Watching the grass grow with Petrus Aged Pale
August 30, 2012
I am a Belgian beer fan, through and through. On a list of my 100 favorite beers, I would easily expect at least 60 of them to be Belgian. That is not to say I like every style of beer that country produces, though. I am not a fan of lambics or sour beers in general, so it was with the usual trepidation that I grabbed the Petrus Aged Pale off the shelf. I understood going in that it is meant to be a toned down version of their oud bruin, a beer I like, as much as possible, considering it is a style I am not especially partial to. I was ready for a big, tasty, complex Belgian beer, though, even if the weather suggested I should still be quaffing a wheat or a kolsch. I was getting tired of those lawnmower beers. I wanted something complex but refreshing, that I could sip on the deck watching the grass grow. Petrus might do the trick if it was toned down in the right areas and I could get past those first couple of bitingly sour swallows.
The first thing is to get whatever notion you might have about what Aged Pale could normally mean and understand that that is not what they mean here. This is no pale ale, and is completely devoid of the hops you might expect in a beer with that phrase in the title. The brewers at Bavik mean only that it is paler than the sour brown ale it is based on, and it certainly is. It is as golden yellow as any decent blonde ale, but lacking the large head — and the one it manages fades to nothing in minutes. The first whiff will clear up any remaining misconceptions. The sour cherries are clanging loud and bright well up front, with only a bit of oakiness from the barrels the beer was aged in toning it down in any way.
These sour ale styles are becoming more and more popular, and maybe if I had approached them from this Petrus ale side rather than jumping right into them with full-fledged lambics, I might have a greater appreciation for them. They certainly are not without their charms. Yes, those extremely tart cherries still bite the tongue on the first couple of sips, but the palate quickly adjusts. A few sips in -- and these are definitely beers for slow, small sips -- you notice that there is just enough sweetness to balance out all that tartness. The oak, not smoky, becomes much more pronounced and dries the beer out nicely. The warmer it gets, the better it tastes, and the complexity really begins to emerge. In the end, it is going to taste like the very best cherry soda you ever imagined. As long as you like cherry soda, then….
I suppose you could pair this with roasted meat or something with some spice to it, but the only thing I would really consider is cheese. It is not as wine-like as a lambic, but it still has those similar qualities. Actually, I think the wine and cheese crowd are missing the boat here, because this beer matches up with cheese better than any wine I ever had. Once the initial sourness wears off, it becomes a perfect, not so little summer beer for watching that grass grow after all. Refreshing even after it warms up a bit, and at 7.3% alcohol, maybe just a tad too much for operating the heavy machinery; it is a pleasantly nice deck beer.
This must be the flavor all those shandy drinkers out there are searching for, but is incomparably better than cheap soda mixed with lousy beer ever could be. This Petrus effectively demonstrates what the whole notion behind all the tartness in these sour beers is all about. It serves the same role as hops in more traditional flavored beers; it contrasts with the sweet malt, dries out the finish, and adds an extra crisp bite. For those that do not like the flavor of hops, or at least prefer things like sour cherries to them, this could be the beer for you. Personally, I appreciate the hops,so, even though I think Petrus Aged Ale is one of the better sour ales I have had, it will still be an infrequent choice for me.