Rodenbach is a classic example of a wider style of beer. Cuvee Soeur’ise is more idiosyncratic, but combines two famous styles made in roughly the same region, in a way that seems intuitive, and Sour Monkey from Victory actually represents quite a popular example of a sour tripel that is readily available. A sour Baltic porter is a much, much rarer thing. While there are other examples, there are not many, I have never seen another in person, and I don’t think a single other instance receives distribution here in Maryland. Beyond that, this is not just a “standard” sour Baltic porter, as if there were such a thing; Jilted Comrade was made with idiosyncratic decisiveness at every juncture, on the level of the yeast, the malt bill, the barrels, you name it.
A Baltic porter, to oversimplify many debates, is the porter equivalent of a Russian imperial stout which is fermented with a lager yeast, generally at a cooler temperature, though sometimes at ale temperatures, Anchor Steam style. It is usually about 7%-10% ABV with a plush body and chocolate, coffee, and dark fruit flavors, and little discernible yeast character, depending on fermentation temperatures. (Duck-Rabbit does a delightful example every winter.) This might seem like a problematic inclusion in this series then, as the whole month is an ode to “dirty” fermentations in sequence. However, Jilted was fermented with a more expressive ale yeast. As the brewers at 3 Stars themselves told me, “Historically speaking, Baltic porters were traditionally made using ale yeasts, while modern versions of the style are almost exclusively lagers because many breweries in the Baltic region were already using lager yeast strains for their other beers.” The Oxford Companion to Beer confirms that it wasn’t until the mid 1800’s that brewers of Baltic porter shifted to lager yeasts, presumably as part of the Pilsener craze. The Oxford entry also suggests that the move to lager yeasts coincided with replacing brown malts with a mixture of pale and black patent malts, and based on the lack of pronounced roast bitterness, and with the rich amber-russet color the beer shows when held up directly to the sun, I suspect that the brewers have reverted to more ancient practices as regards the malt bill as well. After tweaking modern concepts or misconceptions of the Baltic porter, the brewers at 3 Stars then dosed the finished porter with brettanomyces and other bugs and aged the beer in a mixture of red wine and whiskey barrels. The results are quite wonderful, and much more delicate and mysterious than the harsh Soviet imagery on the bottle would suggest.
While sours have flooded the market in recent years, they have been mostly light-bodied, low-alcohol beers of summer, but darker, bigger sours are the complex red wines of the beer world. Pale malts inoculated with wild yeasts will often give you a lemon and bread flavor profile, but dark malts dosed with the same will tend to give you cherries and chocolate. This is an oversimplification on par with saying Pacific Northwest hops make beer taste like pine and grapefruit: mostly yes, but a world of great variety exists within those parameters. Jilted Comrade has the cherries and chocolate in abundance. It pours a rich amber in full sun and black inside the house, with persistent, creamy, khaki foam. Strong red fruit, balsamic, and barnyard aroma. The flavor is cherries and red wine, red fruit and dried fruit, dark fruit and chocolate, balsamic vinegar, a little vanilla and coconut, the almond and umami notes of an Amontillado, with a slight tannic element that is more velvet than wool. It is as if a Pinot Noir and an Amontillado were mixed, that level of delicacy and strangeness, of the fruity and the savory. There is also a creamy roundness to the body that seems impossible for a beer of this acidy, that strikes me as particularly charming. Jilted Comrade has already been aged adequately for the yeasts to do their thing, but should evolve desirably for years. This is a sour beer for the coming cooler weather, and a wonderful accompaniment to hearty meals.
Similar Beers in Store: Rullquin Stout, Dark Horse Reserva, Hof Ten Dormaal Orchard Blend. And go to Belgium and grab a sour ABT 12 from St. Bernardus!