sour beerSour beer, once shunned from the craft beer scene, is making a warm weather resurgence. The acidity of this type of beer makes it crisp and tantalizing on the palate, leaving the drinker quenched and refreshed.

Many are unaware that sour beer is the oldest style of beer, but at one point, all beers had a certain degree of sourness to them. Before pasteurization and sterilization were fully understood and widely used by beer brewers, beer was sour due to wild yeasts and bacteria contaminating the beer. Today’s sour beers are made by intentionally introducing specific wild yeasts and bacteria into the beer. The most famous sours come from Belgium, where they age beer in oak barrels that let the beer breathe and allow microorganisms to build communities.

A sour beer gets its tart taste from the presence of organic acids. Lactic acid, which gives yogurt it’s tartness, and acetic acid, the source of the sour taste and smell in vinegar, are the two most prominent acids found in sour beers. The organic acids found into today’s sours usually come from two types of bacteria, lactobacillus, which turns sugars into lactic acids, or pediococcus. Pediococccus is in the same family as lactobacillus, but behaves differently. This acidity from this bacterium will increase the longer it ferments in the beer, and can overtime create diacetyl, a compound that produces a buttery taste.

Another common agent used in sour beers is Brettanomyces, a wild yeast that is often considered a contaminant and dubbed a “beer ruiner” by many brewers. However, when used correctly, Brettanomyces can add a delectable layer of earthiness that balances the sour taste.

Sour brews are often challenging to make. It can be difficult to reproduce the same sour beer over again due to wildness and unpredictable nature of the bacteria and yeasts used to flavor sours. They often will not want to ferment the same way repeatedly, making it difficult for brewers to create a stable and maintainable recipe. Sour beers also pose a threat to other batches of beer within the same brewery. The rowdy little microbes in sour beers are hard to get rid of once they have been cultivated and can spread through a brewery like wildfire on the back of breeze or on an improperly cleaned piece of equipment.

Sour beers are often categorized as mixed-fermentation style beer, but these funky-fresh brews are hard to define. Sours come in many styles, from light, fun and funky to utterly mouth-puckering and explore a wide variety of shades from blonde to amber to dark. Many sour beers stem from Belgian brew styles, but brewers of sour beer have explored a variety of styles. Popular sour beer styles include Lambic, Flanders red ale, American wild ales, gose and Berliner Weisee, however any beer can be soured.

Whether you’re enjoying a sunny, sandy day at the beach, chilling in your backyard on a stuffy, summer evening or trying to cool down at the closest bar with air-conditioning, give a sour beer a try to cut through the summer heat.


Recent Posts