Oh, sour beers. Perfect when you fancy something a bit special, perfect for those wine drinking friends who say they don’t like beer, almost always perfect when hailing from Belgium and, well, just a little bit trendy right now.
But, trendy or not, sour beers (and the blending of said beers) are not a new phenomenon; indeed, in the 1800s, the use of wild yeasts and bacteria-rich wooden barrels meant that all beer tasted sour! Using techniques dating back to the 1800s, Petrus Sour Beers are created using Saaz hops, pale malt, the all important water and house yeast before being aged in 100 year old giant oak foeders (barrels). According to Petrus, the age of the foeders is particularly important as, ‘a unique, well-balanced ecosystem of wild yeast and bacteria has developed within the permeable wooden walls, providing the ideal environment for controlled oxidation.’
It was the inimitable Michael Jackson, internationally renowned beer expert, that named Petrus Aged Pale and it was also MJ that brought it across to the UK in the late 1990s. In fact, during a visit to the brewery, he promised to buy an entire foeder, if the De Brabanderes agreed to release it (I love this story).
The Aged Pale was never intended to be released, and instead was used as a sour base for other Petrus beers, known as the ‘Mother Beer’. Michael Jackson recognised that the Aged Pale stood out on its own as a wonderful representation of a Belgian sour beer.
With that in mind I thought I would pour a glass and see for myself what it was that attracted Michael to this beer, all those years ago.
Petrus Aged Pale is 7.3% and 5/5 on the Petrus Sour Scale. I took that to mean ‘for badasses only’ and continued because, as you know, that I am.
Pouring golden with a fluffy white head, the aroma of sour (but not unpleasant) grapes and apples was immediately present. Although not a wine connoisseur, if I had been tasting this blind I might have thought I was sniffing a fine wine. As for the taste; tart apples and a sprinkle of salt, leading to a particularly dry finish. I can honestly say it is one of the most complex beers I have ever tried and yet there is something incredibly balanced about it. Just fabulous.
The great thing about sour beers, and particularly Petrus sour beers, is their versatility. Drink it straight? Great. Half and half it? Even better. Get all Professor Burp’s Bubbleworks (slightly obscure reference I know) and splash about with some of each until you get your perfect flavour combination.
Petrus sour beers may not be new, but their labels are. I spoke to Guillaume Lambrecht, Head of Marketing at Brewery de Brabandere and asked him about their reasons for rebranding the sour beers specifically.
“We decided to rebrand because the complete Petrus range was a combination of traditional and sour beers. We had to split the sour beers from the traditional beers, as they deserved their own story.” He continued, “we also had a problem with people buying Petrus Aged Pale or Old Bruin and coming back to us saying: “this beer is infected, because it is sour!'”
He’s right, these beers do deserve their own story, and I can understand this marking of differences in order to provide clarity and manage expectations. Guillaume explained that this need to give drinkers as much information about the beer as possible led them to the infographic style of design, with the Petrus Sour Scale proudly displayed on each.
If the aim was to bring Petrus into the 21st century, but to reinforce their family brewing heritage and use of traditional techniques then I think this rebrand has been truly successful. This kind of design (particularly the distressed look) can be risky, but they’ve managed to create something both informative and attractive (a bit like me).