Brewery: Jolly Pumpkin (MI)
Style: American Sour / Flanders Red
Sour beers are almost certainly my favorite style of beer, and Flanders Reds are often some of my favorite sours. Jolly Pumpkin is one of the premier American brewers of sour beer, and La Roja is their ode to a Flanders Red, even though it's more of a Flanders... Amber. So add up all those figures together and your calculator will inform you that I was going to be drinking this beer sooner or later.
Some Jolly Pumpkin beers require half a year or so to develop full sourness and really hit their stride, so I was worried that La Roja might be overly malty and not quite as intense as I like. Some of the more common, accessible Flanders have this issue, and in trying to appeal to those with a sweet-tooth, end up just being bland. Well, La Roja isn't as good as the best, but it's far, far better than the worst, and not coincidentally, La Roja lands right in the middle of the sourness scale. It has the hallmarks of an American sour — a full, bright sour funk, a nose full of Brett, an underlying bite of vinegar and a crisp layer of oak enhancing that bite.
But below that solid sour profile, La Roja feels a little thin. Maybe it's not fair to even compare it to other Flanders Red ales, since this is clearly a lighter riff on that style, but the best of those beers balance a biting oaky sourness with full-tasting darker malts and a sweetish vanilla character. These things play off of each other wonderfully and gracefully — sour and sweet; smooth and fruity and tart. La Roja is partly lacking one half of that equation, and this puts the tannic, tart fruit character in sharper focus. With a lighter, almost thin body, La Roja comes across as particularly wine-like (but, you know, sour), with big dark cherry notes that almost seem too rich for a beer with a mouthfeel this lightweight.
La Roja is a good beer, probably even a great beer, but I can't help but feel as if there's some depth missing, something else that should be filling out the background. Still — that might just bring it closer to being a perfect beer, and that's a lot to ask for. I'll settle for another excellent American sour ale.
Availability: One of Jolly Pumpkin's year-round offerings. 750 ml bottle.