Sour beers are a newly trekked territory for more and more beer enthusiasts these days. When asked about them, most beer geeks will tell you that they have recently discovered sour beers and they find it a refreshing departure from all of the hopped up and roasted beers that have drenched the market.
Like craft beer in general, sours aren’t easily accepted by most of the general public and are seen as an acquired taste. To be fair, a decent amount of craft beer drinkers glom on to sours once their exposed to them, but even for some of the most seasoned drinkers, it takes a few steps into the new taste profile to become a little more comfortable with the style. For some, that comfort level is never reached and those drinkers relish the idea of having to choke down the bottled oddity. To each their own.
Sour beer is essentially infected beer. Fermented with naturally occurring wild yeasts or cultured bacteria, these beers have a tart, acidic taste like that of a sour candy with a drier mouthfeel. The first taste of a sour beer hits you like a drop kick to the salivary glands. It’s the type of tartness that catches you in the back of the jaw right below your ear. It takes you by surprise and leaves you asking what the hell it actually was that you just tasted.
As much of a shock as it is, it’s also intriguing. Most people that try a sour for the first time will be surprised that it is actually beer. I think it could safely be said that the majority of the people have had a first glance of the sour category with the wildly fermented lambics. These beers are generally fruitier and range in tartness and some can be quite wine-like. The sours really pack a punch after refermentation where the lambic is wildly fermented and aged in oak barrels and turned into what is called a Gueuze (pronounced Gooze) or Kriek Lambics. These also range in tartness, which if you’re a fan of the Warheads sour candy, some Gueuzes can be right up your alley.
One of the more fascinating things about sour beers is their ability to age. Some sours can be left alone for 30-40 years. The live yeast cultures in the beer continue to develop in the bottle over time, changing the taste, acidity, and tartness of the beer. A lot of the times, breweries will take different aged sour beers ranging from several different years and blend them together before bottling.
The weekly tasting group of Garage Beer Monday (GBM) decided to go the all-sour route and try some different sours from new offerings to older. Some of the beers were plucked off the shelf as others are seeing light after a couple of years to see how they have developed.
Cascade Brewing’s Apricot ale is a prime example of a sour beer done right. Dry finish, tart up front. This particular bottle was from 2012, and the general consensus was that the tartness was upped as the fruit dried out a bit. After tasting it one even exclaimed, “This could become nuclear after letting it sit a while longer.” Which in the world of sours, this is a good thing.
Crooked Stave’s Wild Wild Brett Blue was a very interesting beer. This is a hoppy dark ale brewed with spruce tips and fermented with a wild yeast called Brettanomyces, which has been known to create some interesting funk characteristics and a decent sour tartness level. This beer had a big funk, but a load of hops. The spruce tips and hops give a big “green” addition to what would otherwise be a straight up sour beer, which makes this one interesting brew. The jury is still out on this one.
Askew, a sour ale released by Two Brothers back in early 2011, brings out a midrange sour beer. Fuller body, tart but not overly sour. There is an overlying cherry flavor that has risen to the top over time, due more to the action of the yeast and wood aging than anything as cherry wasn’t a part of the original recipe. This is a great illustration of how time can augment flavors in beer.
Gillian, newest addition to the Goose Island sisters, provided a dry farmhouse brew with a bit of strawberry that became more prevalent as it warmed and opened up, and a hint of peppercorn on the nose. Not so much an overly sour beer but more of a wild ale, this beer would be easily enjoyed in the summer after a long, hot day.
Drie Fonteinen is a staple amongst gueuzes. More readily found on shelves in smaller format (375ml), this is usually a well-balanced gueuze. Gives a decent level of tartness but without the overall punch to the glands. This sour reacts differently to aging even by several months. The particular bottle opened was from April of 2010 and was a 750ml format. The beer was blended well with citric tartness, even acidity, and light fruits.
Timmermans Oude Gueuze was first opened within this group back in 2011 when it was released. At that time, this beer was so tart and acidic that it could probably have stripped the varnish off of a boat. Given 2 years to sit in the bottle and develop, the tartness has toned down a bit, but still remains pretty acidic. It might not melt the shell off a snail, but it’s still got it.
One member of the GBM group is a recent fan of sour beers, but even he expressed a sentiment that having several of them together can be a bit much. Spacing them out to revisit the intense sour pucker that you initially look for is far more rewarding than stacking your bottle list with them. Then again, others would rather ONLY drink sours and can’t get enough of them. Of course there are also those who just flat out don’t like them. To which we say, more for us!