Reasons to drink beer used to be rooted in celebratory occasions, some big, some small. It’s happy hour! It’s the weekend! It’s my friend’s birthday! Now I just fire up Twitter or Facebook to find fresh new hells best doused with a hazy IPA or helles lager, preferably two.
Actually, make it three.
In my fridge, all beers are fair game for consumption, but I often blanch at opening 22-ounce bombers, plus bottles corked and caged like Champagne. They typically contain sweetly bruising imperial stouts, or wild ales wood-aged long enough to get a graduate degree—beers for sharing, not just numbing the world.
I eyeball my bottle army and think of better times, the Before Times, and when a time will come when I can open a dozen bottles with a dozen friends. I know better than to place big bets on an uncertain future, but I know which beer I’m drinking tonight. And for that, I’m looking to New Belgium, a brewery that’s changing with the times.
New Belgium established itself in Fort Collins, CO, in 1991, finding success with its Belgian-inspired Fat Tire amber ale. It’s still around, still a solid bet, but the new generation of New Belgium drinkers dig its Voodoo Ranger series of IPAs—no surprise there. The brewery is leaning hard into Voodoo, while thinking hard about what to do with its lineup of wood-aged sour ales, a brewery specialty for more than two decades.
The program launched in 1998 with La Folie, a sour brown ale made from a blend of beers aged for up to three years inside massive oak barrels called foeders. During Bill Clinton’s waning presidency, many drinkers viewed puckering acidity as a brewing defect, the beer best sent down a drain instead of a throat. New Belgium placed La Folie and siblings such as the dry-hopped Le Terroir inside large, elegant glass bottles, classy packaging communicating the liquid’s unique qualities.
Twenty-two years later, sour ales have found mainstream acceptance, salty goses sold nationwide—in 12-ounce cans, mostly. New Belgium is also overhauling its packaging, putting sour beers such as La Folie in smaller 375ml bottles that are more accessible in price and volume. I can take down a bottle that size (nearly 13 ounces) no problem any night.
Now we’re getting to the heart of the matter, specifically New Belgium’s Tart Lychee. The brewery previously packaged the Southeast Asian–inspired sour ale, flavored with lychee fruit and Saigon cinnamon, in 22-ounce bottles, a format that has seen better decades. This year, New Belgium rebooted the beer in 16-ounce cans wrapped in a mod white label bearing two words: tropical sour.
Evocative descriptors are essential in a congested marketplace, especially when many customers are making snap judgements in the beer aisle—no time for lingering during a pandemic! “Tropical sour” sells the beer short. This is not a puckering piña colada party with mangos and passionfruit on the guest list. Instead, Tart Lychee is closer to a daiquiri or new-school cocktail, a brightly acidic base balanced with sweetly floral lychee fruit and cinnamon’s cozy-sweater warmth. The beer is barely sweet and 16 ounces is an ideal volume, reason enough to drink Tart Lychee anytime.
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