Sour Beer Appreciation: Pucker Up Baby
There are 134 beer styles that are judged each year at the annual Great American Beer Festival. Among those, Sour Beers are my favorite. From Chimay, to La Folie, to Barriquée... this style isn't for everyone, but if you like your flavors on the tart side, pucker up 'cause these beers are for you.
- Sour? For a beer? Why yes! It may sound odd, but this style of beer is worth a try. Sour flavors in beer have been around since Medieval times in Europe when brewers relied on spontaneous fermentation—that is, wild yeast (and other friendly bacteria) that would turn their wort into beer.Flavors would vary depending on the brewer's local environment and the yeast population in that area, but over time, many traditional sour styles became standards. After the discovery of yeast in the 19th century, most commercial brewers switched to carefully-managed yeast strains, added under highly-controlled circumstances, while a number of small-scale producers stuck with open fermentation.
Brettanomyces, often called Brett for short, is a genus of yeast consisting of multiple species found naturally in wood. Brettanomyces contributes distinctive flavors to the beverage it grows in. It's generally considered an undesirable, spoiling infection by home brewers; however, its extreme, distinctive flavor and aroma is considered desirable in some sour beer styles.
The flavor contributed by Brettanomyces is often called barnyard, but has also been described as gamy, or as smelling like damp wool, leather, wet fur, a sweaty saddle or horse blanket, or a butcher shop. Sounds yummy, eh? Profoundly tart and powerfully pungent, these flavors created by Brett are the soul of most complex sour styles.
- While Belgian lambics are the most recognizable beers in this genre, Germany boasts two remaining sour styles, both associated with their cities of origin (or, perhaps more accurately, cities of more recent popularity) Leipziger Gose and Berliner Weisse.Like its tart Belgian cousins, Gose was probably first produced using spontaneous fermentation (and the salty character may have arisen from salty springs that provided early brewers their water); later, lactic acid added the sour kick, and salt and coriander were added to the wheat and barley malt before fermentation. Traditionally, Gose was fermented in barrels, but moved to a distinctive long-necked bottle for secondary fermentation, where the beer created its own 'stopper' out of yeast.
- While lacking the round saltiness of Gose, Berliner Weisse is similarly tart and refreshing, and is also produced using wheat. This once-popular style has also been making a comeback after a near-disappearance. This effervescent, pale yellow beer typically has such a sour taste that is offset by adding Waldmeistersirup (woodruff, giving the beer an occasionally-alarming green color) or Himbeersirup (raspberry syrup).
- There is some evidence that Berliner Weisse actually developed in medieval Hamburg, but like Gose in Leipzig, it was adopted as the most popular hometown drink of Berlin. Indeed, the association is so ingrained that it is now a protected appellation - yes, brewers have appellation's too - German brewers outside Berlin making similar beers cannot call their product a Berliner Weisse. So, most German brewers call their sours Bremer Weisse (which is more-or-less identical).
There are other styles of sours too that are drawing on Belgian traditions to produce distinctly sour lambics, gueuzes, krieks and Flanders-style red ales. American Breweries are taking notice of this trend and there are quite a few craft breweries producing and marketing their sour concoctions. In the era of big, high alcohol microbrews, could these pucker producing Belgian sours and session beers be the next big thing in the craft beer world?
- So now that I've made your mouth water like you've eaten a whole pack of SweetTarts, I would be remiss if I didn't give a few easy to find suggestions for those of you who would like to stray from the IPA to try a funky wild ale.
Among my favorites are New Belgium's La Folie, Duchesse de Bourgogne, a traditional Flanders Red Ale from Brouwerij Verhaeghe of Belgium, Dogfish Head's fresh Festina Peche, saison-like Goose Island Sofie, New Begium's ultra-tart 8.5% abv KICK, and Oregon's own cherryfied Kriek Ale from Cascade Brewing.
Here's the brainchild behind Dogfish Head, Sam Calagione describing what makes his Festina Peche so delicious.
- Sour beers aren't for everyone, but they can certainly wake up your palette and
will blow your mindbroaden your own flavor spectrum. If you consider yourself adventurous and are interested in trying different types of beer, wine and food, then sour beers are perfect for you. With their amazingly subtle flavors that are tangy yet earthy, combined with their refreshing effervescence, these comeback styles are perfect for chilled-out summer nights or afternoon BBQs. So this summer, opt to bag that Bud and impress your friends with some funky sours.Cheers!Article Sources:
Did you find this story interesting? Be the first to like or comment.