Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Russian River Consecration - Black Currant Sour Ale aged in Cabernet Sauvignon Barrels

So let's kick this one off right. Consecration, what does it mean? More or less, and as stated by Princeton online dictionary, it means: a solemn commitment of your life or your time to some cherished purpose. As is usually the case, the brewers at Russian River Brewing Company have selected another meaningful borderline biblical term for the name of one of their brews (among others: Damnation, Temptation, Supplication, Beatification, Salvation and Sanctification). For one reason or another, this beer, Consecration, has eluded me until tonight. Countless times I had read the bottle: "Ale Aged in Cabernet Sauvignon Barrels with Currants Added". Sounded simple enough. Sounded amazing enough. But every time I passed it by the overly expensive price stuck out like a sore thumb amongst the others: $13.50, I'd often read, and often thought, "That's way too much. I'll get it next time..." but never did. And what pushed me over the edge? What drove me to finally purchase this bottle of beer that had taunted me from many a shelf? It took a slight buzz, a late-night visit to a supermarket, and a sign below the purple-brown labels of the bottles that read: SALE! And that was good enough for me. I finally bought one. And I was satisfied with myself. After all, it was definitely something I'd always wanted to try and another brew I'd only heard good things about.

So let's hear it. What is the story behind Consecration? Well as the bottle suggests, the brewers at Russian River had always wanted to attempt a beer aged entirely in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels. What finally pushed them to do so? One may never know, but we are all glad they found the inspiration. And what kind of beer is Consecration? Coming from several reputable sources (including the brewery itself) it has been classified as an American Wild Ale, a sour ale, Belgian Style Dark Ale, and just plain wild ale. How about we add them all up, take the average and call it a dark Belgian Style sour ale utilizing wild American yeasts and bacteria? I think that pretty much covers the entire realm of what this beer really is. Thinking back to my previous entries I can recall offhand two instances in which I discussed sour ales: one was during my trip to Deschutes Brewery (scroll down in the entry to read about the Solace Rose and the process used to create that brew) and the other instance was during my review of Oude Gueuze (Hanssens Artisanaal). I won't go into a full explanation here, but reading the Russian River website I was astonished (and quite happy) to discover the answer to a question I'd had about sour ales for quite some time.

In both of the aforementioned posts, I discuss blending. Blending is the process in which differently aged beers are blended with one another to create a desirable flavour profile. The question being however, why exactly this was necessary and how on earth did someone decide that it would be a good idea to blend old and young beer together? In the case of Consecration, it would seem, as you will later see, that two very important bacteria responsible for producing delectable sour ale would be: Lactobacillus (Lacto) & Pediococcus (Pedio). These bacteria will grow inside barrels and ferment the beer anaerobically (with little or no oxygen) as it ages. This produces lactic acid, which is one of the sour components in a good sour ale. All is good and well, that is until the brew reaches higher alcohol strength. Consecration is sitting at 10.00% abv, which is pretty hefty. When higher percentages of alcohol are present, the bacteria becomes inhibited and therefore no longer produces the desired sour flavours we love so much. So in order to add a more desireable amount of acidity, the brewers will blend an older and a younger (because it hasn't attained the higher alcohol strength of its big brother) to reintroduce the acidic flavour that makes sour ales so sour. Did I lose anyone? I certainly hope not. To recap and put it all into Layman's terms: younger or "weaker" beers will naturally contain more acidic flavours than that of a "stronger" beer which has lost the acidic edge due to the inhibition of Lacto and Pedio. So brewers blend the two together until the desired flavour profile is achieved. This was done with the Solace Rose as well as the Hanssens Artisinaal: Oude Gueuze.

