Now in my second year, A Whale A Week is my challenge to try (with an array of beer loving friends) a rare beer for every week of the year. Last year I had a great time with this and have continued it for 2016. Not every beer will be a truly "white whale" beer, but all are hard to find and a treat to try!
This week we try a rare (at least in Minnesota!) sour beer from the famed Russian River Brewing Co. in California. The brewery started as an offshoot of Korbel vineyards. In 2003 Brewmaster Vinnie Cilurzo and his wife Natalie took over the business. In 2004 they built/opened a new brewpub in Santa Rosa, and then expanded with a production brewery nearby in 2008. Since then they continue to put out some amazing beers, but in small enough quantity that all of them are much sought-after. The brewery is probably most well known for putting out what was possibly the first Double IPA Pliny the Elder, as well as it's incredibly rare tap-only cousin Pliny the Younger. They were one of the first American breweries to start working with brettanomyces yeast and other wild/sour organisms in their beers as well. This place is on my bucket list for breweries to visit.
I've tasted both Plinys as well as several of the sours over the years, thanks mostly to my mom muling some back for me from her trips out to Oregon. I also received a few vintage bottles in a large cellar buy a few years back.
Sanctification is a fairly low gravity (6.75% ABV) golden beer that is fermented with 100% brettanomyces yeast. The beer is bottle conditioned (initially with standard yeast, but now using brett for that as well). The beer was first brewed in 2004 and was one of the first commercially available all-brett beers. The brewery's website actually has some of the brew logs from the first several batches of their beers which is fascinating to see. The first few years of this beer they added lactobacillus, then the third year they added some mixed wild culture to it. In 2009 and 2010 they moved to pure brett fermentation for this beer. I believe that it is fermented in stainless steel and has no oak contact. I'm pretty sure that batch 006 came out in 2012, but batch 005 is the last one on the brew logs so I'm not sure of this.
This week's tasting panel was made up of: Me (Eric Wentling)--Homebrewer for over 20 years, BJCP National ranked judge, lover of sour and brett beers. Beau Hammel--Homebrewer of tasty Belgian ales. Sarajo Wentling--My other half. We served this beer into tulip glasses. We did do this tasting at the tail end of a couple others, so our write-up was a little shorter than usual... By this point Beau and I were perfectly calibrated in our judging.
Russian River Sanctification Batch 006
Eric: Pineapple. Tart apple. Sweet honey and malt. Light barnyard funkiness. Some lemon-orange citrus character.
Beau: Acid. Rotten hay. Lemons. Tropical fruit--guava.
Eric: Very light straw to golden color. Fine tight white head. Excellent clarity.
Beau: Light golden. Clear. Medium head.
Eric: Very tart and dry apples. Sour mango rind. Slight sweetness, but that fades fast--like the first bite of an orange slice. Body is light, but not thin. No hop flavors. Not incredibly complex.
Beau: Pleasantly sour with lemon flavors. Slight funk of decomposed grass or hay.
Eric: Very fruity. Dry and tart but not really puckering. This is infinitely drinkable and refreshing. Complexity is not crazy, but for what this beer is, it's near perfect. I wouldn't mind a little more funk. 4.5
Beau: Very well balanced. Nicely sour without being too dry or puckering. Nice lemon and fruity flavors. Nice complimentary funk. 4.5
Sj: (Too distracted to come up with a pithy comment this week...) 4
Overall Score: 4.33
Photo info: I simply used a shot of the bottle label and did an overlay layer with another shot of Val Dieu Abbey (a brewery in Belgium but not actually run by monks). The abbey picture was very underexposed and was almost a silhouette, so I just accentuated that before blending the two photos.