Beer Review Roundup: Free Will & Yazoo, Funky & Sour

This past weekend here in Nashville, Yazoo Brewing Company hosted Funk Fest 2017, an annual beer festival which attracts some of the best sour beers from across the country. Although I was unable to attend the event this year, it seems like a good time to taste and review a couple of different sours from a couple of different breweries—Free Will (who also attended the event) and Yazoo.

Free Will Brewing hails from Perkasie, PA, which happens to be my original hometown. My parents live just down the street from the brewery, so anytime I visit, I spend as much time at the Free Will taproom as I can. In the interest of full disclosure, I should also mention that my brother works at the brewery. Although you might think that I am naturally biased towards my hometown brewery, I would contend that this is not the case. If anything, I tend to be more critical of the things and people closest to me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been presented with a new beer from Free Will and thought to myself, there’s no way this is going to be good, only to be completely blown away. Although I talk about Free Will a lot, I do so because I truly believe that they are one of the best craft breweries I’ve ever come across. If you live in (or are visiting) the Northeast US, I highly encourage that you seek out their beer and try some for yourself. (Or if you’re in Nashville, stop by my house—I always have a stash of Free Will bottles saved to share with friends.) No one who has taken my advice has been disappointed so far.

Free Will has gained a well-earned reputation for their sour beers. Today I’m taking a look at a couple of similar sours, both of which are brewed with pomegranates.

In addition to Free Will, I’m reviewing a couple of funky beers from Yazoo. Yazoo is, perhaps, the biggest name in Nashville craft beer, as they were one of the first craft breweries in town. They were founded in 2003, which also happens to be the year I moved to Nashville.

The Nashville craft beer scene has been rather slow to embrace sour beer. A few years ago I had an email exchange with one of the owners of Blackstone Brewing Company in which I encouraged him to brew sours, to which he dismissively called sour beers a fad. I will fully admit that there are plenty of “fad” sour beers out there right now, but Lambics and other European sour beers have a long and rich history. They are no fad. We probably have Yazoo to thank for the rapidly growing popularity of sour beer here in Nashville, thanks to both Funk Fest and to Yazoo’s generally excellent line of sour beers, called Embrace the Funk (ETF).

Alright, enough preamble, let’s get on with the reviews.

Free Will Pomegranate Sour (Perkasie, PA)

Pomegranate Sour is a “Lambic-inspired ale with pomegranates added” (true Lambics can only come from Belgium). It is bottled at 4.9% ABV. The bottle I tasted was the 2015 version, so it had been aging for over a year after being bottled.

The taste is sweet and sour. Pomegranates of course, but hints of other fruits too, light and tropical. Complex. A pleasant bitterness, hinting at citrus. Terrific balance. One of my favorite Free Will beers, and that’s high praise.

Grade: A-

Free Will Pomisher (Perkasie, PA)

The Pomisher is a re-fermented version of the Pomegranate Sour, using an additional 2.5 tons of pomegranate puree. It is then barrel-aged for a year. Bottled at 6.3% ABV.

This is a bigger, stronger version of the Pomegranate Sour. A fairly substantial amount of pomegranate, as you’d expect, yet not overwhelming. There’s a sweet element reminiscent of powdered sugar, but the fruity sweetness is balanced out well by the sharply sour bite. Still, perhaps a touch too sweet. Like all of Free Will’s sours, this has plenty of depth and complexity and is more sour than most of its American peers (the same holds true of the Pomegranate Sour). The finish lingers wonderfully—one of the best and most memorable finishes I’ve experienced in a beer.

Grade: A-

Which is better, the Pomegranate or the Pomisher? Tough call. They’re both great. I tasted these side by side and couldn’t decide which I like better. The Pomisher is pretty amazing and better in most ways, but it’s just a bit too sweet for me, which is why it gets an A- instead of an A, and why I can’t decide which is better. I think both of these could stand to have a bit more oak influence. In spite of some minor (very minor) flaws, these both stand amongst Free Will’s best… but neither of them quite reach the level of what is, in my opinion, Free Will’s masterpiece—Blood & Guts. I’ve mentioned Blood & Guts before, but haven’t actually reviewed it yet. I will eventually (although I’m down to my last bottle at the moment, and I don’t like the idea of having none left in my house). Spoiler: it’s one of the best beers I’ve ever had (especially the 2016 version).

Yazoo ETF Foeder Beer (Nashville, TN)

This is a sour blonde ale aged in oak foeders. I don’t know the ABV on this one, as it does not appear to be written on the label. I imagine it’s around 5-6%.

Good, solid, and complex aged sour. The palate begins as light and refreshing, but quickly becomes full and deep. This is very good, but there’s a slightly unpleasant sharpness that keeps it from being great… almost cheese-like. I think this should have spent a little more time in the foeder. Nonetheless, very enjoyable and better than most sours on the market.

Grade: B+

Yazoo ETF Maracuyá y Tradicional (Nashville, TN)

The Maracuyá y Tradicional is a collaboration between Yazoo and Jose Cuervo. This is a Brettanomyces Golden Strong Ale re-fermented with passion fruit and aged in Jose Cuervo 100% Blue Agave Tradicional Reposado Tequila casks. I believe that this is bottled at 9.9% ABV, although again I cannot find it on the label (either Yazoo really hides the ABV or they simply don’t print it).

Sour beers aged in unusual barrels make me happy (especially when it’s gin barrels, but tequila barrels are good too). This tequila barrel-aged sour is funky, complex, and unique. A lot of brewers might be tempted to double down on the tequila theme and add lime or salt or something margarita-related. Instead Yazoo chose to use passion fruit—this was an excellent choice. The subtle passion fruit notes are a perfect complement to the tequila barrel influence. Wonderful.

In my last beer review roundup, I reviewed Yazoo’s Grisette and said that it was not the best of their ETF series. The Maracuyá y Tradicional? Yeah, it is one of Yazoo’s best, and one of the best beers that Nashville has ever produced.

Grade: A

Final thoughts: Both Free Will and Yazoo produce outstanding sour beers. All four of these brews are premium beers, and you will pay a premium price to buy a bottle. They are worth every penny.

By the way, Yazoo just announced the date for next year’s Funk Fest—April 29, 2018. Mark your calendars.

Questions about my scoring system? Refer to the Review Method & Scoring Scale page. 

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