Frontenac Sour Beer by Fair State, Fulton, and Oakhold

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

A $17 price tag (at Scott’s, in St. Paul). Three breweries credited on the bottle. The implicit suggestion of the word Frontenac: It’s a beer as good (as complex, as satisfying, as formidable) as wine.

Frontenac was named for both the Frontenac wine barrels it was aged in and the malts from Malterie Frontenac in Quebec it was brewed with. It’s the creation of two young but thriving craft breweries (Fair State and Fulton) and one in utero (Oakhold, which is building its brewery near Duluth).

This is not a beer for the faint of heart. It’s got a big, lemony-acid kick up front and a classic, musty lambic aroma, and there are apricots and tart green grapes in each taste, too. The first sip is a slap in the face that makes you reconsider what you’re doing; every subsequent taste builds on the experience, and what starts as a bare-knuckles alley confrontation ends as a pleasant conversation at a sidewalk cafe. At a 5.3 percent ABV, it’s not a special brew that’s making its case by being boozy — it’s doing it by being complex. It’s also proof that you don’t need to be a 90 IBU hop bomb to give someone’s taste buds a workout.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Not every drinker will want a beer this funky and sharp, but some will love it. It’s a beer with a well-considered point of view, and it is a testament to how deep a bottle of brew can get when creative minds apply themselves. If beer is to be the wine of the Upper Midwest (and it probably should be, at least until global warming turns the plains of Minnesota into the new Napa), then specimens like this will do much to enhance the credibility of the project.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

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James Norton

James Norton is editor and co-founder of the Heavy Table. He is also the co-author of Lake Superior Flavors, the co-author of a book about Wisconsin’s master cheesemakers, and a regular on-air contributor to Minnesota Public Radio.

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