Fearful Symmetries

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18 November, 2015

Catching the Microbrew Zeitgeist: Salzspeicher Cherry Sour Porter from Freigeist Bierkultur



German brewers are not especially well-known for brewing porters. It is perhaps more correct to say that they are well-known for avoiding them like the plague. But The American microbrewing revolution is being felt across The Pond. And rather than genuflect before the pilsner clerisy, the insurgents at Freigeist Bierkultur are fomenting a little rebellion in their fermenters.

Freigeist means "free spirit" (or "free-spirited" or something akin to that) and Freigeist Bierkultur "is the experimental offshoot of Cologne's revolutionary small brewery, Braustelle. Here we strive to break the chains of industrial brewing by reviving and updating, Germany's unique, historical beer styles." Looking over the brewery's portfolio, it seems that they're doing a good job of it. For instance, I see a Doppelsticke Alt and, being in Cologne, this is must surely go beyond peccadillo into heretical territory.

Beyond being a brewing fifth column sent from Düsseldorf (however, they also brew Kölsches), Freigeist brews beers unlike any other German brewery. At least any other German brewery whose bottles reach the shores of Lake Mendota. Their brews occasionally pop up at Riley's which is where I picked up a bottle of Salzspeicher Cherry Sour Porter.

"Salzspeicher" means salt warehouses, specifically, the ones on the bottle's label which are located in Lübeck. They achieved notoriety for being used in the classic silent film Nosferatu and are featured because this porter was brewed with salt. Freigeist maintains that the beer is based on an East German sour dark beer crossed with an old English porter style which had salt in the recipe. I've not encountered mention of these types of porters previously. This isn't surprising as the style has a convoluted history that's beyond my ken. (And outside that of most drinkers, I suspect. Recall the hubbub surrounding New Glarus' Old English Porter.) Despite this, I was quite intrigued by a salty-sour porter brewed with cherries.

My Salzspeicher Cherry Sour Porter had a rather small tan head when I poured it. Holding my glass to the light, the beer had a deep mahogany hue and was opaque when looked at straight on. From what I could tell the beer was clear but I couldn't discern effervescence owing to the aforementioned opacity. Tart cherries dominated the aroma at first. It gave way to a hint of salinity in addition to the expected roasted malt scents that were akin to well-done and burnt toast.

As with the nose, cherry was prominent in the taste but there was no sweetness to be had. Instead the fruit lent a wonderful tartness to the beer. Underneath the fruit I could taste more sourness but I could not identify it. The overall sour profile reminded me of New Glarus' Belgian Red. Perhaps a bit of some strain of brettanomyces but it was mild. The cherry tartness was more prominent but there was a hint of funk behind it. Musty but not a whole barnyard's worth.

I cannot speak to the historical porters upon which this beer was based but it had the typical malt flavors one expects from a modern porter. That is to say that black malt flavors prevailed with coffee and dark chocolate undergirded by a tinge of that ashy, burnt bitterness. I could also taste the carbonation but only just.

The beer had a medium body and was rather smooth. It finished with the cherry tartness and chocolate flavors from the malt lingering. As the chocolate faded, cherry was joined by a touch of grassy hops. My glass was left with very little Schaumhaftvermoegen – just some small patches here and there.

Salzspeicher Cherry Sour Porter mixes an abundance of chocolate malt flavor with cherry to make a velvety smooth beer. This may read very dessert-like but the tartness of the cherries and the additional yeast/bacteria add just the right amount of funky sourness to dispel that notion. This isn't a lip puckeringly sour beer. Everything is kept on an even keel with just enough tartness to put it on equal footing with the malt flavors which are highlighted by the salt. Not being an extreme beer, it was quite easy to drink the entire half liter bottle myself. And I could do so as the beer is 6% A.B.V.

When I finished the bottle I found myself wondering if this beer is actually distributed in Germany. From what I've read it seems that the bottled "craft" beers of Germany are export-only or, at least, not widely available in Deutschland. I sincerely hope Freigeist Bierkultur's biers are available in its homeland because, if Salzspeicher Cherry Sour Porter is any indication, this new wave of German brewing is not to be missed. Freigeist also gets my respect for not simply aping American IPA culture and tacking its own uniquely German craft beer course.

Junk food pairing: If you're in the mood for something savory, then pair Salzspeicher Cherry Sour Porter with pork rinds. The fatty goodness with complete a flavorful trifecta. For dessert, pair it with dark chocolate covered peanuts. You can get these is large quantities rather cheaply at Farm & Fleet.

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|| Palmer, 12:01 PM

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