If you have tried drinking beer in the last couple of years here in Colorado, you might have noticed that sour-fever has sort of taken over. We see everyone trying to barrel-sour this or kettle-sour that, using lactobacillus, or, more often, Brettanomyces – or just Brett for short. And the breweries are seeing a lot of success. Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project put itself on the map by offering a menu made up of Brett-soured beers exclusively, and we here at RMBR have tried sours from all over the state, to our great delight. And it’s great that this traditionally Belgian style of brewing has made it over the local craft brew scene and given brewers a new tool to make creative, fun, interesting, and tasty new beers.
But now I would say that we have reached peak sour. Indeed, sours are all over the beer scene, but when I was at the liquor store a couple weeks ago looking for something new and interesting to drink, I spotted something I was not expecting to see in the cider section: our hella-popular friend Brett. A simple white label featuring a duck standing on a barrel. He quacks the word Brett. In the corner? Colorado Cider Company’s logo. So it has been done: the souring trend has come to the cider side of the aisle. Colorado Cider Company released this cider a few months ago and decided to make it everything cider tends not to be: non-carbonated, soured with Brett, and aged for over a year in rum and wine barrels.
The cidery named this strange little concoction the Pato Feo, or Ugly Duckling. Would this cider turn out to be a beautiful swan or would it be the laughing stock of the cider playground? I had to know.
Pato Feo: The Basics
Cidery: Colorado Cider Company (Denver, CO)
Style: Soured, barrel-aged (with fruit adjuncts)
Pato Feo: The Details
I spent quite a bit of time simply smelling this cider before I even poured it into the glass. At first, it smells just like the cherries inside, but after a moment, that signature funky Brett smell comes through. If you take a really deep whiff, you’ll start to get some really nice, super fresh apple and cherry fragrances. The stuff looks gorgeous once poured into a glass – a deep amber color that shines red when the sun hits it. There is absolutely no carbonation in this cider, so it pours more like wine – and indeed tastes more like wine too.
The first thing I said when I sipped the Pato Feo was, “Well, that’s wackadoodle.” I think what I meant in that statement was that the flavor is super complex. There is so much going on in this – which I suppose makes sense. You’ve got apples in there somewhere building a base. Then, there’s cherries, the Brett, and the rum AND wine barrels in which the cider was aged. There are so many flavors to tease out. Some sips taste very strongly of cherries, while others taste a lot like the red wine barrels. The cider is super dry, with tannins from both the cherries and the wine barrels, so I would say that the sips tasting like wine outweigh most of the other experiences. The Brett comes through mostly as a tinge in the back of your throat. I wouldn’t say it tastes super funky, but you can feel the funk when you swallow.
As the cider warmed up in my glass – and it took me a long time to drink since it was only available in a 750ml bottle – I started to get smells and tastes that reminded me of cinnamon and apple pie. These notes only became stronger over time, and were lovely – a gift, I would imagine, primarily from the rum barrels that were used in the aging process. The finish on this cider was long and lingering – the slight dryness from the tannins and the slight funk from the Brett stuck around on your mouth, which I enjoyed quite a bit.
I’m not sure what I was expecting with this cider. There were so many things going on, and I wasn’t exactly sure how the Brett would interact with a cider as opposed to a beer. As it turns out, this cider was super drinkable, really interesting, constantly changing, and delightfully tasty. I’m not sure I would try to tackle such a large bottle again, particularly because it most definitely feels more like drinking a full bottle of wine than it does drinking a large bottle of cider. Either way, though, this is one I would want to drink again. Perhaps it was a hot mess when it went into those barrels to ferment and age, but after the year I would definitely say that Ugly Duckling came out refined, reserved, and gorgeous. If you see that little Brett-quacking duck in your own local haunt, give him a try – at the very least you’ll have something interesting to talk about with your buddies.