Tap This: Sour beers can be an acquired taste but a pleasant exploration
Craft beers come in increasingly different combinations of flavors, colors and aromas, and craft beer brewers continue to push the boundaries of what constitutes beer. An increasingly popular beer style within the beer community is changing perception on what many have traditionally regarded as beer.
Sour beers have begun to enter beer lineups for numerous breweries around the country and locally. The taste of these beers can be off putting to those unaccustomed to the style, but once you get a taste for them it is had to turn back.
The beer itself has a history that dates back to Belgium with many breweries still creating some classic version of the beers. In fact, the sour beer category actually encompasses several different styles and is not as specific as saying a beer is a stout or an IPA. Instead, there are American Wild Ales, Flanders Red Ales, Lambics, and Gueuzes, which all tend to be under the category of sour beers.
The beer becomes sour due to the addition of wild yeast and/or bacteria. Traditionally, Belgian brewers allowed wild yeast to enter the beer naturally through the barrels or through using coolships, which are open fermentation vessels.
While it should certainly be noted that the sour beer style is not immediately for everyone — in fact, it may be downright off-putting to many right away — it is a style that, once the palate becomes acclimated to it, quickly becomes a sip that you will return to again and again.
So, if this all sounds intriguing then the next step is to find the perfect entry beer into the style. So here is a short list of some great sour beers that range wildly in flavors, colors, and overall levels of sour quality, but all are perfect beers to try as an introduction to the style.
Odell Brewing Company, Dark Theory: While Odell is not widely distributed throughout the country, the brewery has developed a loyal following and has brewed some extremely sought after beers. The key with Odell is a focus on balance and drinkability no matter the style. This certainly rings true with Dark Theory. This 7.5% ABV imperial porter was aged in oak with Belgian yeast and black cherries. The result is a beer that is complex yet drinkable with notes of coffee and chocolate and a slight tart kick that is present, but not overpowering.
New Belgium Brewing, Le Terroir: This annual release from New Belgium is a perfect entry-point sour beer. The aging takes the sharpness off the sour flavor and instead has a rounded quality to it, while the hops add a touch of bitterness for balance. The dominant flavors within the beer are more fruit-focused, imparting a slightly sweet quality while maintaining balance. The 7.5% ABV is not present and the balance maintained makes this a highly drinkable sour beer.
Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales, La Roja: Brewed in the Flanders red tradition, this is a blended beer from beers aged in barrels from two to ten months. This results in an imparting of sour fruit notes with notes of rich caramel for a sweetness with a kick. This is 7.2% ABV with a smooth body and light carbonation for a beer that is rich but also light and highly enjoyable with a great dinner.
There is also another aspect of sour beer that should be discussed before the sampling begins. Another difference between “normal” beers and sour beers is in the effect sour beers can and will have upon the stomach. A lot of sour beers will throw off the ph balance within your stomach and could result in a less than pleasant evening, so take your time with them.
Now, all that is left is for you to experience the joy of this beer style yourself, so drink it down, and pucker up.
Derek Warren is a beer fanatic, avid homebrewer and beer historian. Derek can be heard weekly on the Beer Geeks Radio Hour at noon on Sundays on WILK 103.1 FM with past episodes available on iTunes.