If you are an avid beer drinker, you will eventually come across a sour beer. As the name implies, this style of beer has a sour “pucker” to it that stands out from more conventional beer flavors. If you are looking for a summer beer that isn’t too fruity, a sour beer might be just the thing. The team at Cheers All offers you a beginner’s guide to the world of sour beers.
What Is a Sour Beer?
Sour beer is somewhat hard to define; however, the hallmarks of a sour beer are the acidity and tartness. These beers come in every color and style and are made throughout the world (although Belgium is often identified with sour beers). Making it even more difficult to identify a sour beer is the fact that not all sour beers are labeled as such. Nevertheless, from Flemish reds to Berliner Weisse and American wild ales, they all have the sour beer pucker!
How Is Sour Beer Made?
Another thing that makes it difficult to define sour beers is that several methods are used to brew these beers. One common factor, however, is the introduction of an acid-producing organism responsible for producing the sour flavor during fermentation.
Saccharomyces is the standard brewer's yeast species used to make beer. In sour beers, that may be introduced to the wort along with a wild yeast species called Brettanomyces (often abbreviated "Brett"), or Brett may be the lone yeast. Sometimes brewers introduce acid-producing bacteria like Lactobacillus and Pediococcus, which produce lactic acid (as in yogurt). There are also times when acetic acid is used or fruit is added during the second fermentation to impart a sour taste.
Most often, the wild yeast and/or bacteria methods are used. There are various ways to do this:
- Mixed fermentation uses a combination of Saccharomyces and Brett along with bacteria.
- Wild fermentation may use Brett alone or pair it with Saccharomyces and is fermented for longer than normal beer.
- Spontaneous fermentation can take years and relies on the natural organisms present in the environment or a beer's ingredients.
Wild yeast, however, can be hard to control. For this reason, many breweries steer clear of sour beers and those who produce sour beers tend to specialize in them. It is also why many American sour craft brews choose the term "wild ale" for their sour beer.
How to Identify a Sour Beer
So how do you know if a beer is a sour beer? For American made beers you can look for the words “sour,” “wild ale,” or “Brett beer” on the label. For beers brewed outside the U.S. you can look for the following:
- Berliner Weisse: This German wheat beer is known as a low ABV (typically 3 percent) beer that's pale, cloudy, highly carbonated, and refreshingly tart.
- Flanders: Also called Flemish Ale, this Belgian beer is fruity and sour with a signature red color. It's a blend of young and old beers fermented in open oak vats that add to its complex taste.
- Gose: A cloudy, top-fermented German beer, this style is known for its salty, herbaceous tones, often with hints of coriander, along with a snap of lemon. It's both sharp and thirst-quenching and must be made from at least 50 percent malted wheat.
- Lambic: The Belgian ale is typically spontaneously fermented and includes a high concentration of wheat for a crisp tartness. The color can vary, from pale to dark gold, depending on the age (often a blend of young and old beer). It's also common to find fruit lambics. Cassis, cherry (kriek), and raspberry (framboise) are popular, though a variety of fruits (e.g., blackberry, peach, strawberry) are used as well.
- Oud Bruin: Another beer traditionally from the Belgian province of Flanders, this is darker than its sour counterpart, almost a dark copper or brown. With its vinegar-like acidity, it concentrates on a fruity tartness with rich malt and typically has no distinguishable hoppiness.
If you are a craft beer drinker, visit the Cheers All website to purchase glassware and other merchandise geared toward cider lovers.