Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Captain Lawrence - Barrel Select Sour Black Ale Review

Brewery: Captain Lawrence (NY)
Style: Sour Black Ale
ABV: ??%
Grade: A-

I would imagine that most casual New York beer drinkers are totally oblivious to Captain Lawrence's most interesting offerings. Not that it's a total secret Captain Lawrence does this stuff — in fact, they have a pretty good reputation for it in the beer community. Yet considering they're basically the only New York state brewery regularly producing sours, these beers just seem to slip out into the wild with little introduction. The brewery keeps a few bottles on a shelf in their tasting room, where you can purchase one if you spot it — but the brewery draws very little attention to this. The last time I took a tour of Captain Lawrence's Elmsford, NY brewery, the tour guide brought us to the corner where barrels are stacked high, pointed out their 7 bbl. pilot brewery system... and never once mentioned sours or barrel aging.

Balanced, slick, and dark, Barrel Select Black plays all the best notes in the standard of other American sours. Despite its color, BSB has the tartness you'd expect from a paler sour — for better or worse, there's little creaminess or impression of a malty body left to provide the balance some of its peers offer. (It's similar, in that way and more, to the Bruery's Tart of Darkness.) This is full-on tart/sour, with an aroma and flavor both dominated by oak and clean, puckering acidity. No unusual funk, nothing outrageous — just balanced, sharp, and highly drinkable. After warming, I can pick out a touch more sweetness, particularly in the finish. That lingering malt allows this to lean toward the sweet/sour complexity of something like a Flander's Red, and as you'd expect with the dark base that went into this, Barrel Select Black offers intriguing dark fruit flavors, like tart cherry and grapes, as well as subtle hints of spice and cocoa.

Barrel Select Black is an overall great sour, a refreshing reminder that New York state is ready to play this game too — a few limited, hard-to-find releases at a time. I would love if Captain Lawrence shifted a bit more attention to its barrel-aging program, and lowered its prices on them, too. I very rarely mention price in these reviews, because it's very rarely an issue, but 15 dollars for a 12 ounce bottle — direct from the brewery! — is steep. World-renowned Belgian sours from halfway across the globe cost less than this even after shipping and distributor markups — that's nuts. And it's not the only Captain Lawrence beer suffering from this markup, as Hop's N' Roses was priced the same. Now, I'm well aware that sour beer is insanely time-consuming to make — especially if you're good at it, as Captain Lawrence is — but this is significantly above the average price for a beer of its kind, straight from the brewery.

Availability: Limited, possibly one-time release, straight from the brewery. 12.7 ounce bottle for $15.

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