Arbor Brewing Company (Ann Arbor, MI): Barrel Aged Brune 2013

I got a chance to check out Arbor Brewing Company’s Brewpub on a recent day-job work trip to Ann Arbor, Michigan, and was not disappointed. My co-worker and I were waited on by Marty, who recognized after a few minutes of talking to us that we were here for good beer, not just to get “the strongest, cheapest” thing we could get (an unfortunately not uncommon request for a good beer place in a college town). I was introducing my co-worker to a lot of styles he had not enjoyed before and giving him a little history and info to go along, and Marty welcomingly joined our conversation. I let him know about this site and the fact that I review beer from places like this, and when I left I had a bottle of BARREL AGED BRUNE in hand to do a review on. Thanks, Marty!

Arbor Brewing Company, Ann Arbor, MI
Arbor Brewing Company, Ann Arbor, MI

About the Brewery (from arborbrewing.com/about/):
We have been a pioneer in the craft beer industry since opening our original Arbor Brewing Company Pub and Eatery in downtown Ann Arbor, MI in July of 1995. Our commitment to handcrafted beer, exceptional hospitality, local sourcing, community involvement, and environmental stewardship has been the foundation for our growth and success for nearly two decades. ABC was founded by husband and wife team Matt and Rene Greff who share a passion for beer and adventure. By their late 20s the Greffs had become disenchanted with their corporate gigs and soon after brewpubs were legalized in Michigan, they set about opening their own brewery. They raised their startup capital through a network of friends, family, and co-workers and became the first brewpub to open in Ann Arbor and the fifth to open in Michigan’s fledgling microbrewery movement.

About the Beer (from arborbrewing.com/beers/brune-barrel-aged-brown/):
Brune is a classic, refreshingly soured Flemish style brown ale in the Rodenbach tradition. A dark, copper-red, medium-bodied ale with subtle spiced sour cherry and woodsy notes. This beer has a pronounced tart sourness on the palate that follows through with complex, malty, and earthy vinous flavors.

Style: Oud Bruin
ABV: 9.3%
IBU: 50

BAB pours into my snifter with a deep russet hue, and quickly fills the peak of my rounded snifter with a spumescent tan cap. These bubbles expand to be a bit bigger than your average beer, and this is what I would expect from any wild or sour offering. The fez my BAB wears definitely hangs around for quite a while, and when it goes it marks up the walls to let me know its been there. Taking that first whiff, the sour is not shy whatsoever. For anyone familiar with the Belgian Oud Bruin style, this is obviously that. The tart is not overly so – we’re not talking vinegar here – but it is ever present and lets you know what your palate can expect directly. There are some citrusy aspects, but I think that’s mostly my brain registering “sour,” and underneath are those scents that one would expect from a consumable of this color. There is a bit of tart fig or raisin, some dried wood, maybe even a hint of sherry all playing together beautifully underneath that acrid cloak.

Barrel Aged Brune Oud Bruin
Barrel Aged Brune Oud Bruin

Taking that first sip, BAB is what my nose told me it would be. The sharp piquancy is the first thing to register on the tongue and in the brain, and for the first sip or two this is all I get. Just behind that brine I get a strange, astringent, almost bitter flavor that is certainly not hops, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. This I do not like. After my grey matter gets a few minuets to acclimate and calm down, and especially as the BAB starts to warm, the more reticent flavors make their appearance and begin to shine. There is a warm roastiness from the malt, a nice rounded characteristic from the wood aging, and then those fruit flavors that were hiding in the background on the nose also take up the rear on the palate. There is some fig and dark fruit, a touch of tart black cherry, and some mild caramel. BAB has a nice interplay of sweet and sour, and this is a characteristic that Oud Bruin does better than most other styles of sour beer; I was glad to find it in my glass. That odd brackishness that was lingering just behind the initial sour slap does fade as the beer warms, or as my tongue gets more used to its onslaught, but it never quite goes away. I’m not able to really tell exactly what that is, other than the fact that it’s the only thing I’m not enjoying in my glass right now.

A better look at that classically European label.  Nicely done, ABC.
A better look at that classically European label. Nicely done, ABC.

The torso of this beer is relatively light and thin overall, which is a bit milder than the style would generally suggest. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a leger or anything, but it does seem like it could be a bit beefier in its mouthfeel, and this might increase the overall enjoyment BAB brings with it. While it does have that heavy opening froth fusillade, after the initial onslaught the carbonation is rather light overall, which is generally true to the style. It’s zesty, and the bubble tickle the tongue but they’re not going to be overly powerful to the point of this being burping contest fodder. Like most sours, BAB is not a beer to be chugged, it is a beer to be sipped on and enjoyed. As the bottle depletes, the flavors build upon themselves and become more intense, so this would likely be a good candidate for a bottle to share with others (though I enjoyed drinking the whole damn thing myself). Overall a nice American example of the Oud Bruin, with just a few small glitches that keep it from going from fine to fanatical. With a few small tweaks – increasing the sweet to balance the sour a little, and isolating and removing whatever that mystery flavor is – BAB could be amazing.

Overall 7 / 10

Beer page: http://www.arborbrewing.com/beers/brune-barrel-aged-brown/

Brewery site: http://www.arborbrewing.com

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