Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Sierra Nevada / Russian River - Brux Review

Brewery: Sierra Nevada / Russian River (CA)
Style: Brett Beer / Wild Ale
ABV: 8.3%
Grade: B+

I love how often beer defies expectations — no other beverage can snatch away from expectations the way beer can. You think you have one ingredient or style pinned down, and then a beer comes along and just tastes... different. Maybe it doesn't blow you away, or maybe it does, but it's enough to keep you on your toes, keep you excited for the next thing. It's why I love beer so much more than any... competing beverages.

Brux doesn't blow me away, but it doesn't let me down either, and it's not what I expected. What did I expect? I guess something more along the lines of Orval or Ithaca's Brute — a light, tart Belgian / farmhouse ale serving as a vehicle for Brett funk. This having been released just the other week, I didn't expect the Brett to be overly prominent, but I wasn't patient enough to age my bottle a year or anything. Anyway, here's the thing: I get the Brett, and there are suggestions of that farmhouse funk we've all come to know and love, as well as the suggestions of ripe fruit Brett often creates — but Brux is much heavier on the fruit, and light on the funk. It's much more a farmhouse Belgian than it is a Brett beer. There's earthy, tart apples, especially in the nose, with pear, lemon, orange and pineapple. There's a saison-ish quality to the tartness here, and hints of spice and clove, but more like the zest of some fruit skin than a saison's oft-peppery qualities. There is strong undercurrent of grassy funk, more like old wet hay than the typical barnyard ripeness of many other Brett beers. It's a character that's obviously related to what you're used to, yet not quite the same.

A lot of this is probably due to the young age of the beer. If I were drinking this same bottle in a year, I imagine it would be much closer to what I had expected. I believe whatever strain was used for primary fermentation — likely some kind of mild Belgian / saison strain — still dominates the character of Brux, with the Brett creeping in at the edges, enhancing certain favors before creating much of its own. Like young Orval, this is an excellent beer for Belgian-beer lovers looking to discover something a little different, and start exploring the various characters that sour beer can offer. It's a beer that can surprise, but also offers something for everything. After all, it's ultimately light and tart and fruity, and not bracingly dry or acidic. This isn't quite the mind-blower I would have expected from a collaboration between Russian River and Sierra Nevada, but it's impressive in another way: an unassuming, nuanced ale that delivers something simple and yet undeniably well-crafted.

And if you do have some money burning a hole in your pocket, it wouldn't be a bad idea to pick up an extra bottle and age it for another year or two.

Availability: One time release. 750 ml cork-and-cage.

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