For this installment of Tasting Notes, we enjoy an enchanted moment with the ever-elusive Dark Swan Sour Ale from Lagunitas Brewing Company (Petaluma, California).
Developed to be Lagunitas’ take on the beer-wine hybrid, Dark Swan is a “uniquely deep and rich purple [hued]” American Sour Ale that has been “dry-hopped with some experimental Pekko hops from the Yakima Valley, then fermented with . . . house yeast on some of Sonoma County’s-own Petite Syrah grape juice from . . . Adobe Road Winery.” Swooping in at 7.9% ABV and 25 IBUs, Dark Swan promises to be “smooth, slightly sour, and superbly strange.”
Dark Swan officially released in mid-February, but there is still a good amount of it hanging around out there on shelves and taps. You can look for this Limited Release offering to be available in 6-packs of 12 oz. bottles and on draft at select craft beer-focused establishments located in Alabama, Florida, California, Illinois and throughout the rest of Lagunitas Brewing Company’s distribution area.
Now that we are all a bit more familiar with Dark Swan’s background information, it appears that it is finally time to crack open a bottle and plunge into some Tasting Notes!
Tasting Notes for Dark Swan Sour Ale (2019) from Lagunitas Brewing Company
Appearance: A somewhat vigorous pour produces a beer that is a beautiful deep purple in color and wearing nearly two fingers of rose-pink foam. When held to direct light, red tones push through and blend with the purple to create a color that is similar to pure cranberry juice. Although dark in color, it still reveals an incredible degree of clarity and a mellow amount of carbonation activity. Head retention is decent, reducing slowly to a lasting, chunky ring that leaves spotty lacing on the glass at times.
Aroma: A clean grape presence opens the aromatics with both sweet, fresh grape juice and a complex dark red wine/Shiraz-like character. The complexity builds as the hops shuffle in to add floral notes, a pop of black currant, and a tinge of spicy herb. Underneath all of this lies a faint sweetness similar to a hard fruit candy (think grape Jolly Rancher).
Taste: The vinous qualities lead here as well, playfully weaving in notes of Concord grape juice, lightly tannic red wine, and just straight fresh dark-skinned grapes. The hops add supporting notes of black currant, assorted berries, a twist of citrus, and soft floral tones. The profile closes with a gentle dose of sour funk and nondescript malt sweetness.
Mouthfeel: On the lighter side of medium in body with a medium carbonation, Dark Swan is wonderfully crisp and easy-drinking. On the palate, it playfully bounces between sour, fruity and sweet. The 7.9% ABV is completely hidden, allowing this beer to drink much lighter than it is. Aftertaste is all red wine and berries.
Final Thoughts: Dark Swan is a whimsical take on the beer/wine hybrid that somehow boasts both the approachability of the grape juice box and the complexity of a fine red wine. The hops seem to be dialed back a bit for a Lagunitas offering, sacrificing in-your-face dankness for just the right amount of complementary fruity and floral notes. This approach allows the grape/wine character to shine, but the beer is still able to assert itself as . . . you know . . . a beer by casually reminding you of the hop qualities and malt sweetness that would clearly be out of place in a wine. This results in a ridiculously refreshing beer that basically drinks like a slightly less carbonated wine spritzer. Overall, Dark Swan is wildly unique, a little weird, and extraordinarily tasty. If you are at all a fan of red wines (or pilfering juice boxes from the children’s stash), be sure to grab some of this year’s batch of Dark Swan before it disappears from shelves. Prost!