Beer Tasting: The Four Sisters and a little Punishment

This past weekend my wife and I hosted an Autumn Party or as my wife appropriately named it in the invitation, “A Super Wholesome, Fancy, Highbrow Gathering.” Of course the description for our shindig went on to state the event would include “All kinds of wholesome shit and highbrow douchebaggery.”

I was in charge of providing the “highbrow douchebaggery.” Or at least I like to think so.

Since my wife and I had twins 6 years ago, our party throwing frequency has declined to say the least. For a while it was because we didn’t want to with infants, which morphed into the inevitable piles of children’s toys that manage to find their way under your foot whenever barefoot. This is also the first “large” party we have had since I have been writing about beer.

I have always been a fan of craft beer or microbrews as they were called in the 90s. But now it seems I have a certain “rep” to uphold.

Thankfully I had recently received some wonderful care packages from Goose Island Brewing and Stone Brewery that would do the trick.

Goose Island had thoughtfully sent me what they call the “Four Sisters.” The Four Sisters are four wonderful barrel aged Wild Ales. Before I had the idea to have a tasting at our upcoming shindig, I did make what in hindsight was a mistake. My wife and I shared one of the sisters one evening.

My first experience with this year’s series of the sisters was Lolita. Lolita is a Belgian Pale Ale fermented with brettanomyces and fresh raspberries. This beer was as wonderful as I expected it to be. Sour, funky, and tart. The flavors came in waves, at times alternating between sweet and sour during the taste and through the finish. After this I couldn’t wait to try the rest.

It was after this, I knew I needed to have a tasting. This was too good to enjoy by myself.

Infographic-The-Goose-Island-Guide-To-Wine-Barrel-AgingAt my tasting, Juliet was the first to be poured. Juliet is a wild ale made with blackberries and aged in cabernet barrels. As was explained in the video produced by Goose Island, the blackberries are picked fresh and placed in the barrels as is with all of the wild funkiness that exists on the skin of the fruit. That usually entails a healthy dose of wild brettanomyces among other things.

I really loved seeing the reactions of my guests when drinking these beers. The first reaction I saw was from a good friend, who is also a home brewer. His reaction was of pure delight. The rest of the reactions had a broad range. Many were taken aback at the sour flavors, many had trouble reconciling that this was indeed beer. But I would say surprise was the most common reaction among those not familiar with this style. I found those that were red wine drinkers to be the most drawn to this beer. The oak and astringency both added to the very wine like taste of Juliet.

Next was Gillian. Gillian was a hit with some before it was even poured into a glass. The name stems from Gillian Anderson of X-Files fame. Gillian Anderson and Gillian seem to have a lot in common too. Both were born in Chicago. Both are a Strawberry Blonde. Both were members of the Goose Island family, as Gillian Anderson was a hostess at the Clybourn Brewpub. Both were formally known as Scully. One is an Ale, the other is a femALE. I am reaching now. And the beer isn’t exactly a strawberry blonde either, but it helped the comparison. The beer is made with Strawberries, Honey, and White Pepper, and aged in Wine Barrels with traditional ale yeasts and champagne yeast. This was the favorite among of the sisters among my guests. The more novice Sour Beer drinkers seemed to really enjoy Gillian, most likely because this was the least sour of the sisters. But it could also be, because it was just really good. Fruit comes through, quickly followed by a hit of pepper on the nose, with a clean dry finish. It was the most unique of the sisters, that’s for sure.

The final sister we sampled was also the newest addition to the sisters, Halia. One of the brewers friends suggested they brew with Peaches. They later lost a battle to cancer, and Goose Island named this in tribute. Halia translates to “remembrance of a loved one” in Hawaiian. The unfortunate part for me, is this was the sister I found to be the most forgettable. I am not saying it was bad, in fact, it was very good. The tartness of the Peaches blended really well with the sour style and wine barrel aging. The blend of flavors also made this one of the crowd favorites. The blending of the ingredients works so well and effortlessly, it was difficult not to enjoy this one.

But there was one more surprise from Stone. Before I get to that I want to share a video of the brewers descriptions of the four sisters.

So I have given my guests an introduction to world class sours, and gained their trust. Now I must punish them. I figuratively and literally mean that too. The final beer of my tasting was Punishment from Stone Brewing. Punishment is one of the newest releases from Stone’s Quingenti Millilitre series. This particular selection is 2013 Double Bastard Ale brewed with peppers, and aged in bourbon barrels. Sounds somewhat harmless, until I found out what peppers they used. Stone just threw in red and green jalapenos, some black nagas, Caribbean red hots, Moruga scorpions and fatali peppers. But we’ll just say it was an Ale with Peppers Added. Nothing to see here move along.

Stone_CrimePunishment_PRINTBefore I continue I need to be forthcoming on my opinion of pepper beers. I hate them. I truly hate them. A few years ago I had Twisted Pine’s Ghost Face Killah, and I thought my whole day was going to be ruined. That was in my opinion, the worst beer I have ever had.

Stone’s Punishment. Good. Surprisingly, very good in fact. Don’t get me wrong, it was really hot.

I really enjoyed walking through our event giving everyone just a tiny taste and getting to watch their reaction. I thought about making a reaction video, but Stone beat me to it, with such a good video I didn’t even want to consider making one.

While drinking Punishment the first taste was a little bourbon and a lot of heat. Unlike some pepper beers where you feel the heat upwards of 30 minutes, this would reduce to a palatable level in about 2 minutes. I had more Punishment I was able to taste much more of the malty sweetness of Double Bastard. Letting this beer warm up beyond 60° really helped bring the bourbon and sweetness forward even more, but you only get a few seconds before being bombarded with fire.

The other interesting thing is that after a few sips you can learn to embrace the pain, and it even becomes enjoyable and mildly addicting. Punishment is definitely worth a taste, but if you do pick some up make sure to share with some friends. I only had a 500mL bottle, and was able to share it with over 20 people and still had about 3 oz left over.

All of the beers here are worth a purchase. Gillian was likely my favorite of the four sisters, but it’s really a tough choice. They were all fantastic. None of these are going to be the easiest to find, but better bottle shops should carry at least some of the sisters. And while Stone’s Punishment will be elusive, the latest three releases from Stone’s Quingenti Millitre series are the first that have been nationally distributed. So if you look hard you can find it.