Zen Archer Strong Sour Ale

Like melted Lemonheads – a neon rush to the head!
  • Grain bill:  Belgian Pilsner Malt, Rye Malt, Mecca Grade Shaniko, Forbidden Rice
  • Hops:  Styrian Goldings, Saaz
  • Yeast:  Omega Jovaru Lithuanian Farmhouse OYL-033, Omega Lactobacillus Blend OYL-605
  • Secret Ingredients:  Buddha’s Hand, Coriander Seeds, Grains of Paradise
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Origin Story:

Buddha's Hand

Buddha’s Hand is one weird-looking fruit

When I was planning Sunset Dervish in the summer of 2021, I wanted to double down on exotic citrus flavors by throwing in some Buddha’s Hand along with the yuzu. This citrus fruit, which derives its name from its fingery shape, is all pith and no pulp; the zest tastes a lot like a lemon but the pith is far less bitter.

So as it turns out, Buddha’s Hand is in season in January. Probably should have Googled this before hitting up Koreatown groceries over the course of a literally fruitless June afternoon. Lesson learned – Sunset Dervish was tasty anyway. Roll forward to January 2022, a pile of Buddha’s Hands in the citrus fruit stall at the Sunday farmer’s market, and the seed of a new project.

To rise to the challenge of the fruit, I felt like this brew needed to be sour, and it needed to be strong—but not a saison. Something more like a Belgian Trippel, but with a sour & spicy edge. So the grain bill: Pilsner malt base with a healthy addition of rye malt for spiciness and wheat for a bit of haze & head. Rather than fill out the fermentables bill with the Candi syrup you would use for a Trippel, I decided to take a final swing at making a purple beer (see Lilac Tiger and Outer Spaceways for more details on this odyssey) with four pounds of Forbidden Rice.

I kept the hops bill and spices in line with a standard Trippel. Fermentation would start with a healthy kettle souring, followed by Lithuanian Farmhouse yeast for the additional citrus pop it would provide. The Buddha’s hand was chopped up and carmelized prior to putting it into the beer during secondary fermentation.

Is it purple? No—after 3 tries in various contexts, I’ve come to the conclusion that any color you get from the Forbidden Rice is just hull matter that drops out of solution. I’m also not getting as much fermentable sugar out of the rice as I’d like to—I only hit about 7% ABV, which is respectable, but not really a Trippel. Next time I’ll go for the Candi syrup.

However, this is a potent and exotic brew. The Buddha’s hand gives it a flavor almost more like lemon candy; complemented by the strong sourness, spice and alcoholic content, it presents in shades that are neon, not pastel.

Slave Market With the Disappearing Bust of Voltaire

Like Highlights for Kids, but disturbing

This beer got its name and visual through pure free association. The “fingers” of this weird fruit named after the Buddha brought to mind a hand pulling back a bowstring, and thus, the Zen Archer. Broadly, Zen Archery is associated with the idea of developing muscle memory and skills beyond conscious control: “flow”. This felt like an appropriate representation of the creative process that led to this beer.

But I am personally more likely to think about “Zen Archer” as the majestic song in the middle of Side 1 of Todd Rundgren’s A Wizard/A True Star, in which context it’s followed by the deranged “Just Another Onionhead / DaDa Dali”. This in turn birthed the Dali pastiche of the label art, rendered by Artbircan from Turkey.

There’s specifically a strong nod to Dali’s “Slave Market with the Disappearing Bust of Voltaire”—can you find the hidden image?

Music Pairing:

How much distance is there really between punk and prog?  Certainly far less than that between Baroque music and Tuvan throat singing—but I submit that there is a much closer spiritual kinship. 

They say that the Velvet Underground were punk forefathers—but John Cale played with LaMonte Young and the band would stretch “Sister Ray” out to 38 minutes in live performance.  Johnny Rotten sported an “I Hate Pink Floyd” T-shirt while fronting the Sex Pistols—but let’s face it, Animals and The Final Cut are as bitter a denunciation of late-70s/early-80s Britain as anything the Pistols ever put out. 

And if your goal is to draw a line in the sand separating your art from Billy Joel and Simon & Garfunkel, you could certainly strip down to three cords and beat on the brat with a baseball bat—but you could just as easily hammer your audience with 80 minutes of the only-marginally-listenable Tales from Topographic Oceans.  Is that any less confrontational?

In case there’s any remaining doubt, I submit Television, who split the difference.

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