Next week, New York City’s hippest borough will launch its second annual Brooklyn Sour Beer Fest. The kickoff event takes place on Wednesday, September 14 at Mission Dolores, possibly Brooklyn’s most unassumingly world-class beer bar touting a destination-worthy draft list in a space that maintains a decidedly understated neighborhood vibe. Leading the event, called “The Sours of Belgium,” is Brooklyn Sour Fest founder and Mission Dolores beer buyer, Crimson Krier-Glading.
Krier-Glading knows a thing or two about securing Belgian sours. Last year, she quietly stunned locals at her Park Slope/Gowanus pub by securing a rare keg of Cantillon Iris for Mission Dolores’s fifth anniversary celebration – a monumental feat in the United States where demand for Cantillon has skyrocketed while the amount actually imported has tapered. “Pouring Cantillon – of any variety – on tap is every craft beer buyer's dream,” said Krier-Glading. Sadly, she says no such surprise Cantillon sighting will occur for the kickoff event (unless she’s being extra coy), but before we delved into this year’s beer fest, I had to ask her: How does one go about securing one of the hard to get kegs in the United States?
“Patience, good planning and a commitment to good beer,” Krier-Glading explained, before adding the aside, “or really, I simply asked nicely, waited and never got my hopes up.”
For those intrigued by the nitty-gritty, she obliged in my prodding for specifics – you know, in case I wanted to try to get a keg sent to my house. “I asked my contact at the import company…a full year before our anniversary party,” she said. But she said that philosophy is just important as timing. “Gueuzes are slow beers. They typically take three years to produce and can only be made in very limited quantities due to the time needed to mature the beer and the space needed to age them. To get something this special, you must respect this process.”
Of course, the importer also wants to make sure a product with such an amazing pedigree will be in good hands. “We have a reputation of selling good beer and treating the beers we sell with respect,” she explained. “If you only sell macro beer and then ask for the rarest, arguably best, sour beer on the market you will not get it. Even if you sell great beer, you might never get a keg of Cantillon.”
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In the end though, a bit of good ol’ fashioned praying (and polite begging) doesn’t hurt. “I spent a year with my fingers crossed that we would actually get one, occasionally emailing the importer with a reminder for the anniversary and telling them that I would be honored and delighted to get a Cantillon if we were able too,” Krier-Glading told me. “And then one week before our anniversary, a delivery arrived with a beautiful keg of Cantillon Iris.”
When I stopped by Mission Dolores for their fifth anniversary that year, indeed Crimson was beaming like a proud parent. But it wasn’t because she had hit the sour beer lottery: It’s something she’s worked toward in the way she chooses the bar’s draft selections and the relationships she’s built. It’s something she earned.
Krier-Glading has a similar story for this year’s Brooklyn Sour Beer Fest kickoff event, trying to secure a keg of another highly in-demand sour. “I was not able to get a Cantillon for the event, but I did get a keg of Lindemans Faro – a beer that you rarely ever see in the US,” she told me. “Faro is a young, straight lambic blended with sugar. Only a few breweries make these beers anymore, Lindemans being one of them.”
Of course, I needed to hear the requisite story. “Again, a few years ago I met with the importer of Lindeman's, Merchant du Vin, and he asked if there was anything I would like to get,” she explained. “I said kegs of either Cuvee Rene (their Gueuze) or the Faro. He said it wouldn't be a problem as long as I was patient: It could take 6 months to a couple of years for the request to be filled. Sure! Ok! Then, a year later, my two kegs of Faro arrived in the US – and the only Faro kegs sent to US were for us! Sometimes you just have to ask. And wait.”
Beyond the kickoff next Wednesday, the Brooklyn Sour Beer Fest will encompass seven fantastic Brooklyn bars in total serving a large selection of sour beers, on draft and in the bottle, until the fest ends on September 30. Over the course of the festival, each of the remaining six bars –Gold Star Beer Counter, St. Gambrinus, Glorietta Baldy, Bar Great Harry, Cardiff Giant and The Owl Farm – will each have their own unique sour beer night as well with themes like “8 Good Reasons to Drink More Fruit” and “New York Sours.” (You can see the entire schedule here.)
But even if you can’t make it out to the Brooklyn Sour Beer Fest this year, you should really consider dropping into Mission Dolores whenever you can. As Krier-Glading has taught us, you never know exactly when a rare keg might arrive at their door.