I believe that there is no spectrum to the category of Wild Ales. Either you knock one out of the park like a boss, or your product is a complete Albert Pujols sub-.200, count to potato, abomination.
Okay, that's speculative, because I tend to choose my sours carefully, and there have only been a couple of underachievers. But if brewers are considering tainting their perfectly drinkable beer with brett and bacterias, they had also better make good on the promise that their product is fit for recreational enjoyment. Especially considering the stylish and inspired price-points of these Frankenbeers.
That being said, New Belgium is the Prince Fielder of breweries; swinging for the fences in a do-or-do-not,-there-is-no-try mentality of beer breeding. And, incidentally, they designed my nearly-favorite sour ever, ever -- so they got that going for them, important as my personal opinions are on their financial stability.
Typically, I prefer my sours to begin with a meatier base, like a brown ale -- or even an imperial stout if you have watermelons in place of testicles. But most sours I've dabbled in begin with a simple wheat ale and then get layered from there, like a vodka cocktail. Tart Lychee takes this approach.
Around the spring of 2007, me and my buddy Graham discovered the awesomeness of lychee, using it to infuse spirits, chasing the trend all around a hastily updated Phoenix bar scene. We couldn't get enough of it in our highballs, infused and neat in rocks glasses, or poured as a simple syrup over interesting boozes. As Mark Renton said, we would have injected it if only they'd made it illegal. It essentially became the fruit of our most laborious sixth months of kickassery; two scenesters enjoying a reckless life of strip-mall discos and eastern tree harvest in the Valley of the Sun.
As does anything, the trend shriveled to ashes, and we were back to drinking malbecs and scotches and whatever prudent item we could rouse up at a happy hour in the last light of the aughts. I hadn't even thought about lychee again until a few week ago when I saw a bottle staring back at me on the rack: T-A-R-T L-Y-C-H-E-E. As a infinitely nostalgic sap, my interest in such a product was piqued.
The bottle demonstrated above was shared between me and my beer accomplice, Mike, at a point in the night that I would consider too-late to start breaking open specialty brews. Because so, I wasn't at all impressed with Tart Lychee, thinking that New Belgian had whiffed on plucking at the long tendons of my memory. I was kind-of bummed -- as much as you can appropriately be regarding average beer, which was to say, not very bummed -- but I did consider never revisiting it again.
But, as opportunity often does: it invites you to happy hour. And happy hour last week meant American Craft Beer Week, and incidentally, New Belgium glass night at The Flying Saucer. Aight. And because The Saucer's beer menu is frustratingly disorganized and and their servers completely OMGWTFLOLZ I'm not sure what an Alt is, I settled on the Tart Lychee, ceding to the usual ordering pressure from the Saucer server when she's standing there all scabbed up and skirted. Plus, asking too many questions of the servers at The Saucer makes you seem like an asshole somehow.
But, what was brought to me in a rather gorgeous tulip was on another level of delightfulness; wooorlds apart from the vessel-packaged-version of this beer. This draught version was crisp and smart and nuanced. It tasted like everything Strawberry Abita hoped to grow up to be. I loved it so much I thought about ordering another one immediately -- which, if you've been drinking with a beer nerd in a venue with a superflous beer menu, is pretty much as unlikely as catching two homerun balls in consecutive at-bats.
I was very impressed with this wild ale. However, the variable from Night One to Night Two just had to be the fact that I was drinking this right out of the spout, in the sunshine, and in a full 12 oz open-mouthed-kiss-of-a-glass. Therefore, any gratuitous giddiness on display here comes from those few, but very important, details.
Acquired: Spec's/Flying Saucer