I was startled by my first sip of Cantillon’s 1900 Grand Cru. Yes, I’d had many sour beers before and even visited Brasserie Cantillon in Brussels. What was startling was the beer was completely flat. But I hadn’t gotten a bad bottle, or even an old one—I later learned it was intentionally flat.
“I probably spend more time drinking flat beer than carbonated,” says Cory King, the brewer/owner at Side Project. Every beer he makes is barrel-aged and barrel-fermented, meaning, “Since I constantly test my beers, day to day I’m drinking a lot of flat beer straight from the barrels.”
But King actually likes flat, or “still” beer. He fell in love with it a couple of years ago, drinking cheap glasses of straight lambic—“They have pitchers of it for like six euros!”—while exploring Belgium’s lambic cafes. Beers like Drie Fonteinen Doesjel and, yes, that Cantillon Grand Cru, inspired his own flat beer.
Foedre Beer would be a “wild Missouri blonde ale” aged in a French oak foeder and, yes, served intentionally still. It was released the day King’s St. Louis-area, lambic cafe-style tasting room opened, and was served straight from a hand pump.
“Face to face with a consumer, I could explain it’s supposed to be flat. Since it wasn’t a surprise, they responded positively.” King was encouraged to move outside the traditional lambic realm for another flat offering.
“Imperial stouts are already high-IBU, high-alcohol, roasty and barrel-aged. Those components add a bitterness and astringency, so why add more bite?”
He brewed One Candle, aged it in Knob Creek barrels, then pushed it through a normal tap at a white wine-level chill. Released last Abraxas Day (when Perennial Artisan Ales, where King is the “director of oak,” releases its coveted Abraxas imperial stout), this 15%-ABV offering tasted rich and decadent, exactly like German chocolate cake batter, King claims.
“People were stunned. ‘What’d you put in this?!’ Nothing. The stillness was able to show what a barrel-aged stout could truly taste like. People were telling me, ‘I’ve never thought of this before—now I want all my stouts flat!’”
Aside from Side Project, though, few other American brew-eries release flat beers (intentionally). A notable exception is The Ale Apothecary’s Be Still, a wild ale aged in rye and Pinot noir barrels, blended, then bottled still. (King has been hesitant to bottle flat.)
According to The Ale Apothecary website, still beer is a “glimpse into an alternative beer universe that is just waiting to be explored,” but King isn’t so sure.
“I think still beers’ reach is very, very, very limited,” he says. “There are beers that taste amazing, if not better flat. But most probably need a little bubbliness to bring them around.”