If you’re a serious beer drinker, chances are your taste buds have already managed to dial in to the bright frequency required to appreciate the sour and funky brews that have emerged as a major trend. The Philadelphia region has a stable of great breweries that have begun to master the art of the sour, from Free Will to Tired Hands, Weyerbacher to Forest & Main, among others.
But many sour brews can be too intense for novice drinkers to embrace: “Some of these breweries just try to blow out people’s palates and get as crazy as they can be,” said Dave Crudele, a longtime Eulogy veteran who in August opened Glory Beer Bar & Kitchen in Old City, where he serves a number of sours. “Having a session beer that can appeal to the non-sour drinker and get them inside that realm is really important.”
Enter the new Microflora Diaspora from Highway Manor. The Camp Hill brewery owned by Johnnie Compton III, who left his family’s steel company in York to launch this beer passion project three years ago, specializes in spontaneously fermented sour brews that, as a rule, are bold with the pucker and wild yeast funk, from the intense “Mr. Fruit” series (Mr. Blueberry, Mr. Strawberry, and Mr. Cherry are my current faves) to a potent and earthy SayJohn Saison, whose golden, almost spicy yeast brew captures the terroir of cultures collected from around Compton’s 1840 Georgian revival “manor" home in Liverpool. A tasting room will open at the Camp Hill production facility this spring, where the brewery’s full range of creations (including the Asian-inspired Hong Kong Saison brewed with lemongrass and ginger in lieu of hops) will be a sure lure for beer nerds.
Compton’s aim with Microflora, however, was to broaden his audience and create a quaffable “Belgian table beer” that was lower in alcohol (just 4.2 percent, compared with nearly 7 for the saison), slightly milder in pucker and also more affordable. The beer still gets a full cocktail of souring bacteria (brettanomyces, lactobacillus, pediococcus) that are divided among five separate barrels, “where those beasts are raging really well” to age for just one week before they’re blended back together. But it moves relatively quickly through the process, so as to preserve the added freshness of hops from New Zealand and Australia that add their own level of punchy intrigue.
The resulting brew is bright and crisp, with an easy lemon note that rides a distinctly dry wave of delicate fizz and exudes just a pleasant whiff of farmy brett on the nose. It’s the kind of thing I could drink a pint of without palate fatigue, yet still has enough complexity to pair well with bold-flavored foods, like Glory’s herby, garlicky porchetta sandwich.
“It’s a very pretty beer and just dry enough,” Crudele said. “It’s also a nice little bitter zip that’s shy of being intimidating — and that’s one of its best qualities. It’s going to appeal to the masses.”
— Craig LaBan