SOUR BEER’S NEWEST superhero might just have the least mysterious alter ego in the history of caped crusaders: Sebastian Sauer. And yes, ‘Sauer’ means ‘sour’. Sauer and colleague Peter Esser established Freigeist Bierkultur as the avant-garde arm of Cologne’s Gasthaus-Brauerei Braustelle in 2009 and have already reached U.S. shores. Imported by Shelton Brothers, the brand arrives just in time to capitalize upon the surging wave of Stateside interest in sour beers, from the classic Belgian lambics to their more obscure German counterparts.
In addition to sours, Freigeist lives up to its name (meaning free-spirited) with a deliberately contrarian streak, defying modern German brewing culture even as they pay homage to the country’s rich history. In addition to Gose, salted porter, and Gueuze, they produce unfiltered Kölsch beers, hoppier Weizens, and even a strong Düsseldorf-style Alt (Sticke)—customarily a death-wish in the capital of Kölsch.
One of Freigeist’s more curious efforts would have to be the aforementioned salted porter, of which there seem to be several iterations. This version, scribed simply as ‘Sauer Porter’ on Small Bar’s draft list, is most likely the Deutscher Porter. Both are fair descriptors (‘Deutscher’ meaning ‘German’), but the former does a better job of preparing unsuspecting palates for something strange.
By its looks the beer is quite unsuspecting, served in a snifter like any imperial dark ale, dense brown even to the dregs, and with a small, light tan head of large bubbles. Carbonation is modest, not out of line for the beer’s looks (or its estimated 8% ABV). The aromas begin to tip Deutscher’s alien provenance, though, with an airy sense of sea salt and a little lactic acid pushing ahead of red fruit flesh, unexpectedly pale grains, and gentle chocolate notes. On the palate it is also surprisingly light, eased up considerably by the lacto presence that starts creamy and ramps up in bitterness until it’s countered by salt near the ‘first’ finish. Some blackened malts swim up a little thereafter in a lingering, ‘second’ finish. Alcohol is not a flavor factor, nor is salt is as strong a tartening agent as in some other arcane German styles (e.g. Gose). Rather, it serves as a general piquant much as it does for food. Though available information on this beer family is scant, it seems Brettanomyces is also occasionally part of the recipe. Its presence in this brew wouldn’t be surprising, though the telltale barnyard/funk signs are few.
Altogether the Deutscher/Sauer Porter is not quite a superhuman effort, as its underdeveloped body fails to fill out its dashing outfit. Yet it still wins back points for defying the often mundane modern porter to acknowledge its origins as a tangy off-kilter cuvee. Moreover, this is just one shot in ‘Sauerman’s training montage—with a bit more time and taken in full context, Freigeist should be making and breaking arch-villains with muscular grace.
Served: On tap (Logan Square Small Bar, Chicago)