Sour Grains: New Glarus Unplugged Enigma VS. New Belgium La Folie

19 May

Ahh, the power of persuasion.  With a bomber of one in my fridge and a stack of 4-packs of the other staring me in the face at work, all it took was some timely inspiration from Mr. Glazer over at Madison Beer Review to push me to crack a bottle each of New Glarus Unplugged Enigma and New Belgium La Folie and subject my GI tract to 34 ounces of vinegary goodness.

The second consecutive Unplugged beer that happens to be a reborn fan-favorite (after Cherry Stout), Enigma continues to add to Dan Carey’s legendary ability to coax sublime greatness out of the humble Door County cherry.  Wild-fermentation and oak-aging keep this gem firmly within Mr. Carey’s considerable wheelhouse.  Last brewed in 2006, Enigma has developed a devoted following among local beer folk and it was no surprise that New Glarus fans so strongly backed its return.

New Belgium’s La Folie has garnered considerable accolades of its own and risen to the pantheon of American-brewed Belgian-style sour ales.  Whereas New Glarus’ offering skirts the boundaries between fruit and sour ale styles, La Folie is presented as a traditionally-styled sour brown/red ale in the oud bruin or Flanders red vein.  The brewers’ notes on the respective bottles illustrate the divergent goals of these two soured suds:

Enigma – “Our Master Brewer has forged a smooth garnet tapestry that defies description.”

La Folie – “Seriously sour, this Flanders-style reddish brown ale was fermented for 1 to 3 years in French oak barrels for mouth puckering perfection.”

New Glarus Unplugged Enigma

Style: Oud Bruin/Sour Brown Ale/Fruit Beer

Vitals: ~5.5% abv; Brewed with wild yeast and Door County cherries; aged in unlined oak for 4 months

Company Line:

A complex and intriguing original. The mystery began with wild yeast spontaneously fermenting a rich treasure of malted barley and cherries. Unlined Oak casks breathe deep vanilla hues and chords of smoke into this sour brown ale. Our Master Brewer has forged a smooth garnet tapestry that defies description. Wander off the beaten path.

My take: pours a strawberry-tinged amber under a fizzy off-white head that vanishes quickly.  Soft aromas of silky vanilla and and fresh oak are bolstered by husky malt and cherry juice.  Buttery-smooth vanilla and tart cherry envelop the palate over a lightly-toasted, slightly smoky malt backbone.  Finish is pleasantly sour with a quick metallic note and slight lingering fruitiness.  Class in a glass.  Elusive, yet immediately accessible.  Whenever cherries meet oak under Dan Carrey’s tutelage, good things happen.

New Belgium La Folie

Style: Flanders Red/Sour Ale

Vitals: 6.0% abv; aged 1-3 years in French oak; wild fermented

Company Line:

La Folie Wood-Aged Biere, is our original wood-conditioned beer, resting in French Oak barrels between one and three years before being bottled. Peter Bouckaert, came to us from Rodenbach – home of the fabled sour red. Our La Folie emulates the spontaneous fermentation beers of Peter’s beloved Flanders with sour apple notes, a dry effervescence, and earthy undertones. New in 2010, we’ll do a single bottling of La Folie for the year. Collect the 22oz unique to 2010 designed bottle and start a yearly wood-aged collection of goodness.

My take: pours a dark, deep garnet-brown with a light, quickly-dissipating white crown.  Nose sparks with zingy raspberry vinaigrette, smooth oak and light malts.  Hints of zippy Greek yogurt arise with aeration. Notes of ripe berries are quickly zapped by the formidable crabapple acidity which lays down a slight metallic sheen on the palate before a pleasant roasted malt base breaks through.

La Folie proves to be a much more challenging experience for the palate as compared to the Enigma.  Where the Enigma has the benefit of fresh cherries to lend a soothing sweetness and choses a shorter and more subtle application of the wild fermentation; La Folie takes a more traditional path toward a Belgian-style oud bruin/Flanders red with a blend of oak-aged sour vintages with a noble lineage (brewer Peter Bouckaert came to New Belgium from Rodenbach, founding fathers of the Flanders Red tradition) and really electrifies the palate with its supremely sour character.

For lovers of face-wrenching sours (a hat I do indeed wear on occasion) La Folie knocks it out of the park with intense acidity and a bright, dry body.  Enigma takes the road less-traveled, enveloping the senses with layers of cherry, vanilla, oak and smoke in a smooth package that seduces the palate with alternating sweet and sour notes and makes for an ultimately more enjoyable (and accessible) experience.  After 34 full ounces of tongue-curling, cheek-biting, stomach-pickling goodness (a full bomber of La Folie was admittedly challenging to finish by myself in addition to the single Enigma), this drinker’s sour beer tooth has been satiated.  I see a handful of Tums and a whole lot of easy- drinking  Furthermore Oscura in my future.

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