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What We're Drinking: Jolly Pumpkin La Roja

A darkly sweet sour ale with layers of flavor.

Strong-as-hell imperial stouts and IPAs that've been packed to the brim with hops have had their time in the craft beer spotlight. They're still popular, and plenty delicious, but lately there's been a new style that beer fans are obsessing over: sour ales.

They're based on centuries-old European brewing traditions, where the beer is exposed to certain kinds of wild yeast and bacteria throughout the fermentation process. Some old-school breweries in Belgium like Rodenbach and Cantillon still brew that way with antique equipment that produces impossible-to-perfectly-replicate results.

Modern breweries, though, can approximate the process with controlled strains of bacteria and yeast, though it's tricky since those ingredients can quickly infect other batches if you're not careful about sanitizing the brewhouse equipment.


Seven Sour Beers To Expand Your Craft Brew Horizons

These unique sour ales are tart, funky, and endlessly interesting. Give 'em a shot.


Either way, the beer produced is uniquely compelling. It can range from lightly tart to in-your-face, warhead-level sour, with all kinds of layered flavor underneath.

Jolly Pumpkin, based out of Dexter, MI, makes a bunch of sour options that prove how different the brews can be. They're not cheap — this 12 ounce bottle cost ten bucks at our local Whole Foods — but they are interesting, delicious, and well worth trying. This one is a take on a Flanders red ale, which is traditionally aged in oak barrels, and then blended with different batches to get a just-right level of sourness.


Appearance

A muddy, cloudy dark red with not much foam. Honestly, it looks pretty unappetizing.


Smell

Sour citrus, kind of like lemon soda. It may look dark and rich, but it smells bright and sweet.


Taste

It's noticeably sour, for sure. There's a tartness that kicks in right away, so if you've never had a sour beer, you'll likely be caught off guard. But it's not overwhelming, and underneath that initial kick of flavor is where things get interesting.

The back end is darkly sweet, like plums, and has a leathery yeast note that sticks around your palate. There's a little bit of oak flavor, but not much, and almost no trace of alcohol presence. The sourness does a great job of hiding it the 7.2% ABV.


Mouthfeel

Low-ish carbonation. Pretty normal otherwise.


Overall

It's very good. But is it $10 for 12 ounces good?

Sure, if you're a fan of sour beer and want to try a new take on an interesting style. But Rodenbach, the beer that invented the style of Flanders red ale hundreds of years ago and is still being produced today, is still the gold standard of this style. That beer's flavors are a little brighter, and it costs less.

That said, this is still a rich and interesting brew that's got nice layers of flavor you won't find in your usual six pack.


85/100


Want some? Plug in your zip code here to see where it's available in your neighborhood.

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