Sours ales are an acquired taste.
This program has grown in popularity among beer lovers and last year it released about 20 different sour ales, including many fruited and non-fruited styles. In contrast to most beer styles, which are fermented with carefully chosen strains of cultivated yeast, lambic-style sour ales use wild yeasts, which give the beer its distinctive flavor.
The lambic style originated in Belgium, and Upland wanted to create their beer as traditionally as possible using the newly acquired barrels. After being exposed to a selection of Belgian yeast, wild yeast and other microorganisms that cause souring in an oak foudre (essentially a very large barrel), the beer is divided into multiple oak barrels for long aging periods: Most take up to eight months or longer.
In recent years, because the program has been small, only a limited amount of sour ales have been produced by Upland, and it has been relatively difficult to find them. Most bottles were sold only at the brewery through a lottery system. Later, a secret barrel society was created which allowed members to skip the lottery process and have access to special events and experimental beers.
I remember my first bottles of Upland sour — one peach and one strawberry — which were bottled in 2010. A friend in South Bend coordinated this for us through another friend in Indianapolis who was willing to travel to the Bloomington brewery to pick them up. Although the brewery has made this process a bit easier in recent years, only limited amounts are brewed in a limited space.
Now, 10 years later, Upland is expanding the award-winning sour ale program: the company has won numerous awards, including a Great American Beer Festival gold medal and several world class rankings from Beer Advocate.
The expansion of the sour ale initiative at Upland coincides with the opening of their new facility, The Wood Shop, located next to the 11th Street Brew Pub in Bloomington.
“This expansion increases the amount of beer available to meet the high demand, but more importantly, it increases our capacity for experimentation,” said Doug Dayhoff, president of Upland, in a release . “Traditionally inspired sour ales take time to come to life, and the cellar capacity gives us more batches to blend into interesting creations.”
Upland will be offering 330, 500 and 750 milliliter versions of many of its sour ales in shops and bars. They’ll even be making some sours available on draft. The Secret Barrel Society and online lottery will continue to get first access to Upland’s limited release and low-volume ales.
“In rolling out the new formats and new beers, we have also updated the packaging and bottle to better represent the Upland Sour Ales program,” said Pete Batule, vice president of operations for Upland, in a release. “Brewing a traditionally inspired, wood-aged sour ale is an art, where each beer is a unique creation blended together into a beautiful drinking experience.”
The brewery worked with Young and Laramore, an Indianapolis-based advertising agencey, and Michael Cina, an artist from Minneapolis, in order to create a new plan for their packaging and strategy for their program branding. “Michael Cina’s style depicts a beautiful blend of science and art, each resulting in a stunning visual experience,” said Dayhoff.
“Paired with a new Belgian style bottle, we think it’s a great way to represent what you are getting in each bottle of an Upland Sour Ale.”
Beer lovers can already visit The Wood Shop to taste Upland’s sour ales (the grand opening was May 21). Upland plans to roll out some of their changes (new beers, packaging and increased distribution) in July and gradually add more changes through the rest of 2016. Only a few bottles from the Upland Sour project have ever made it onto Michiana bottle shop shelves. It is my hope that through this program we will begin to have more bottles available to us locally.
For more Michiana craft beer news and commentary from Eric Strader, sign up for the Hop Notes email newsletter.