Photos courtesy Levi Loesch
It’s not often I sit down for a homebrew tasting, but this was special: It wasn’t any homebrew, it was the homebrew on which Caleb Levar and Levi Loesch plan to base Minnesota’s first sour-only brewery, Oude Oak.
When? In the not too distant future! Construction is set to begin in spring of 2016 on Oude Oak’s brewery, currently a pole barn in Midway Township, which is about 20 minutes southwest of Duluth off I-35. We should see official Oude Oak beers starting six months after completion, so maybe spring of 2017? Feeling like that’s a really long time? Yeah, I don’t have that kind of patience either, and now you know why I sat down for a homebrew tasting.
Now, to parse some technicalities. Of course, other Minnesota brewers have been doing fantastic work in sour styles, especially Jace Marti at Schell’s with his exquisite Noble Star series, and Fair State, with its various lactobacs and other tangy wild-fermented creations. Speaking of Fair State, remember a few weeks ago when I wrote that they were doing such magic things with sours, and that they had hired a microbiologist to help them keep the magic going?
Caleb Levar is that microbiologist!
It turns out that Caleb Levar and Levi Loesch are partly responsible for these Fair State sour beers, and perhaps we city folks should more properly regard the Fair State sours as a road trip and not a destination—because that destination is Oude Oak.
Here’s the Oude Oak story to today: Caleb Levar and Levi Loesch have been homebrewing together since 2010. Along the way Levar, a microbiology Ph.D. candidate at the University of Minnesota, discovered he had a particular gift for harnessing the yeast and bacteria that make sour beers taste different than conventional beer. They both decided that sour beers were the best beers, and they were going to go all in. The long-term plan is for Levar and his wife to live up north and brew, while Loesch will run a taproom somewhere in South Minneapolis, probably opening in 2019. Are you ready to make plans for drinking in the year 2020? Now you can.
While you wait, contemplate that the name of the brewery is rich with meaning. It’s Flemish, for one thing, in tribute to one of the lands most closely associated with sour styles of beer and ale. ‘Oude’ means ‘old,’ which was selected to refer to their plan to age beers; Loesch told me they plan to age beers for a minimum of six months, and beers aged 18 months will not be uncommon. Ambitious? Yes! They’ve even got an Untappd page up and running.
I’ll assume whomever said their beer conveyed “waves of horse blanket, cobwebs, [and] genitalia” was a friend giving them grief, because what I tried was way better than that. Like what?
My favorite homebrew I ever had: The Blueberry Firmament, an “American Lambic” spontaneously innoculated with northern Minnesota microbes, made with pounds and pounds of blueberries, and aged in French oak. It was dry and tart, lacy with fragrances of parchment, linen, cedar, and blueberries. But the blueberries were not jammy or fruity or sweet, that blueberry element had compressed down to a sort of graceful fragrance up front and a necessary weight in the back of the beer. The whole thing was vastly more subtle than the extreme color would lead anyone to believe. Even though it had so much going on, the beer was remarkably transparent tasting, structured, even elegant. It was one of those rarest of all beverages, something that seemed both complex and elegantly simple. That was some beer!
I tried a few other Oude Oak prototype beers and they were all remarkable. There was a beautiful heavily oaked rye saison called the Vitalist, which was both fat in the mouth and finished with a remarkable dry astringency. There was a raspberry Flemish dark sour called the Persistence, which was as colorful as a lollipop, and lively. This was a homebrew tasting, which bodes very well for the future.
Want to taste some yourself? Oude Oak will release its first co-branded beer with Fair State for the first anniversary party in October, and they’re known to bring some to share with fellow campers at Surly’s Darkness Day, set for October 24 this year.
And if all this sour talk has got you in a sour frenzy: On October 3, Republic is hosting a Where The Wild Beers Are wild beer tasting—bring a sour or other wild yeast and microbe fermented beer to share, and get to taste 10 more.
Congrats to Oude Oak, best of luck getting off the ground. And congrats, Minnesota—this seems like a very special and happy new development.