Anadromous Black Sour

Beer Review: Anchorage Brewing Company Anadromous Black Sour Ale

ABV: 8.5 % IBU: 30

Sitting on the south central coast of Alaska exists one of the most beautiful cities in the U.S. – Anchorage, Alaska. So it is fitting that the Anchorage Brewing Company has also produced some of the most beautiful beers around. One of them, the Anadromous Black Sour Ale, not only personifies beauty, it is an exquisite beer that exemplifies everything that’s good about craft beer.

The process of developing this beer is something to behold. Anadromous is brewed with summit hops and then triple fermented:

First it is fermented in French Oak Foudres.

Second , the beer is placed in in Pinot Noir and whiskey barrels with Brett and other microbes. In fact, sour beer sitting in more than forty Pinot Noir barrels are blended together.

Last, the beer is finished in the bottle for natural carbonation.

It is no surprise that Anchorage Brewing delivered to craft-beer aficionados such a complex brew because barrels is what they do, Brett is what they love, and funk is what they celebrate. As they proclaim, they are a brewery “where brewing is an art and Brettanomyces is king!” Many of the barrels are the old-fashioned Foudres (but popularized again in the New World by the craft-beer movement) that are commonly used in making classic Belgian beers, such as Lambics. (Note: many argue that there is a distinct difference between sour and wild ales, but that’s for another article, for another time.)

And the brewers take the art of barreling and souring seriously. Indeed, a five paragraph story about the beer and how it ties to its souring philosophy exists on the back of the Anadromous Black Sour Ale bottle. The story notes the similarity between the daunting trip endured by salmon (anadromous) and the sour ale. The fish traverse the incredibly long trip from the freshwater streams to the ocean, and then back again. Anadromous Black Sour Ale withstands a harsh year-and-a-half journey from the oak barrels where it is born to the bottle where it is enjoyed. The prose used to explain the beer is almost as beautiful as the artwork found on the label (and the labels of all the brewery’s beers).

So, how does this professional writer use his own prose to describe the taste of this brew? Well, it won’t be easy. Anadromous has a lot going on. The sour characteristic of the beer obviously takes top billing, but supporting that basic feature exists notes of Pinot Noir, cherry and fig, oak, and a little chocolate towards the finish, especially as the beer warms. The whiskey is hidden under all the other more robust flavors, but it’s noticeable it in the aftertaste — yes, the beer is so complex the tasting doesn’t end until well after the beer’s been swallowed. However, the most dominant flavor exists within the Pinot Noir that really makes this sour beer “pop.”

I must warn you, though, Anadromous changes with age so depending on the purchase date of the bottle, how the bottle was handled, and the temperature the beer is served will all affect the outcome. It’s a craft beer geek’s dream bottle. No two sips, no two reviews, no two experiences are the same. I guess, that’s just like the actual anadromous salmon, right? Every beer possesses a unique personality.

If you haven’t noticed, craft beer is simultaneously experimenting and resurrecting historical beer. Pure yeast took centuries to develop, so most beer went “sour.” So, this modern re-exploration of “bad yeast” in brewing both demonstrates the skill of modern brewers as well as remind of us of beer’s long history.

As a counter to the craft beer’s original hop-heavy identity, sours and barreling are quickly moving towards supplanting the IPA as the industry’s mainstay beer. Avery Brewing, in fact, just removed many of its flagships in order to expand its sour and barreling program. Anchorage Brewing, though, was ahead of the game. I guess that’s what happens when one does nothing but look at beautiful mountains every day – one is inspired to both create and also think big.

That’s Anchorage, and that’s Anchorage Brewing Company’s Anadromous Black Sour Ale — big; beautiful; inspired.



Mathew Powers

Mathew Powers

Forever part of the Sommbeer family, Matt's journey from beer geek to beer writer has included regular contributions to Chilled Magazine,, and his blog, "A Pint of Chicago," for the Chicago Tribune Media Group. He's also published non-beer-related items on various magazines, "webzines," and Ebooks. But, Sommbeer was, is, and always will be his home.
Mathew Powers