Former gypsy brewer Grimm Artisan Ales decided to put down roots in a beautiful new taproom last year, and its carefully crafted ales are now finding their way to a much wider distribution audience. While Grimm turns out way more hits than misses from its Brookyn-based facility, one of those rare misses is its dark sour Shadow Work. After blending a barrel-aged sour with a “young” brown ale, Grimm is left with a beer that doesn’t live up to otherwise deservedly lofty expectations.
While Shadow Work pours from a maroon-colored bottle, the beer itself has more of a rusty brown hue. Its body is almost completely opaque, with just a few pinprick bubbles creeping slowly up. They stack together perfectly to form a larger-than-expected cap of cream foam.
Some barrel-aged sours can shock your senses with a punch of vinegary aromas, but Shadow Work is much more subtle. Tart funk is the most prominent note with the oak barrel and base brown ale providing wood and roasty sweetness. It’s aroma is more of a nudge than an assault, and hovering over the glass makes for a distinctly beery experience—you won’t mistake this aroma for vinegar or sour candy.
I just find myself wanting more of all of it—the flavor feels muddied.”
Though an understated aroma doesn’t always mean less flavor, it absolutely does in the case of Shadow Work. There is a difference between subtle complexity and murky convolution, and unfortunately this Grimm offering trends more toward the latter. Even still, all is not lost as the Flemish red flavors of dark fruit, sour grapes, and nutty sweetness do come through at times. I just find myself wanting more of all of it—the flavor feels muddied. The beer’s best quality may be its super light, airy mouthfeel, which allows the flavor to carry through as long as possible.
I can’t tell if the blend is slightly off, or if Shadow Work needs more time in the barrel after blending to marry, but this is a beer that doesn’t reach its full potential for me. I’m fine with a sour ale leaning on the soft intricacy of its spontaneous fermentation rather than a mouth-puckering tartness, but the flavors still have to be distinguishable to be enjoyed. Regardless, Shadow Work won’t do anything to deter me from Grimm’s newest releases; I just won’t be reaching for it again.