Sours at FLBC

Flathead Lake Brewing Company was a pioneer of Montana sour beer at the tiny but miraculous location on the East shore of the lake. When the Woods Bay location closed and the brewery moved into a production-style facility here in Bigfork, we as brewers would not allow ourselves to cross contaminate the clean beer production in cans with the necessary microbes that can create the wonderful menagerie of sour flavors. Instead, we filled many barrels with “clean” beer to perpetuate our barrel program and keep as many oak vessels wet as possible. Once the appetite for aged beer outgrew the clean cellar floor, the decision was made to move the project below decks. There were many plans proposed to finish the lower deck of the landbound ship, which is the pub and brewery. The one currently in operation included a stage with a lake view and a room to contain all of the microbes involved in transforming beer into beautiful barrel aged sour beers. Thus, the sour room was born, rather forged from office space, bowling alley cellar, networking farm, and old oak and steel imported from Woods Bay. This endeavor was not undertaken overnight. There were plans and changes and changes and then complications and then more changes. Eventually there was a shell of red isolation waiting for beer to fill vessels with living libation. It is important to note here that the blending tank, as it has become known, was built into the room before finishing. Thus fully committing any non-sour savvy brewers and operators to making some sort of aged product in the basement room.

As plans were finalized and the tank, walls, and plumbing were muscled into place, gracious use of foresight was used along with a little rainbow of luck to brew up the inaugural batch of Sour beer. The first destined just for oak in the basement. Like all the beer served here, it starts in the 30BBL brewhouse and gets fermented in our stainless conical fermenters (with a very few pending experiments). Once it gains the alcohol and zest it needs to repel the evil spoilers that would steal the nectar for themselves, it is banished from the clean cellar to the depths of the sour room.

The sour program started in Bigfork with no shortage of oak barrels. The previous plans abandoned, there were 4 dozen marooned casks waiting to transform fresh beer to aged refreshment. Not all of the casks were treated with the time-tested respect that these marvelous oak vessels deserve. Some were growing less than favorable biomes, some were left to dry until light shone through the staves, and some were left filled with vile concoctions the likes Lucifer would never mention. All of the barrels were subject to olfactory inspection and the ruffians discarded to toil in the fields. Only those that were reminiscent of fine wine, brandy, bread, and charred oak made the manifest and were selected to bring FLBC beer to new depths.

The best way to start a new voyage is with a chart from the past. So we took the casks which aged the best of the FLBC sour beer in Woods Bay, under fearless skipper Tim, and fast tracked them into the new North Shore elite. The rest of the crew were assembled to match their intended inoculations and lined up in the bilge of the brewery. While the world was quarantined during the initial bout of the 2020 plague, the tireless brewers here carefully packed away the ballast of beverage that would sustain the oak until the time was right to bring it into a blend for the good people of Bigfork, MT.

Blending is a sacred and tedious exercise that is not well taught or learned by simple procedures. We enlisted the best tastebuds of the crew to gather opinions and thoughts about what the future of sour beer from FLBC would be. Finally, after a solid year of re-fermenting, waiting, feeding, topping off, and sampling, the barrels were bound for the blend. This blend is moved back to steel confines to chill. We just had to hire our sales person to hook it up to the chilling/heating system to ensure we could package cold, premium, quality beer. With the help of our retired air force colonel, fighter jet pilot, and packaging expert, we revived the forsaken Little Prince bottling machine to help us captivate the blended Jewel for your enjoyment.

Once bottled and kegged, the product was hoisted and briefly aged in the sky as a leave from the leaky bilge of the brewery and brought onto the Montana Beer Scene. Now available is the award-winning Jewel of the Flathead Lake Brewing North Shore Sour Project. Awaiting in the dark cool is a single barrel release consisting of the last barrel from Woods Bay brewery which aged the first from the sour program here in Bigfork. We do hope that you enjoy the time-honored tradition of barrel aged sour beer from the time-tested oak casks that have accompanied us on this beverage odyssey.

-Matt Dagle, Head Brewer