Erin Donovan started home brewing while she was still in grad school in Colorado, but back then she wasn't sold on sour beer, even after trying some at that state's Great American Beer Festival. "Your mouth was puckering; your eyes were watering," she recalls.
A few more tastes and visits to Belgium later, sour beer's "unique flavors" hooked Donovan, and she and her husband, Matt Baumgart, began brewing it, too. Eventually the pair moved to Belgium for two years, where they tasted scores of gueuzes and lambics and became even more enamored of the style.
Now back in Vermont, Donovan and Baumgart — with the help of Donovan's dad, John Donovan — have taken their crush to a new level. For the past three years, they've been socking away wort — or unfermented beer— in oak barrels inside their Weston barn. There, they added wild yeasts, let the mixture ferment and planned to blend a commercial sour ale once their first batch tasted ready.
This winter, the trio that makes up Backacres Beermakers bottled their first blend of 1-, 2- and 3-year-old beer, then let the entire batch undergo yet another two-month bottle fermentation before sending it out into the world.
Backacre's sour beer is only available in a handful of places; Three Penny Taproom in Montpelier is its northernmost terminus. I picked up a bottle at one of the only three retail spots in the state where it's available, Meditrina in Chester, where the proprietor raved about it.
When I popped it open, my bottle of Backacre foamed and foamed as if the contents were very much alive. In the glass, the cloudy beer frothed wildly before settling into a flattish head with intense aromas of lemon, orange peel, maybe even rye and caramel.
I wasn't surprised to find out later that the beer is fermented in white wine barrels from Napa; Backacre doesn't entirely taste like beer, but like a sort of hybrid of beer, cider and wine. Though tart and drying, it's also rich and round, with apples, apricots and maybe even wet-wool flavors shifting around on the tongue.
"It's really refreshing and crisp. I wouldn't want to drink five pints of it a night, but it's not that kind of beer," says Donovan. She, her husband and her father plan to bottle more in May, using wort from Vermont brewers whom she'd rather not name.
I'm planning to hit Chester again this weekend to pick up some Backacre before it's all gone. Because it will be gone soon — it's that unique.