Reviewed: Surly / J. Wakefield Inside the Upside Down
Product description: This collaboration with Miami’s J. Wakefield Brewing is an imperial kettle sour brewed with strawberry puree and whole raspberries. You may not expect this from Surly, but stranger things have happened. Eggos not included. Malt: CMC 2-Row, Unmalted Wheat, Acidulated Carafoam, Rice Hulls. Hops: Warrior, Centennial. Yeast: English Ale Yeast. 9.0% ABV.
Surly Brewing – Surly / J. Wakefield Inside the Upside Down – 16oz can served in lambic tumber – 9% ABV
Surly is starting to release small batch releases from their original, smaller Brooklyn Center, MN brewery under the “Surly BC” moniker. Check out the press release about this new series here. Inside the Upside Down is the first of this series. I’m immediately impressed with the graphic design of the can and love the show reference. Into a geuze tumbler, this is a vibrant magenta color with light pink foam that has amazing retention for a sour (I guess this is an imperial Berliner or similar). Clarity is surprisingly high, though in the photo above there’s cloudiness from condensation on the outside of the glass.
Melted raspberry popsicle dominates the aroma with baked strawberry as it reaches room temperature. Zingy raspberry takes over the front palate with the first sip with high initial acidity. In the mid-palate, you get some creaminess from the wheat addition while the acidity tapers off nicely like the best Berliner Weisses. (Overall acidity I would say is 5/10 intensity.) Tannic fruit skin and fresh juice really shine here showing some true expertise in getting the strawberry and raspberry flavors to manifest in the final product, though I would say the flavor overlaps with cranberry and pomegranate juice as well. Comparable fruit sours don’t quite have the same fresh and juicy expression. There’s then a lengthy lactic and citric finish just like eating the berries themselves. Only a hint of creaminess/oiliness finds its way onto the palate through all of that fruit juice.
The overall beer doesn’t taste as creamy or smell as funky as a traditional Berliner Weisse. In fact, there’s no yeast aroma at all. My guess is that the recipe is merely inspired by Berliners and has evolved over time as Wakefield has perfected them. (J. Wakefield Brewing in many ways was born out of fruited Berliner Weisses.) That gives the beer strong originality. The flipside is that there’s little room for grain and yeast to shine through as the fruit overpowers everything else. The only other issue is the alcohol. Eventually, the 9% catches up to you. With so much fruit juice and hardly anything to remind you that this is beer, the high ABV level makes this closer to gourmet Four Loko than a typical raspberry Berliner.
Still, it’s incredibly refreshing, but I’m puzzled why the alcohol is through the roof. I’d much prefer that it was in the session range, 4-5%, to really make it a summertime quenching beer. What’s most impressive are the authentic berry flavors. This is a common theme with Wakefield’s beers. If there is an adjunct listed, you better believe that it is going to explode out of the glass. In our recent blind panel test, Finback / J. Wakefield’s Smooth Beats Miami coconut IPA earned high marks with the most powerful, real coconut flavor I’ve experienced in a beer before. Inside the Upside Down follows this theme with world-class adjunct expression in the final product. This is state of the art.
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