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Sour Note

Fruits of the summer season add fun to serious refreshment

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A familiar drama unfolds every summer as my father attempts to save a small crop of cherries from two little trees from attack by air: it's man vs. mockingbird.

Typically, the birds get their fill of cherries, occasionally fluttering about unhelpfully while the man patiently shows them out from a patchwork of netting they got themselves trapped inside in their gluttony, as if the indignity was theirs alone.

Finally, last year he got a bumper crop when we wrapped the tree, like a mummy, in agricultural fabric. Looks weird, but it works, and I commemorated the success by fermenting my share, about a pound of black Tartarian cherries, in a five-gallon batch of saison-style homebrew. I'd like to think they added a bit of fruit nuance, but it's nothing like Lagunitas Brewing Company's Cherry Jane sour ale, a "One Hitter" release in stores now in six-packs of 12-ounce bottles.

Brewed with what they call Turkish Delight cherry juice (which has the added summer-day utility of recalling a cool day in Narnia), it's a vivid pink hue, like a dark rosé wine, but refreshes with a sousing factor of just 5.5 percent alcohol by volume (abv). While a bit austere, like crushed black cherries in galvanized metal, the aroma is also reminiscent of good German lager, and the sweet cherry flavor just rounds out the dry, puckery finish. It's got a little Brettanomyces, but like other brews from Lagunitas' funky forays, it's not really that funky—maybe a bit extra tart.

Hoping to find a seasonal trend, I head to Sebastopol's Crooked Goat, which is comfortable in the fruit-beer niche. "I don't think any of us think of ourselves as beer snobs," says head brewer Will Erickson. "Beer should be fun!" As a starter for non-beer drinkers in the company of beer fans, as their license doesn't allow let them to serve local ciders or wines, Crooked Goat offers the raspberry-pink First Crush (5.0 abv). It's a hit four times out of five. First Crush, made with puréed berries from the Pacific Northwest, smells like fresh raspberries. Although it contains no hops, I get a sense of spice from the berry seeds.

Up the road in the Barlow, Woodfour Brewing Company is just getting ready to brew its sour farmhouse ale from locally grown strawberries. Meanwhile, Anderson Valley Brewing Company's Framboise Rose gose is a lightly tinted pink, lightly strawberry flavored, salty refreshment at 4.2 percent abv.

On a gose note, I'm looking forward to Fogbelt Brewing's Margarita-style gose, brewed with lime and tequila oak, due in cans in early August. If the birds leave me some wine grapes, I just might make it my official beer of this year's harvest.

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