Cuvee des Jacobins… I love just saying the name. Unfortunately I don’t know the proper pronunciation so I’ll sometimes get a strange look from the bartender when I’m lucky enough to find it on tap. “Jack – Oh – Bins please!” or “Jacque-Oh-Bean!” if I’m feeling particularly Belgian that day. However it’s pronounced, it’s delicious in so many ways.
To fall in love with this beer as I have, you need to understand what sets it apart from other beers apart from taste. Sure it leaves a tart, sour taste in your mouth like a pinot noir mixed with grapefruit but what’s really going on in this beer? Let me take you through the process of making Cuvee des Jacobins so you can appreciate what you’re drinking to its full extent.
Your everyday Budweiser and Coors Light is not too far off of your favorite premium lager or strong ale that you may get at a craft brewery around San Diego in terms of time and steps. Before San Diego beer lovers (every resident) get mad at me for making that comparison let me explain. A common pale lager, brown ale or even IPA can be ready to drink within 3-4 weeks of brewing. Sure a lot of ingredients differ and that’s a large part of what makes the beer, but the main steps are the same.
Mash > Lauter > Boil > Cool > Ferment > Bottle or Keg.
Where a lot of brewers start to have fun with this is in the fermentation stage by trying wild yeasts floating around in the ambient air or aging their beers in a oak barrel. Bockor Brouwerij, brewers of Cuvee des Jacobins, do both of these but with a specific strain of yeast that sours their beers and has been floating around their breweries for hundreds of years. They also do not force this yeast into their tanks by simply adding it when their beer has cooled as do most beers. They spontaneously ferment by putting the beer in “coolships” or shallow containers only about 18-25″ deep that are exposed to the air.
Anchor Steam in San Francisco was one of the first breweries in North America to use coolships which basically helped cool the beer quickly before mechanical refrigeration was around. Ocean breezes off the Pacific would cool the shallow beer that Anchor Steam would put on top of its brewery.
Coolship from Anchor Steam
Well Bockor uses these coolships to expose the beer to the wild yeast and waits until the beer starts to ferment. They then put it in oak barrels and age it for 18 months! Only then will they know if the beer turned out which is pretty crazy to think about when it comes to patience. In that time it spends in the barrel, the yeast is settling down but leaving a nice tart character and the wood is imparting some of its flavors to the beer as well.
After its 18 month soak in the barrel its bottled or kegged and ready for our consumption. Cuvee comes out in a deep cherry red color that smells like cherries, currants, cranberries and a sweet red wine. This is when you think about all that went into this product and take your first sip. Now that I’ve built up this beer so much you’ll probably be expecting something wonderfully pleasant. WRONG. This beer easily makes 50% of the people who try it put on their worst sour candy face. Lips purse and eyes narrow. I’ve had people who I didn’t warn tell me “This beer’s gone bad!”. I just laugh and enjoy another.
Style: Flanders Red Ale (or Flemish Sour Ale)
Color: Dark Cherry Red
Aroma: Cherries, cranberries and sour fruit. It smells more like a sparkling wine than it does a beer, with a little oak in it too.
Taste: Instant puckering from the sourness on your first sip but then it subsides. Medium carbonation in bottle and on tap with a sparkling wine feeling. It has vanilla, cherry and grape in the middle with an acidic burn on the way down.
Overall: 4/5 – I have a lot of respect for this beer (if you haven’t guessed already) but the taste alone is something unique and fun. I love drinking this beer any time of year and any time of day.