Terra Incognita

My wife, Stephanie, and I shared a bottle of Terra Incognita. This is Sierra Nevada and Boulevard’s latest collaboration. They originally made this beer for SAVOR in 2012. They’ve gotten back to together to create this bottled version.

Earlier this year, Sierra Nevada Head Brewer Steve Dresler and Boulevard Brewmaster Steven Pauwels met in Kansas City to create a blend of three components:
Terra Incognita aged in Templeton Rye barrels
Terra Incognita aged in a 2,000-gallon foudre
Fresh Terra Incognita dry-hopped with East Kent Golding
The end result is a, fittingly, earthy beer, celebrating the unique terroir of our two locations. The blend incorporates (roughly) 45% foudre-aged, 30% Templeton-aged, and 25% fresh dry-hopped beer—all aimed at showcasing some predominant oak characteristics with a subtle hint of earthy hops. Then just prior to bottling we added a dose of the wild yeast Brettanomyces, and allowed the beer to age for over three months.

Keith – The first thing I noticed was the sharp pop of the cork. Then it took me about ten minutes to pour our glasses. This beer is very carbonated. The bottle mentions the addition of brett. It makes me wonder if the brett created more carbonation then they anticipated.


Stephanie – Since I didn’t pour, the first thing I noticed was the funky aroma. I noticed it from a couple feet away. Upon closer inspection I get sour, cherry, funk, roast, and oak in the nose with maybe a hint of chocolate. It is dark brown in color with ruby highlights and a mocha head.

Keith – I get the funkiness and cherry in the aroma as well. It also smells like there is a lot of alcohol in there. Checking the bottle I see that it is 8.5% ABV. The funkiness comes through in the flavor. I also get the a big influence from the bourbon barrel aging. There’s a lot of that sour bourbon barrel flavor.

Stephanie – Yes, sour bourbon flavor. Still getting cherry and roast with alcohol warmth throughout which sticks around more than I care for. Slight hop characters of citrus, catty, and resin in the finish. Perhaps a touch of caramel and chocolate.

Keith – Under the bourbon oak flavors I’m tasting some roasty flavors with a hint of smoke. There’s some bitterness there but I’m having trouble picking up any particular hop flavors. The hops could be contributing to the cherry and plum flavors, but that could be from the bourbon barrels, or maybe even some esters.

Stephanie – I’ve never gotten cherry or plum from hops, but it is present in this beer. I’m pretty sure it is coming from the esters. Brett can put out some “wild flavors.” It’s light on body and heavy on carbonation. The mouth feel is not what I was expecting. When I see a beer this dark I expect heft in the body. This more like the Saison Dupont or Boulevard’s own Tank 7. Light, dry, bubbly. Less like a porter or stout.

Keith – The dark roastiness, the funkiness, the dry hopping and bitterness, and the bourbon barrel aging are a unique combination. The fizziness of the carbonation lends a bite to the roastiness and further confuses the style. I haven’t had many saisons but I think you’re right that this is toward that style. It seem clean for that style though, without the heavy barnyard flavors. Terra Incognita means “unknown land” so I guess the style ambiguity is to be expected. Who knows what that brett will do with some more aging. This beer was only released about a month ago.

Stephanie – It’s a wild ale, American Wild Ale, which isn’t in the BJCP but a lot of beers are forced into the Specialty Beer category thanks to the highly specific style guidelines. Not ripping on BJCP, I love them and use the guide frequently, but the point stands.

Keith – That’s certainly an issue with the BJCP. It’s meant for the competitions, not really for everyday sampling and discussion. Even the competition judging of a Specialty Beer category has to be difficult and far more subjective than the BJCP otherwise strives toward. Terra Incognita is a mix of aged and fresh ale. That was common in the past and seems to be coming back into style. You get the complexity of the aged beer fresh hopiness of the new beer, creating a nice balance.

I would recommend this beer to anyone who is OK with some bourbon barrel influence and OK with the flavor of aged beer. These flavors turn some people off. Everyone else should absolutely try this fascinating beer.

Stephanie– This is a difficult beer to recommend. If you are looking for a unique beer drinking experience, go buy this beer right now and enjoy something special. If you are looking for a beer that tastes exactly as I described don’t bother. Brett does crazy things; a beer containing brett is never the same from day to day or week to week. Sure, it will probably always have strong age notes: oak, bourbon, umami, but the intensity or subtlety of the other flavors will shift. Did I like this beer? Yes. Will you like this beer? I don’t know. Try it and see for yourself.

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