Here’s a surprise summer gift for sour beer fans: Fremont Brewing just opened a new taproom dedicated exclusively to barrel-aged and sour ales. Dubbed the Black Heron Lounge, this new beer program and weekend-only taproom sits behind a roll-up garage door in the back corner of the brewery’s downtown Fremont location.
Fremont Brewing’s expansion into the world of sour ales—a broad style of beer that was perfected by the Belgians and subsequently revered by a large swathe of American craft beer drinkers—is another milestone in the brewery’s nine-year existence. Matt Lincecum and Sarah Nelson have grown their brewery from a tiny tasting room to a regional powerhouse with one of Seattle’s busiest beer gardens and a brewing production that occupies an entire city block of Ballard.
Black Heron Lounge dovetails nicely with Fremont Brewing’s history. Just like at the brewery’s original 2009 taproom, guests at Black Heron Lounge drink in close company with the actual brewing equipment and wooden barrels of fermenting beer. At the end of the weekend the bartenders tear down the bar and move the picnic tables, turning the space back into an active brewery.
The newest addition to Fremont Brewing’s beer empire was unveiled earlier this month without a grand opening or any fuss at all; they simply rolled up the garage door to reveal a production floor arranged with heavy picnic tables, a portable bar, and a wall of booth seating. The tucked-away taproom was hardly noticed by the weekend crowd fighting for seating at the nearby beer garden; I encountered only a handful of people drinking in the new space on both of my visits.
I started with the House Saison, a beer that should be the raison d’etre of a Belgian sour program. It was light on aroma, but had pleasant lemon and floral qualities. The Bier De Garde, a French sister style to the Belgian saison, was refreshingly carbonated with a light grainy character. Fruited sour ales can be dynamic beers with a deep range of flavor, but the Raspberry Silence was underwhelming; it felt one dimensional and jammy, like a simple glass of sparkling raspberry juice.
The Foeder Wine, named after the giant oak casks that it was aged in, had the burn of rubbing alcohol and an off flavor like bad white wine. Steer clear of this one at all costs.
The best beer on the menu was easily the Hazy Brett IPA, which combines an IPA’s hoppy aromas with the wild character of Brettanomyces yeast. It tasted like funky lemon and ripe fruit with a wonderfully balanced bitterness.
Will these beers usher in another formidable brand from Fremont Brewing? Go taste them and decide for yourself.
Black Heron Lounge is open from 3 to 9 p.m. on Fridays, and 1 to 9 p.m. on Saturdays.