Beer: Tart Lychee Brewery: New Belgium Brewing Co. Style: American Wild Ale ABV: 7.5 percent
To get to know many of New Belgium's sour ales, you must first acquaint yourself with Oscar and Felix. An odd couple of beers (see what I did there?), these two act as the base for a majority of the wild ales released under the brewery's Lips of Faith flag.
Though Oscar is a dark ale and Felix is pale, both are rather plain until they spend a year or two inside New Belgium's foudres (large wooden casks used for beer-aging) playing with souring bacteria. When they emerge, nicely tartified, the beers are ready to become the foundation for some of the brewery's most popular ales. Oscar, the dark sour, is blended to become La Folie, while the pale Felix is made into beers like Eric's Ale, Le Terroir, and Tart Lychee.
For that third one, Felix is acidified for more than two years in oak barrels. A portion of it (44 percent) is blended with lychee juice and Ceylon cinnamon sticks for a few weeks, then added back to the whole. The resulting brew, when poured into a tulip glass, is coral-orange and clouded with suspended yeast. Two full fingers of clean white head are dense, yet they fizzle away pretty quickly, decorating the side of the glass in bubbly streaks.
If you're not familiar with the lychee, you really should try one out. Each fruit has a rough, reddish-pink rind covering translucent white pulp with a sweet, perfumy flavor that emulates the floral, citrus-y bite of American hops -- which makes it great for beer. In Tart Lychee, the fruit is the main aroma contributor, packing the nose with a tropical blend of lemon and perfume. Other notes include peach, tangerine, and raw sugar, while a touch of vinegar is the indication of the "tartness" to come in the flavor.
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A disappointment here is the absence of cinnamon -- it doesn't appear at all. The brewers must have wasted it all attempting the cinnamon challenge. Lychee is again the major flavor, lending its citric bite to a smooth fruitiness from wheat. The barrel-aging has done its work -- a touch of horsey funk plays off subtle tartness tempered by an impressive amount of dark sugar. Carbonation inside the light-bodied brew is gentle -- just a soft caress on the tongue. It works with the beer, keeping the tartness less intense.
I'm surprised it took this long for someone to make a lychee beer, considering how well it works here. Tart Lychee's an interesting sour that, while a little expensive and upsetting in its lack of cinnamon, is worth a try. Get it in bottles at specialty beer shops around town, and maybe go pick up a real lychee while you're at it.
Food-pairing suggestions: A fruit native to China and Southeast Asia, the lychee is great with Asian dishes. Try is with stir fry chicken and noodles -- the lychee fruit and sweetness of the beer will meld nicely with the mild protein and veggies, while the beer's tartness interacts with the dish's spice.