Words & Photo - Matthew Curtis
“I just get fermentation,” New Belgium’s Lauren Salazar tells me as we sip at this year’s vintage of La Folie, the brewery’s flagship sour Flemish style red. I’ve described previous iterations of this beer as tasting like Rodenbach Grand Cru on steroids. But the beer in front of me is altogether more rounded and refined than I’ve ever tasted it before. Simply put, it’s the best glass of beer I’ve put to my mouth this year.
I explored New Belgium’s wood cellar last year on one of the North Colorado brewery’s excellent tours, but this experience was a little different. Salazar works at New Belgium as its master blender, constantly monitoring the souring liquid inside 64 odd-shaped foudres. She constantly samples beer from each foudre to ensure that the finished beer that ends up inside bottles and kegs tastes as good as it possibly can.
Salazar asks if there’s anything I’d like to taste and I quickly reply that I’d like to try Oscar and Felix, the base beers that make up the majority of New Belgium’s sour blends. La Folie is made up entirely of aged Oscar that can be over three years old when it’s eventually blended. I was also interested to learn that both of these base beers begin their lives as lagers, so as to give Salazar and her team a better ability to control the microbial action that takes place inside the wood.
“When we first started this program back in 1998 we used to starve our bugs to make the beer as sour as possible,” Salazar informs me. “These days we’ve learned to nurture and take care of the various cultures inside our foudres to get the very best out of them.” She also explains to me how each foudre has a name related to its background story, or the beer that it eventually produces. For example foudre number one is called ‘Sure Thing’ because it’s souring is so consistent. Taking another sip of La Folie it’s clear that Salazar’s and her incredible palate are deserving of the same title.