Review: Fossil Cove Sour Ale

Fossil Cove Sour Ale

Photo: Brian Sorensen

Fossil Cove Brewing Company opened in Fayetteville just over a year ago in a nondescript warehouse on Birch Street. A native Arkansan, owner and brewer Ben Mills has quickly become known for his lineup of ales that both embrace traditional styles and push their boundaries. Popular beers at Fossil Cove include Paleo Ale, Tyrannosaurus Tripel, La Brea Brown, and several versions of IPA. Special one-offs, such as a recent batch of peach-jalapeno pale ale, can usually be found on the menu as well. And on most Friday evenings you can experience the Randall – a filter chamber filled with fruit or herbs through which beer is dispensed, infusing it with unique flavors and aroma.

A growing trend in American craft brewing is sour ale, with commercial offerings such as New Belgium La Folie and Rodenbach Grand Cru available in local beer stores. This past weekend Fossil Cove introduced its own sour ale – a Berliner Weisse that was brewed in collaboration with James Spencer, host of the popular beer podcast Basic Brewing Radio. Berliner Weisse is a wheat-based beer brewed with traditional top-fermenting ale yeast and lactobacillus, the naturally-occurring bacteria responsible for the acidic tartness of the style. Native to Northern Germany, it was once the most popular alcoholic beverage in the region. Ben’s method of souring the beer involved letting the mash sit and spoil for a period of 72 hours before continuing with the boiling and fermentation processes. The recipe also called for a touch of rye malt, not a traditional ingredient in Berliner Weisse. A thorough review of the science behind this beer can be found in Spencer’s blog Beer and Wine Journal.

It’s no surprise that the local home brewing club, FLOPS, decided to hold its monthly social at Fossil Cove to coincide with the debut of the sour ale. I walked into the brewery Saturday afternoon to a packed house of club members and other enthused beer geeks. Andy Sparks from the local home brewing store was there with a couple of special flavoring syrups to add to the beer. It is a tradition in Germany to order the beer as a “Berliner Weisse mit Schuss: Himbeere” (raspberry) or “Berliner Weisse mit Schuss: Waldmeister” (woodruff). The requested syrup is added to the beer to enhance the flavor and make it more palatable to the average beer drinker. Andy’s contributions made the day a particularly festive experience!

I first sampled the beer without syrup to get a baseline impression. It was served in a standard pint glass, and on first inspection was somewhat hazy and straw-colored with a very thin head that quickly dissipated. Not much aroma was present other than a faint sour smell. I took a sip and was punched in the face with a tart, acidic, and sour flavor that made my cheeks hurt – in a good way. I felt like I could “gleek” ten yards on command! The beer was thin bodied and refreshing. There was a citrus-like sharpness to the beer with very little hop character to speak of. I imagine the beer would be a great thirst quencher following a day of mowing in the hot Arkansas sun.

I ordered my next beer with the raspberry syrup. It too was served in a standard pint glass. The addition of the syrup changed the beer’s appearance significantly. What was once somewhat hazy and straw-colored was now cloudy and almost orange. The raspberry syrup settled into a one-inch layer of clear burgundy on the bottom of the pint glass. The aroma was very similar to the base beer, yet the taste was significantly different. The tart, acidic flavors still danced on the palate, but shining front and center was the raspberry sweetness that balanced the beer ever so nicely. Words that came to mind while drinking the Berliner Weisse Himbeere were bright, complex, and delicious.

Brewer Ben Mills hit it out of the park with this one. Beer club members in the crowd were buzzing about how good his sour ale had turned out. I’m willing to bet it finds its way back on the tap list in the future based on its potential as a Fayetteville cult classic. As an added bonus, at 4% ABV you’re free to drink as many as your gleeking cheeks will allow!

If you’ve never been to Fossil Cove, make sure you head down and check out what is fast becoming one of the area’s most innovative breweries.

Brian Sorensen
Brian is an admitted beer geek, occasional home brewer, and member of the Fayetteville Lovers of Pure Suds (FLOPS). You can follow him on Twitter at @EBSorensen.