Sour beers for summer refreshment
I have a confession to make. I’m a sucker for sour beer.
I’m not talking about beer gone bad, but rather an old style of beer that’s purposefully brewed to taste sour.
Sours are a curious breed of beer, because they have the body of a good IPA or Stout, but without the characteristic hoppy or malty profile. Despite the name, they’re typically not as mouth-puckering as one might think. Many have a bold fruit profile, slight chalky acidity, and big body. They have the fresh thirst-quenching sweetness of a cider, but with the round complexity of a good wine. Like many styles of beer, the category is vast and varied; I’ve tasted some that taste like dried fruit and marzipan like vermouth, and others that burst with brightness like a Belgian Saison.
So what exactly makes a sour sour? The answer is simple: any beer can be a sour if it’s made with an acidifying bacterium (lactobacillus and pediococcus are the two main ones) and wild yeast (brettanomyces is the most common).
To get the brewer’s perspective on the style, I spoke to Jeffrey Stuffings at Jester King Brewing. The brewery has released a handful of sour beers and hosted a sour beer festival last fall. Stuffings admitted that once he discovered the style, it “quickly turned into sort of an obsession. It’s almost addictive, once you get into these beers. It gets into your DNA.”
At the brewery, they use a blend of old and new practices to create their sour beers. The beer begins fermentation in a stainless steel tank with cultured brewer’s yeast, and after the primary fermentation the beer is inoculated with wild yeast and souring bacteria and sent to oak barrels for long term aging.
Stuffings explained that because of all of the different factors involved in creating a sour beer (temperature, age, the way the barrels are topped off, the type of oak that is used, the way the barrels are prepped), you can typically guide the outcome, but you can’t master it. “When you age beer in the barrels, every one comes out a little different. Some are intensely sour, some fruity, some spicy and all shapes in between.”
If you’re looking for an introduction to sours, pop into Star Bar for their take on the traditional Berliner Weisse ritual. They take Petrus Pale Ale (don’t be fooled, this is not an American hoppy pale ale, but rather a delightful perky sour) paired with your choice of raspberry or peach syrup. The pairing is a good way to ease into the style, Manager Nathan Nyberg says, because the consumer can adjust the sweetness of the beer to their liking. “From a bar’s perspective we love it because it’s interactive. People love to offer tastes of their mixture all the time. It’s definitely a conversation starter at the bar.”
For more options, Black Star Co-Op recently posted this some recommendations that are worth checking out, and The Oxdford Companion to Beer recommends looking for beers that are labeled Oud Bruin, Berliner Weisse, Gueuze, and Flanders Red. Jester King recently released a raspberry sour, and if you’re lucky you might be able to track down a bottle of RU-55, their Barrel-Aged Sour Red (most recent reports said Red’s Porch had a bottle or two, but as always I’d call before making the trek to the bar).