Its Solera season ’round these parts, it’s time to taste some bottles from last year, brew top-off batches, and package some new variations. Every year before I plan out the next top off batch I like to sit down and taste through a few vintages, as well as pull a sample from the aging vessel to evaluate where it’s been, where it is currently, and decide what I can change to steer it in a direction to suit my tastes.
When I do these tastings it really is amazing to me how apparent the subtle differences are when tasted side by side. If I wasn’t trying them right next to each other I may not notice the differences, but side by side the subtle changes do stand out. A testament to those changes I’ve made over the last couple of years, but still, I wouldn’t call any vintage of the Solera my favorite sour beer I’ve done.
I made some changes in the second year (2015) top off to get a more barnyard Brett character and amp up the aged hop profile to hopefully subdue the acid and bring a little complexity. I mentioned in the top-off post that I got what I wanted from those changes, funkier, a bit more complex but still had a bit of ethyl acetate that bugged me, but you never know what will happen during that magic of bottle conditioning.
Not to be forgotten was the portion of the 2015 bottlings that was aged on some organic Blueberries my family and I picked in a very rural part of Central NJ. The farm was a self pick organic farm, my wife and I took the kids along with some friends to head out picking. The blueberries tasted awesome, and it was a really fun experience picking them together knowing they would be aged on some of the Solera, the wait on this one was excruciating due to that build up.
Here are my thoughts on bottling year 3 (2015) of the Solera, Unblended first.
Unblended Solera: Bottling Year 3
High carb, had the glass ready when I opened it but there was no concern of a gusher, however, when I opened one a few months ago it did gush. It’s been a while since I have had a beer from the Solera and forgot how great the color is on this beer, it’s like a copper-ish yellow, like the color of some really dark yellow urine. Yum? Head for days, and days, and days, frothy head and it last with 1/4″ on top throughout the entire glass. Pretty remarkable for a glass of dark yellow urine “Blegh*.
Minerality to the aroma, maybe even slightly metallic, notes of tree bark and sap from a pine tree almost coming across as sweet, no nail polish, quite earthy with subtle pear skin quality and an underlying pineapple aroma that’s come out as the bottle has aged for a year.
When these bottles were young it was bracingly sour, but as they have aged it has seemed to meld a little better, or maybe perception has. There is somebody to the beer, an almost fluffy texture that gives way to an assertive acid note, slightly acetic but dominated by the lactic. A little bit of a spice tinge on the tongue, earthy but mostly dominated by the fluffiness and the acid. Really very drinkable for how old and sour the beer is. It’s considerably less sour than year one, more complex and much more enjoyable.
I am actually happier with this than I had expected to be, young bottles were sharply sour with a background sweetness that distracted and frankly put me off. The acid has melded well and seems to be a bit more restrained, however, that “sweetness” (not sure that’s the best descriptor) bothers me a little. I enjoy it but do I like it? I don’t know that I can say that exactly, but I don’t hate it. The struggle is real.
Blueberry Solera: Bottling Year 3
Big pop of carb when I opened the bottle, some foam grew in the neck but no Gush, love the geometry of these bottles for high carbonation. This beer actually has significant legs, like red wine, there is a nice body to the beer.
The beer poured with a white-ish pink head, fading quickly to virtually nothing at all, the complete opposite of the “unblended”. It’s an amazing color, deep Crimson/purple, almost the color of light red wine. Carbonation is visible in the glass, clarity is good.
There is a touch of a solvent/ethyl acetate note in the nose upon first whiff, but the second time I jam my nose in there I’m adjusted and get a remarkable blueberry, cherry aroma. Either I needed to adjust or become numb to that aroma but at first, I thought “Oh crap, this is a stinker” but once I did adjust the blueberry and dark fruits really popped.
Whew, very tart, very blueberry jam like. Silky smooth body with a lactic and carbonic bite. Super refreshing jammy blueberry thing going on here.
This turned out pretty great, much better than the “unblended” version. Maybe the Blueberry is playing well with the underlying sweetness of the base beer or the refermentation blew that out of the beer. This is without a doubt the most enjoyable beer to have come out of the Solera yet.
However, the fruit beers coming out of my barrels are much better.
After the first year, I felt the beer in the Solera was pretty one dimensional, overly sour, apple-y, with a slight troubling ethyl acetate note. At that point, it would have worked better as a blender than bottling up unblended but I stayed the course and packaged it untouched. I still have a bunch of bottles left from that first year, most recently I have been blending those finished bottles into fresh Saison for Bier De Coupage, more on that down the road.
The changes I’ve made over the years, both in wort production, fruiting, and blending, have resulted in some solid beers but I would be lying if I reach for the bottles super often. Looking back at the project I feel like I have been making those changes to fix issues, not to take something that is solid and make great but to rectify issues. A fun exercise, but feeling like throwing good money after bad at times.
While the Blueberry turned out quite nice here, my excitement for the Solera is waning, I plan to brew a new top off beer and age it out another year but if it’s not considerably better I will likely end the project.