Karl Strauss Brewing Co. | Queen of Tarts
You know the scene in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure where he’s saving pets from the burning pet store, and he keeps passing over the snakes because they gross him out? Eventually he bites the bullet, grabs the snakes and runs out screaming. Sometimes that’s how I feel about the Sours in my cellar. I know I’m going to drink them all eventually, but aren’t there any Barrel-Aged Stouts I can rescue first?
That’s probably a little dramatic. Just like with Sours, some snakes are pretty cool. I used to have an empty field by my house where we’d go and collect garter snakes to take to school and put them in teachers’ desks. That’s not really relevant other than now you know I was kind of a dick as a kid. I’m sure I’ve outgrown that through the years. Anyway, to push myself out of my cozy, hoppy, comfort zone, several times a year I like to sit down and get personal with a bottle of funky tartness. This month’s offering to the Sour Gods is Karl Strauss‘ fan-favorite Queen of Tarts.
Up until very recently, to try Queen of Tarts you would’ve had to visit San Diego, know when the beer was done barrel-aging and show up before the tap ran dry. But thanks to popular demand, QoT was bottled for the first time ever this year.
“I think Queen of Tarts developed a cult following due to its quality plus its scarcity. It was initially a very small, experimental release for us and was met with great feedback from our fans. The length of time involved with producing Queen meant there were inevitably long waiting periods between releases, and it being draft only until very recently just added to that ‘get it before it’s gone’ hype,” said Senior Brewer Sean Albrecht.
I cut my teeth on Sours with Russian River’s Consecration and Lost Abbey’s Red Poppy. Since then I’ve expanded my horizons modestly, but steadily, searching for those crowd-pleasing, accessible tart beers that I can add to my regular repertoire.
What a cool pour. Dark with just a bit of red tint in the right light and in the right part of the glass. The way the carbonation acts, it looks like you’re pouring a Cherry Coke for a minute. When the carbonation dies down, you still have a thin head that clings briefly to the sides of the glass when you swish it around.
When I say I “sit down and get personal” with a beer, it’s usually with a style I’m not that well-versed in. It’s easy to drink a beer outside of your comfort zone and forget about the crazy amount of work and love that goes into it. One of my favorite things about reviewing any style of brew is I really get to sit with it and think about it.
“Primary fermentation is done in red wine barrels with our house souring culture, versus stainless steel fermenters that all of our ‘normal’ beers are fermented in. When fermentation is complete and sourness is at a level that we want, tart cherry is added to the barrel and aged for another month. The whole process takes almost a year!” said Albrecht.
The nose is a little funky (in the way you’d expect) but it’s a pleasant, very light hint of funk, like Vulfpeck. But the palate is all about Michigan cherries. It’s not an overwhelming, mouth-puckering kind of tart (like the kind of tart that scares some people away from adding a Sour Ale into their weekly rotation), but the cherry-centric tartness is definitely there.
“The barrel aging process and addition of the cherries allows for a depth of flavor that I think really allows it to be enjoyed by a wide swath of fans. Tart without being too puckering and complex without being super funky, Queen of Tarts is a definite medium-level intensity sour that is a real crowd-pleaser.”
By the time I’d taken enough sips of the beer to give it a fair evaluation, my glass was empty. It’s unusual for me to not be acutely aware of how sour a beer is. Despite being labeled a Dark Sour Ale, it was surprisingly light, accessible and something I could definitely see actively seeking out when that time of year comes around again. It’s still a fairly limited distribution, but now that it’s being bottled, you have a much better shot at grabbing some of this tasty, tart, cultish craft concoction.
“Fans of the beer had been asking us to bottle it for a long time and we were only too happy to oblige!” said Albrecht.
Feature Image Photo Credit: Karl Strauss Brewing Company