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February 5th, 2014 12:01 am WW Staff | Beer Guide

Beer Guide 2014: Nine of Our Favorite Ten Beers of 2014

8. Bier Royale (The Commons)

With its crisp effervescence, dry fruity tartness and rosy-pink tone, it’s no great surprise that Commons Brewery’s sour Bier Royale is modeled after a Champagne cocktail—specifically the kir royale, a blend of Champagne and black currant liqueur.

But it’s quite another thing to learn that one of the first ingredients was a dollop of Nancy’s Greek yogurt, thrown into the wort for our 2013 Beer of the Year, Commons’ Urban Farmhouse Saison. Brewers Sean Burke and Michael Wright had long thrown around the idea of using yogurt as a source of lactobacillus culture that could give their beer more acidity, and Burke finally tried it out for the Portland Fruit Beer Festival last June. “Souring beer with yogurt,” says Burke, “on a very nerdy level it’s fun. It’s fun to buy some Nancy’s and come out with beer on the other end.”

But unlike a lot of beers with unconventional ingredients, Bier Royale isn’t just for the geeks. About 90 pounds of black currant puree for seven barrels of beer—dropped in at the peak of fermentation—give the Royale its vividly fruit-forward nose and taste, while Burke added malted spelt grain to beef up the flavor and round out the mouthfeel. Only a smidgen of hops came into play, just enough that they could rightly call it beer and not gruit.

The result is a sour beer of uncommon balance and accessibility, popular enough that Commons will make it a regular seasonal. At a modest 5.5 percent ABV, it’s flat-out sessionable by sour standards. And the beer’s mere 0.75 IBU allows the fruit flavor to come across without the need for a blanket of cloying sweetness.

“We had a nice couple at the brewery who told us they didn’t drink sours,” says Wright. “They’d had terrible experiences. Amazingly, they liked the Bier Royale. They’re coming back for more.” MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

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