Brewery: Surly Brewing Company (Minneapolis, MN)
Style: Sour – Other
7% ABV / N/A IBU
Surly’s Pentagram has generated a fairly polarizing response on the Internet. Consumer guide RateBeer gives this sour top marks, but the user community is rating the 2020 version—the latest batch—as more of an all-around average experience. Or to be more particular: Critics seem to be assigning higher grades for novelty, while the beer nerds are grading Pentagram down because it’s actually not that much fun to drink. Do not buy a four-pack, and do not follow Surly’s suggestion of cellaring the beer for a few years—unless you anticipate a global vinegar shortage.
Pentagram’s calling card is its wine-like character, which is built around the use of Brettanomyces for 100% of the yeast, and then amplified by aging in wine barrels. Both are an acquired taste, especially for those that are more accustomed to the hop and malt-forward presentation of beer than the tannic flavor of red wine. Certainly, it’s a neat trick to produce something that tastes like grape skins/grape must without incorporating either as an ingredient. But I, personally, don’t like sours aged in wine barrels. Gin barrels or bourbon barrels can add dramatic dimensions to a sour; wine barrels just make sours more mouth-puckering.
One issue with this beer is that there are four different types of malts and you can’t taste any of them. Surly is also using a pretty spiky hop variety (Warrior) for bittering, but that’s imperceptible in the mix, too. We deserve a sour with more balance in 2021. If breweries can push “smoothie” sours with four types of fruit and lactose or pasty cream, where you can taste every discreet element, an elite operation like Surly ought to be able to put together something that isn’t just excruciatingly sour. A perfect pour of Pentagram would be a 4-oz taster at room temperature; stick with Surly’s all-time great stout Darkness or any of the brewery’s more widely-distributed IPAs instead.
For more info, check out Surly here.