In addition to the brewers of Russian River aging this beer in 100% French-oak Cabernet Sauvignon barrels they took it to the next level by adding Black Currants to the mix. Undeniably adding yet another layer of complexity and depth to an already overwhelming mix of aroma's and flavours. The next question that I've yet to answer: why Currants? I've seen many beers aged with Black Currants, but why not other dried dark fruits? Suppose that will have to be answered later. Thanks for reading along so far. As I have learned something new, I hope you have too. And now without further adieu, the tasting notes on this incredible brew......................

Name: Consecration
Category/Style: American Wild Ale
ABV: 10.00%
IBU: 17
OG: 1.088
FG: Unknown
Malt Type(s): Unknown
Hop Type(s): Unknown
Yeast Type: Abbey Ale Yeast, Rockpile & Brettanomyces
Bacteria Type: Lactobacillus & Pediococcus
Special Additives: Barrel-aged with black currants
Bottled: 04/07/2011
Batch Number: 006
Bottle Size: 375 mL, corked
Location Purchased: QFC, Factoria, Washington, USA

The Pour: Pale crimson pink, slight ruddy orange brown hue. Head is off-white and cream colored, disippates quickly, no retention, no lacing.

The Nose: Wow. Blew me away. Black cherry, sharp acidity, little vinegar, little tartness, lots of oak and wood, vanilla and red wine, dark fruit, black currants, what an elixir! Somewhat purfume-y and quite sweet. Smells intense and makes my mouth water. A little bubblegum. Going deeper and we get lots of funk and a little barnyard, but it is safe to say this is dominated by dark fruit, most namely sour black cherry as well as acetic sour notes. Smells absolutely divine. Ok going in for a taste...

The Taste: Oh wow. Where to start with this one? Incredibly complex. Layer upon layer of flavor. Oak and wood everywhere in this brew. Lots of vanilla, red wine and black cherry. Perfect amount of tart sourness. As it rolls over my tongue it is satisfyingly sweet. Ends with a moderate amount of bitterness but doesn't linger. Mouthfeel is silky smooth, carbonation is abrupt initially but overall rather light to medium and the finish is quite dry. No worries, the complexity is astounding: oak, wine, cherries, currants, sour, bitter, sweet, and at 10% I am having a difficult time picking out the alcohol. The only indication of its strength comes from the slight warming of the back of the throat. I could probably drink a lot of this. Each sequential sip is a treat in itself. I am totally in love with this beer.

The Verdict: Enough said. This beer floored me. From the initial removal of the cork and the first whif of what was to come I was spellbound. I have known few other brews that come close to matching the complexity of this. Each sip is something new entirely. Dark fruit? Sour cherries? Black currants? Vanilla and oak? Take your pick because it is all here hidden beneath one of the various other layers. It is beautifully crafted and instantly (hands down) one of my all-time favorites. The price is higher, but entirely worth it I feel. If you like sour ales, you have to try this at least once. I picked up a bottle on sale for $12 USD but now I am thinking I'll have to buy a few more, or perhaps opt for the larger 750 mL size. This 375 mL is perfect for a solo evening venture. So good. I'm trying to savour each sip. If you see this in a store, don't hesitate to buy because of the price. If you are looking for a wild flavour ride upon which your palate will be treated to the ultimate experience then this is definitely the ticket. Simply said: Russian River Consecration is one incredible journey.

Thanks for reading!



Ryan C said...

To answer your question- Black currants are the a predominant ingredient of a cabernet sauvignon - which is the barrel type used for aging Consecration. Adding more currants accentuates the subtle flavors imparted by the barrel aging process. On the other hand- Supplication, aged in pinot noir barrels, is spiked with sour cherries-- a key component of pinot blends.

Zach Hoyopatubbi said...

While both Black Currants and Sour Cherries are flavours you will typically find in these two styles of wine, I don't actually believe there is any usage of either fruits during the wine making process. I spoke with a couple of different sources who are experienced with barrel ageing beers and they explained to me that Black Currants are a very traditional flavouring agent. A lot of beers from Belgium traditionally utilized them for this purpose and keeping with tradition are commonly seen used in beer-making presently :]