When I’m looking for a beer to write about for my Post City blog I take into account availability and seasonal timing, but mainly it’s a balance between what I think readers will enjoy and what I like to drink. I’m regularly impressed by how well-received some of my recommended beers are. In a lot of cases, I would found some of them too challenging five years ago. That’s especially true of the delicious but bitter hop-bombs that are in vogue.
This Panil is the first sour beer I’ve written about, so I’m wondering what the reaction will be like. Sours are remarkably different than all other beers. I think this one is excellent and look forward to reading your feedback.
If readers wrote letters to me about these posts, the mailbags would pour in this week. The Panil Barriquée is sour (more on that below), made in Italy and comes in at over $14 a bottle. But, I don’t care, because this is my standout favourite from the LCBO’s spring release.
Let’s handle the whole “sour” thing right up front. Most brewers use grains, hops, strains of brewer’s yeast and other ingredients to build beers that range in quality from Honda Civics to Rolls Royce Silver Ghosts. Religious attention is paid to excluding all microbial life beyond what the brewers have added. But those who make sour beers introduce (or encourage) a ragtag crew of bacteria and yeast to the process. They make the horse-drawn buggies of beer.
Birrificio Torrechiara (better known as “Panil”) is among a new crowd of Italian craft brewers. This particular beer is made in the Flanders red style and is aged in oak wine barrels that have been inoculated with lactic acid-producing bacteria.
When held to the light, this light brown ale shows faint hints of auburn from the red-coloured malts that give the style its name. Even at arm’s length, the aroma is obvious: complex and funky, with notes of hay and horse blanket; but on closer examination it has lighter notes of raspberries and lemon zest as well.
The flavour starts sour and tart, but it’s not aseptic (the difference between a traditional dill pickle and white vinegar), and it moves through a middle full of funk, cherries and a touch of vanilla (from the barrel) to a clean finish, where the sourness returns for a lingering ovation.
“Funk” is a catchall description begging for more explanation. In this case, I was faintly reminded of a small Kensington cheese shop where the smells of hanging salami, open bins of briny olives and piles of various cheeses mingle into an indistinct but memorable cocktail.
Those cured products would be great places to start when considering what to eat with this sour ale — the tartness will cut the fat, and all that salt will open complexities in the beer. Also, when I think of “fat” and “salt,” my mind jumps automatically to fried chicken, which would be a great partner for this Panil.
If you’ve only recently gotten into craft beer and want a change from your usual pale lager, this might not be the place to start. But if you’re up for a brash, slightly out-of-control beer, Panil Barriquée Sour will be right up your alley.
Birrificio Torrechiara’s Panil Barriquée Sour, $14.20 for a 750 mL bottle. LCBO #210591