I came here this week on the advice of two of our followers (still waiting for inspiration to strike on what to call you!!), Shelbie and Rick (whose Blog, Rickommended, posted its second blog entry today, and is all about food!), to write a post about Sours.
Lo and Behold, a few hours before I start to write, I see this link pop up on my Facebook page…
When Tart, Pungent and Funky Mean It’s a Good Brew
Dammit. The New York Times writes an article on sour beer the day before I decide to write an article on sour beer.
You know what, though? Their article, while quite well written, is dry. It’s nice to see beer, and in this case, specifically sour beer, getting press. Sours are amazing beers, and quite difficult to get right (basically you rely on a bacteria to infect your beer to impart the tart, sour flavor). I enjoy their rating system (one to four stars) and they’ve got some great beer on their list. But there’s no wit! There’s no snap! There’s no pizzazz! I’d like to think that Benedict Beer Blog is full of wit. And what’s interesting is, as I’m writing this, I cracked open a half growler of what should have been a LIC Beer Project Higher Burnin’ IPA, a nicely balanced, juicy and sweet IPA, but was given the wrong beer, and I’m pretty sure it’s an Ommegang Witte. So now, not only am I full of wit, I’m full of Witte. Take that, New York Times! Hahaaaa! (That’s a triumphant Hahaaaa!)
Sour beers were first (purposely) brewed in Germany and Belgium. Back in the early days of brewing, it was hard to find a beer that wasn’t sour, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Brewers would reuse yeast from batch to batch, and sometimes the starter yeast would contain bacteria or wild yeast strains. Now, Brewers intentionally use bacteria or wild yeast to give their beer an acidic flavor. Three common bacterias used to intentionally sour beer are lactobacillus (mm… Milky…), Brettanomyces (also, still not sure if I’m pronouncing this correctly. I say “Brett-a-NAH-mih-seas”, but I think it’s actually “Brett-AAH-no-my-seas”. How U say it??), and Pediococcus (hehe, coccus).
Breweries sometimes have facilities away from their regular breweries so that their “regular” beers don’t get infected. Even when these measures are followed, bacteria can still form (see the great Goose Island Bourbon County infection and recall of 2016). I tasted an infected Goose Island Bourbon County Coffee Stout, which I reference in my first ever blog post! Normal flavors of coffee, chocolate, vanilla, and booze, gave way to an almost raspberry chocolate cake because of the bacteria. I liked it because I knew what I was in for, but I think a lot of people who paid a lot of money for that beer must’ve been pretty upset.
Goose Island’s PR must be pretty fantastic (they got that AB-InBev money), they offered refunds and said they were learning from the new lactobacillus acetotolerans strain they discovered was causing the sour flavors.
One of the first sour beers I ever tasted was a Lambic, which is a spontaneously fermented sour (meaning they expose the beer to wild yeasts and bacteria found in the place it’s being brewed, mostly in Belgium). The most famous, and sought after, brewery of these types of beer is Brasserie Cantillon, in Brussels. I haven’t had a chance to try any Cantillon (my closest bet is to find it when it pops up at Tørst in Brooklyn), but it’s highly praised. The first Lambics I tried were Lindemans Framboise (with raspberries added), and Brouwerij Boon Mariage Parfait Kriek (aged with cherries). Another type of Lambic is Gueuze, a blend of new and aged Lambics. These beers are sweet, tart, dry, and have a low ABV, so they’re great for summer (but drink them whenever you want because you’re an adult).
Let’s hop from Belgium over to Germany, yah? Ict bin ein Berliner Weisse. This is a German Wheat beer (what did I say? This blog is so Witty! Tell your friends!), low ABV, super tart and refreshing. Here are a couple of my favorites:
Evil Twin Justin Blåbær, a Berliner Weisse brewed with blueberries. Owner/brewer Jeppe Jarnit-Bergsö used to be a hair model, so they made a Teen Beat-esque label. Baby, baby, baby, ohhhh… This is one of Holly Kay’s favorite beers!
Westbrook Brewing Co Lemon Coconut Weisse Weisse Baby. The tartness from the lemon is balanced by the smooth, creamy flavor of the coconut. Oh, so tropical. I shared this with Ryan Keogh, manager at Benedict Beer Blog favorite Il Bambino. It reminded me of my honeymoon, and all the tropical fruit-infused Rum people were selling outside their homes on the walk from our hotel into town. Yeah, we tried it and survived, and it was gooood. I think this is a great, lower ABV option if you want to imagine being surrounded by the clearest ocean you’ve ever seen. Loved this beer!
Another German sour style is called Gose (pronounced “Gose-uhhhh”… Or, as Hermione Granger would say, “Win-GAR-Di-um Le-vi-GOSE-uhhhh”… Also, why has nobody named a beer Wingardium LeviGose?). These sours are brewed with salt and coriander (!!) which makes these beers both tart, savory and with a bit of spice. May look weird on paper, but trust a recipe that’s been brewed consistently since the 16th century in Germany… It’s a relatively new style brewed in the US, but breweries like Westbrook and Lost Nation have some classic examples of the style.
Sour, Salty, Delicious.
Evil Twin and Two Roads Geyser Gose, inspired by a trip the Brewers took to Iceland, and brewed with Icelandic moss, rye, herbs, Skyr (an Icelandic yogurt) and birch-smoked sea salt. Sounds weird? Sure. Tastes amazing? Absolutely.
Evil Twin makes another Gose, called Mission Gose, that features the addition of Eucalyptus, which upped the refreshment factor by adding an herbal, almost minty quality to the tart citrus. Amazing.
Modern Times Fruitlands Gose with Apricot. The base beer is already sour, salty, and funky, and the addition of apricot rounds out the sweet, fruity flavor and is absolutely devine. Get this beer if you find it.
Two other styles of Belgian sours are Flanders Red and Oud Bruin. Flanders Red are usually blended with both fresh and mature beer to adjust the flavor. If you’re interested, try to find Rodenbach, it’s a classic interpretation of the the style. Oud Bruin is a sour brown ale. Try Goose Island’s Madame Rose, or Mikkeler Juice Bag. I’ve loved both of those!
Most sours brewed in the US get lumped into another category called American Wild Ales. The bacteria in these beers are either cultured or spontaneously fermented. Here are a few of my facorites:
Grimm Rainbow Dome. Grimm has made some amazing hoppy beers, and what they’ve done here is dry hop a sour ale with El Dorado, Columbus, and Cascade hops. This leaves an unfiltered, gorgeous glass of basically orange juice. So tropical, fruity, and absolutely crushable.
Stillwater and Other Half Rockstar Farmer. OK, technically, this is a Farmhouse Session IPA, but it is fermented with Brettanomyces, so I’m counting it. What I love about this beer is that in addition to the citrus tartness, you get some dankness from the hops, and funk, hay, and earthiness from the Brett. Soooooooo damnnnnnnn goooooooood. Shared this bad boy with Holly Kay over some salame and gorgonzola Crostinis with honey.
Finback Starchild, a sour ale brewed with grapefruit peel, which adds a nice citrusy bitterness to the acidity of the beer. Another amazing brew from these folks in Queens (Ridgewood, Queens, represent, represent-sent)!
Pucker up, folks, and go out and try some sour beer!! Hope you all enjoyed this walk through of this style, and I’m hoping you’ll all find something you love!