Bloomington, Indiana’s Upland Brewing Company opened its doors in 1998. A decade ago, they began brewing lambic-style beers. The sour ale program began when the company traded eight cases of beer for four 265L white oak barrels from Oliver Winery in 2006. Since then, Upland’s sour program has grown every year, garnering a GABF Gold Medal for their Sour Reserve, multiple World Class rankings from Beer Advocate, and leading to the opening of an exclusively sour brewery and tasting room, The Wood Shop, in 2016.
And now, these much accoladed sour brews are headed to the East Coast. To kick off their arrival in Philly, Upland celebrated with a series of launch events at some of the city’s best beer spots the week of April 24th. Events included a launch party at City Tap House, tastings at Tria Taproom and Local 44, a tap takeover at Cinder and a guest tap feature at Earth Bread + Brewery.
Dan and I attended the sampling at the Local 44 Bottle Shop (which is, incidentally, the place I first had Pliny the Elder during Philly Beer Week in 2013). Upland Brewing’s Sour Beer Brand Manager Dusty Howe and Sour Business Development Manager Fred Hillenbrand were on hand pouring four sour ales and one storied pilsner. During the event, Upland beers were sold at a discount and came with a branded glass as well as a raffle entry to win a tin Upland Sour Ales sign.
Beers poured at the event were:
- Revive – Pineapple Chamomile Sour
- Hopsynth – Dry Hopped Sour
- Cursed Kettles – Sour Ale Oak Aged on Figs and Black Cherries, Collaboration with Prairie Artisan Ales of Oklahoma
- Sour Reserve – A Blend of 1,2 and 3 Year Old Batches
- Champagne Velvet – Pre-Prohibition Pilsner
All of the beers were amazing, must-haves for any fan of sours. The Sour Reserve is a fitting tent-pole for the Upland sour lineup, a complex and well-balanced ale that packs a robust character stemming from the three-year blend. Hopsynth achieves the sometimes tricky to master sweet spot of a solid hop-forward sour. The collaboration Cursed Kettles showcases the talents of both breweries, Upland’s barrel aging and Prairie’s kettle souring. My personal favorite, however, was the Revive, refreshing, subtle yet complex – it’s lightly tart, tropical, slightly sweet and was my immediate choice for a take home bottle on my first sip.
One of these beers was not like the others. Champagne Velvet, the “pre-prohibition” pilsner reformulated from a recipe dating from 1902, has been revived by Upland using the original recipe written on a sheet of notepaper rescued from deep in a trademark portfolio. Once a flagship of Indiana beers, “The Beer with the Million Dollar Flavor” fell victim to industrial consolidation until Upland took up the task of bringing back the Midwestern legend.
I love a beer with a good story, but this is also a truly great pilsner. Easy drinking, no-frills, true and traditional, its easy to see why it was a staple of Indiana for about half a century. If I had a lawn to mow, this would easily be in the accompanying refreshment rotation.
It’s truly exciting to have these awesome brews available in Philadelphia and beyond, and any excuse to hit up Local 44 is cool with me – amazing beers on tap, top-notch bottle shop and killer food. Keep and eye out for Upland’s offerings as they continue to expand distribution. Cheers to Fred and Dusty, awesome guys spreading the good word of sour. And a huge thanks to Local 44 Bottle Shop Manager Sarah Fuller, and the rest of the crew, for being part of the reason Philly is an amazing place to be a beer lover.