth of approach and a long-term vision at the brewery. Complexity is back, and they've accomplished it by taking their excellent -- if perhaps one note -- base beers and blending them in new ways.
Take the single-hopped sours. Citra, Simcoe, and Wakatu are now out and about. Underneath, there's their old blonde sour, created by fermenting an American blonde ale with their house sour culture. You might recognize it in the body. But the barrel quality is there, and then the finish is beautiful, bold, hops. And the combination between the two threatens to create a new style. It's sour, but it's legitimately more hoppy than some hoppy sours I've had. The site claims it's a generous dry-hopping, and given the Citra blast I enjoyed, I'll take their word for it.
Here are a few more words from the brewers about their intent, which also serve as a beer review.
We began the process with our traditional sour blonde ale, fermented with our house sour culture and aged in barrels for about six months, and blended in a younger, 100% brettanomyces-fermented beer. This blend combines the oaky, vanilla character that barrels impart with the tropical fruit esters created by brett. As our Oak Program Manager, Phil Emerson, explains, this combination created the perfect backdrop for the flavors and aromas Citra is best known for. “We were striving for pineapple and guava from the brett. The Citra hops gives the stone fruit, apricot, and grapefruit character. Those combine and it’s hard to tell what’s from the hops and what’s from the brett,” Phil says. The addition of brettanomyces to the mix has the added bonus of helping preserve the hop characteristics that we’re aiming to spotlight. -- Almanac Blog
It's amazing to taste so much melon where there is no melon, especially for a brewery that supposedly doesn't put enough fruit in their sours. The Simcoe was a step back for me, and the Wakatu sits in my fridge, ready to be enjoyed shortly. If single-hops IPAs give you a good sense of how a hops affects a beer, these do a great job of teaching you how dry-hopping that hops changes the character of the tastes.
The Pumpkin Sour this year was great, but not in a way you haven't tasted before if you've had their Bourbon Sour Porter. Often, dark sours don't hit the tartness enough and are more dark than sour. Not the case with Almanac, but maybe you knew that.
The beer that really re-energized my excitement level for Almanac was the Dogpatch Grand Cru I had this past weekend.
In the Grand Cru, the Dogpatch Flanders red is blended with red wine grapes -- Zin, Syrah, Tempranillo among others -- to create a fruity sour wine, basically. It's only 10.5% ABV, so it doesn't taste quite like a wine, but the barrel character is outstanding. So. Much. Wood. And it tastes very much like a Cabernet Sauvignon in that the tannins are intense and the grapes are dry.
But it doesn't go all the way. There are still bubbles, there's still that thick mouthfeel that beer gives us, and there's still the tart finish of the sour. There's no lack of complexity here.
Next up is the Farmer's Reserve Blueberry, which should be an interesting beer to try for another reason. Almanac hired a new assistant brewer to work on blending the sours this summer. The Blueberry is his first beer.
Looks like now is the time to give Almanac a second and third try. They've really upped their game this year, and there's at least one more surprise up their sleeves this winter.