For those of you who are not avid consumers of beer news, you might not have been made aware that this month is a very special month for sour beer lovers. At the end of this month, New Belgium Brewing will release their annual La Folie, barrel aged sour brown ale. This year’s release is extra special though. The 2018 La Folie will mark the 20th anniversary of the first batch of La Folie, and the beginning of New Belgium’s now infamous barrel aging program. That’s right, New Belgium has been brewing this cult classic for almost two decades now. Needless to say, they certainly have got it down to a science after 20 years, making La Folie a household name in the growing world of barrel aged beers and sour styles.
A brief History of La Follie
New Belgium’s barrel aging program started all the way back in 1997 with just a few wooden barrels and a blend of some of their first standards. It was that year that the La Folie would first win gold at the Great American Beer Festival, before sour beers were even introduced as a category. Today La Folie is made with a blend of New Belgium’s Dark Sour base beer, Oscar, aged in oak barrels for 1-3 years. It is tasted every 3 months along the way until maturity and then bottled and capped in 22oz bombers.
The Taste Test
To celebrate the upcoming release I decided to pop some bottles of my own. I had been sitting on a bottle of 2008 La Folie for several years now that had been collecting dust on a wine rack. I figured that the 20th anniversary of this barrel aged delight was a good enough reason to break the seal and see if the years have been good to it. About this time last year I had actually reached out to New Belgium via Facebook to get the all clear on drinking a 10 year old La Folie. One of their staff members gave me the go ahead and now it was finally time to try it.
One of my favorite things about La Folie is that no two vintages are ever exactly the same. There are, of course, the ever present notes of tart cherry and a sourness that leaves your tongue feeling like it’s going to dry up and shrivel into the back of your mouth. However, its the other subtleties that are different each year. The first difference in the 2008 La Folie is the bottle. It has the cork and cage style rather than the cap, and the botte in a 375-ml green glass bottle compared to the 22oz amber glass bombers we see today. It is recommended to pour it and let it open up in the air for a few minutes before drinking it. The color of the 2008 was a deep ruby red. Some years it comes out so dark it almost looks black. The taste was on point, although quite different from the La Folies I am used to. On the sour side, it was highly acidic and almost vinegar like. Something else I noticed was the amount of sediment that settled at the bottom of my glass. After I had finished the bottle there was about a spoonful of it in the glass. I don’t think aging it this long caused any harm to the beer, but I also don’t think it really improved it either. Aging a beer for 10 years does not guarantee that it will be any better than it was on the day it was bottled. Most beers, even Lips of Faith Beers, are made to be enjoyed fresh. If you think you stand to gain something from letting a beer sit for this long, by all means go for it. For me I think the next time I have a La Folie it will be the 2018, fresh off the tap, and I will be celebrating the 10 minute anniversary of the one I had right before it.
How to Celebrate
New Belgium will be hosting an official release party at the original New Belgium brewery in Fort Collins, CO on Sunday, May 27th. My favorite place to pick them up is at the brewery itself because you can try one fresh off the keg, buy the newest bottle, and even pick up a bottle or two from years past. If you can’t make into the brewery for the release, you can expect to see them on store shelves in the following weeks. The good news keeps coming too because New Belgium will be setting the retail price at only $10 for a 22oz bomber in select markets. So get out there and pucker up and don’t wait too long before opening your next barrel aged sour.