For the uninitiated, Russian River is a small brewery in Northern California with a serious cult following. RR's most famous product is a Double IPA called Pliny the Elder. Their brews are known for being very good and very difficult to find. Pliny the Elder is their most well-distributed product, and even then you very rarely see a bottle on the shelf. I happen to live in a town with a few places that almost always have it on tap, but in most parts of the country, Pliny the Elder is more spoken about than drank.
Not as well known are RR's "religious" beers, or "-tion" beers, as they might be called. Giving Belgian inspired beers religious-themed names might be a bit of a trend in the US. Another California brewery, The Lost Abbey, has a similar naming convention. Like all RR product, these "-tion" beers have limited availability and distribution. However, bottles don't fly off the shelf with the same frenzy as Pliny the Elder, so they are a bit easier to find. I'll be reviewing these in the order that I happen to come across them.
Today we start with Sanctification, described on the bottle as a "Sour Blonde." Like the others in the series, it is "inspired" by Belgian beers, in this case, the Belgian Sour Ale. Sour beers have become increasingly popular in the US over the last few years among beer geeks, if not the general public. Generally speaking, a sour beer is brewed using a type of wild yeast called Brettanomyces and/or certain souring bacteria. In most beers, these critters are considered contaminants and give the beer unwanted sour flavors. In sour ales, the use of Brettanomyces is carefully controlled to produce a beer with an unusual and (hopefully) delicious flavor. Sanctification is a bit extreme since Brettanomyces is the only yeast used. The label proudly proclaims "No Saccharomyces* was used to ferment this beer," in text on the front of the bottle set an angle normally reserved for "100% Guaranteed," or "New and Improved!" on other products. This is definitely aimed at beer geeks. The label has a certain amateurish charm. Way too many different fonts are used, and the two color print job gives it a homemade appearance. Seeing a bottle on the shelf gives you the same feeling as finding an ultra-rare, private press LP in the racks at a thrift store.
It's difficult to describe the "brett" taste to someone who's never tried it. Enthusiasts often refer to it as “funky” or "barnyard," It is a slightly odd, sour taste. If it were more prevalent in the beer, it would make it undrinkable, but in Sanctification, the flavors are perfectly balanced -- it adds just the right amount of depth and complexity. Sanctificatiion is a pretty mighty beer, and a perfectly balanced sour beer like this acts a metaphor for life: the rain allows us to appreciate the sun all the more.
*Saccharomyces is the "normal" yeast used to ferment beer. Nowadays, beers are classified as either ales or lagers depending on the strain of Saccharomyces. Since Santification uses no Saccharomyces, it is technically neither an ale nor a lager.