For the 'Love' of Sour

Chef Tio's lineup of sour beers to sample. Tough job!
 It all started with that first taste of Terroir last year. It was a fateful night for Chef Celina Tio when she prepared a course as a guest chef for a beer dinner at Chicago's Hot Chocolate. New Belgium Brewing's sensory specialist Lauren Salazar arranged the pairings and was on hand to talk beer, starting with Le Terroir, a dry-hopped sour ale from New Belgium's Lips of Faith series. It just so happened to be the beer paired with Tio's dish. "She gave me the Terroir and I kind of stopped..I didn't drink anything else the rest of the night," Tio explained.

Fate brought Tio and Salazar together again in Aspen, when they both happened to be visiting for Food and Wine Fest. Tio attended a beer tasting that Salazar held, where she casually suggested that Tio come out to the brewery and blend her own sour beer. Naturally, her response was an enthusiastic "Hell yeah!"

Getting invited to blend your own sour beer at the New Belgium brewery isn't a common occurrence. As far as Tio knows, she is only the fifth person to be given the opportunity. Leave this honor to Tio, owner and head chef of Julian in Brookside, who is already no stranger to exclusivity. Before she had even thought of blending her own beer, she worked with Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery out of Frankfort, Kentucky to create a blend of bourbon (which is delicious, might I add) that is only available in her restaurant. She also offers a couple varieties of wine at her restaurant that you won't find anywhere else in the Kansas City area. "I wouldn't call it hoarding," Tio laughed, "but I'm all about getting things that you can't have anywhere else but here, it makes it special...I go out of my way to work with a winery or distributor to be the only one that has something."

There's no question that Tio is a true enthusiast of craft beer. So much so, that she won't even allow macros to come in the door of her restaurant. Literally. "The Budweiser guy came in here one day, and didn't even get through the second door before I told him not to waste his time," she recalled. And although there are some craft beer enthusiasts in the chef community (Chef Michael Symon first got her interested in Jolly Pumpkin beer), an appreciation of good food and good beer don't always go hand in hand because many chefs are more interested in wine. "I enjoy wine and I've had plenty of delicious, super expensive wines, but if it comes down to it, I'm drinking a beer."

When it comes to the sour beer that she created, don't be mistaken; this blend isn't just a pre-existing New Belgium product with Tio or Julian's name slapped on it. The experience was as hands-on as possible for the chef. During a visit to the brewery, Salazar lined up a selection of 18 sours, both dark and light, for Tio and as the chef puts it, "she sat me down...and then walked away." Trusting her palate as a chef, Salazar let Tio go to work. She tasted all of them, then selected 8 that stood out to her and starred them according to her preferences. At that point, she decided what she wanted her dominant flavor to be in the beer, and picked two backup flavors to compliment it. Much like the food you find at her restaurant, she wanted the beer to be about balance of flavors. "When I cook, it's all about balance..for my dessert, I don't put a pinch of salt IN the pudding, I take the salt out of the pudding and put a pinch of fleur de sel ON the pudding," Tio noted.

Ultimately, she ended up with 3 different blends of 3 beers that she needed to decide between. After finally knocking it down to one blend of 3, it was a matter of deciding on the perfect ratio. While she was a bit torn about trying to create a perfect introductory sour, in the end she followed her gut instinct and selected the blend that tasted best to her at the time, thinking "both (blends) are pretty sour, neither are good introductory beers, I'm just going to go with the one I like better." She said the blend that she chose between the two leaned more toward the fruity side, with flavor notes that on her palate, resembled fruits you might smell and taste in sake, like apricot. Then, the final step was simply relaying the information to New Belgium and having them blend, keg and carbonate the new creation. Upon release, Tio's sour blend will only be available on tap at her restaurant, but she's optimistic that in the future, Julian-exclusive bottled beer may be a possibility as well. "Maybe they liked it so much that they'll decide to collaborate with me again and put something in a bottle!"

When asked if she would consider doing another beer collaboration in the future, Tio said she would, again noting the desire to have things that are special to the restaurant. As for a particular style she'd like to explore? "...I'm a pale ale girl, so if I could do another beer collaboration, it would be a pale ale. I drink pale ale constantly."

While listening to Chef Tio talk about the process of creating this sour beer, it was evident that for her, it was more than just a job, it was a labor of love. Which makes the name for her forthcoming, restaurant-exclusive sour beer that much more appropriate: Julian NBB Love.

Details on the tapping/release party for Julian NBB Love will be coming soon. In the meantime, make sure to follow Julian on Twitter and Like the restaurant on Facebook for additional updates.

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