John Lavelle designed, brewed and bottled this beer, but he didn’t name it. 

He just called the beer what it is: a charred citrus, barrel aged sour, dry hopped with amarillo. This choice highlights his process, technique, and ingredients, while putting questions of style in the background. 

In doing so, Lavelle shares something in common with makers who foreground process and material in their work. For these craftspeople, style is a playground, a palette from which to adopt and borrow, not a set of guidelines, such as those used by the Beer Judge Certification Program or by the Great American Beer Festival, to which they ought to adhere.

As these two sets of guidelines suggest, style, to some extent, provides the underpinnings of the judgement and critique of beer. But by essentially refusing to adhere to, or work wholly within the parameters of style, Lavelle has implicitly asked drinkers to consider his skill in crafting delicious beer rather than whether his beer succeeds as an example of a certain style. It seems to me that he would rather drinkers consider how well he barrel-aged the beer, consider how well he soured it or dry-hopped it, consider how well he blended the attributes of ingredients and methods, rather than whether the beer succeeds as an example of style.

As a drinker I loved this. When I cracked the cap from the bottle, I was put in a position of appreciating the beer for itself, for the ingredients used to make it. It was a moment in which pleasure and enjoyment won out over judgement or criticism. Drinking this beer was fun because I raised my glass simply to explore and appreciate Lavelle’s beer.

What I discovered was a lovely beer, both light and playful. It’s bouquet opened with charred citrus, honeydew, and tons of floral notes. On drinking, I was greeted with a touch of melon, then lemons, a hint of wood, and a slight lactic prick. Soft rather than edgy, the souring here was refreshing; woven into the beer, it was playful rather than dominating. Bottled fairly still, the light carbonation left room for the grassy, hayfield flavors of fresh Amarillo hops to liven the finish of the beer. Like a hayfield on autumn day, as it warmed, the beer revealed herbal notes of dandelion blossom and chamomile. This herbal quality entwined with the wood of the barrel and the ever-so-slight char of the lemons. 

My overall impression was of walking through a field of wild-flowers on a sunny day and sort of sampling the flavors I might find there: herbal nectar, heady pollen, green grass, dried grass, maybe a bit of sappy bark and some slightly fermented fruit. 

And like a walk into a sunny field, I found this beer to be slightly transcendent. It took me out of myself for a moment, a thing to be experienced rather than analyzed, although that’s just what I’ve done here. 

Thankfully I have one other bottle. I’ll be opening it soon.

This time no tasting notes, no making sense of things, just the beer, a glass, and someone I love to share it with.

Cheers

— Nathan