written by Matt Brasch aka The Brewholder
This weekend New Belgium Brewing Company’s “Wood Cellar Supervisor” (in other words, “sour beer brewer”) Eric Salazar is visiting the Philadelphia suburbs to spread the word of New Belgium’s portfolio and celebrate New Belgium’s 25th anniversary. Up until August 2015, New Belgium was not distributed in Philadelphia but was widely known for its Fat Tire Amber Ale. Over the past year, New Belgium has introduced the Philadelphia market not only to Fat Tire, but to its other specialities such as Snapshot, Pumpkick, and the Lips of Faith series of sour beers.
Salazar’s tour began almost as soon as he stepped off the plane on Thursday with a visit to Theresa’s Next Door in Wayne. To welcome Salazar and New Belgium, Theresa’s presented a New Belgium tap takeover – “25 beers for 25 years.” During the event, Salazar spoke with us about his time at New Belgium.
Salazar was originally hired to work in New Belgium’s packaging department in 1995, when the Fort Collins beer scene was booming. As an art student at the time, brewing was something he was into but was not really a part of the community – until he got the job at New Belgium. As a result, Salazar became interested in sour beers. To him, sour beers were “the big mystery; the thing that I had no idea how to make or how it was made – it was so amazing to me.”
The first sour beer to ignite Salazar’s passion was the inimitable Boon Kriek. “Prior to that I had had a Lindemans Framboise, which seemed candy-like to me. But when I tried the Boon Kriek, it blew me away. Before that, I had no idea that beer could be like that. And it’s beers like that that are the catalyst of change – what comes next? How different can beer be?” Subsequent beers that changed how he thought about beer was Brasserie Fantome’s 1998 Black Label Saison and Cantillion.
Salazar is passionate about sour beer because of the creativity of the style. “There’s something new all the time – I’m constantly surprised by new beers and what people are coming up with.” Despite opinions otherwise, Salazar believes sour beer is not a fad or a trend. “There’s no end to it. It’s sustainable – the sky’s the limit. The industry hasn’t even touched the limits of what can be done with sour beer – you can have a little sour beer, you can have a lot of sour beer, you can blend it out with fruit, you can blend it out with spices – whatever you want. And we’re seeing that right now – we’re seeing a lot of people get really creative with it. And, judging that there’s something new released every day, I don’t think that’s going to change for a long time. I think sour beers are here to stay – just like hoppy beers are here to stay.”
According to Salazar, another thing that will keep sour beer relevant is that brewers truly like to make sour beers. “They are hard to make – and that’s the special thing that brewers are going to do; they are going to craft. You have to have special equipment, dedicated wood – there’s a lot that goes into it. From a brewers point of view, we’d like to keep doing it because we like to do those things that take a long time and need a lot of brain power to design; give us a challenge.” He also thinks that there is potential for kettle souring too, “It’s another portion of sour beer that we haven’t seen the end of yet. It can be as creative as any wood aged beer – it’s exactly the same creativity-wise as any wood aged beer. It’s just another facet of sour beer that needs to be explored.”
Out of all the beers that he’s brewed at New Belgium, his favorite is the beer that bears his name, “Eric’s Ale.” But, he quickly reminded – “its a constant evolution, there’s always something new!” For example, available now is New Belgium’s “Oscar Worthy Coffee.” As described by Salazar, “It’s our base beer ‘Oscar,’ which usually becomes La Folie, then we age it on whole bean Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee beans for 48 hours; then we nitrogenize it. It’s a nitro coffee sour.”
For those who haven’t tried a sour beer yet, or maybe have had a bad experience with one, Salazar recommends trying again. “There are a lot of increments of sour beer and maybe you went to something really sour, something that wasn’t in the realm of what your flavor profile is. Try starting with something light, start small. Start with something that has a hint of sour.”
Salazar will be visiting other well-known locations in the Philadelphia area, including Capone’s in Norristown and The Butcher & The Barkeep in Harleysville on Friday. On Saturday he’ll be heading to The Hulmeville Inn from 12 – 3pm and then to Iron Abbey in Horsham for a 4 course beer pairing dinner , featuring New Belgium’s La Folie, Tart Lychee, Transatlantique Kriek, and Blackberry Barleywine.