Sour Beer: It’s Lip Puckering Good

For those who haven’t tried a sour beer, it’s quite the experience. Your first sip will be a shock to your palate, and for some it may taste like a bad batch of beer. Give it time and a few more sips to help acclimate your palate and you’ll be hooked. If you’re someone who likes dry, European ciders or funky, farmhouse ales or barnyard, earthy wines I’d make a solid bet that sour beers are going to be right in your wheelhouse! And if not, I bet we can still find a perfect sour for you to enjoy…

As craft brewers experiment with different beer styles (get the low down on specific sour beer styles here!), we’re seeing more of this style in local liquor stores and taprooms. Let’s jump in with a little bit of background about this unique beer style and the different flavor profiles. Hopefully, if you haven’t tried one already, we can convince you to try one for yourself!

First things first. Where does sour beer gets its distinct taste? Before the chemistry lesson that’s about to go down, it’s important to remember that it is a beer. This means the process of making it is similar to its less-sour counterpart. Also, making sour beer requires having a “base beer.”  That means you can have a sour ale or a sour porter or pretty much any other style of sour you can imagine!

What makes Sour Beer Sour?

So, what makes sour beer sour, you ask? These beers become sour when brewers add specific wild yeast and bacteria to create a tangy concoction: Lactobacillus, Pediococcus, and Brettanomyces yeasts. Brettanomyces, or “Brett,” is a wild yeast that is found growing on the skins of fruit. Lactobacillus and Pediococcus are responsible for making the sour taste. Try saying that five times. Even though there are brewers making sour beer all over the world, these wild three ingredients are traditional in making sour beer and all have remained the staple in sour beer production.

Brewers add the bacteria into the beer, and the bacteria eats the remaining sugars left over after fermentation. Some brewers will use oak barrels, often after being used to make red wine or bourbon, while others use a method with large, open tanks of beer where yeast is added and does its magic. The bacteria used to make sour beers are so potent and active that most brewers keep regular beers far away during fermentation to prevent contaminating their non-sour beers. #SourSegregation

The fermentation process varies. For the DIYers, your at-home beer kit will allow you to make sour beer in a matter of days (and if you’re worried about contamination given what we just told you here’s a good article on how to avoid that), but for larger scale breweries they often allow the fermentation process to go on for months. It is during this time the beer becomes increasingly acidic and the typical unique flavor of sour beer. Craft producers play with the flavors by varying the fermentation time, adding fruit and spices, barrel aging, and the amount of bacteria and wild yeast.

Ok enough science. Let’s talk about how it tastes….

There is more variety with sour beers than you think. Some producers add fruit during the fermentation process making for a sweeter, fruiter profile, while others are mouth-puckering.

What Does Sour Beer Taste Like?

There is more variety with this style than you may think. Some producers add fruit during the fermentation process making for a sweeter, fruiter profile, while others are mouth-puckering. They vary in alcohol and color but common to all sour beer is its somewhat funky flavor. Flavor profiles fall on a spectrum, and knowing the different varieties will help you understand their style. There are a lot of varieties, which we go detail in this article on styles as well as this companion video. But while you’re here…a few to get you started based on the drink you currently enjoy:

For red wine drinkers

I recommend a Flanders Red, a medium-body sour beer that’s aged in red-wine barrels that creates a combination of acid and fruit. Known for its wine-like taste, color, and even has been referred to as the Burgundy of Belgium.

For funky, Spanish-style cider drinkers:

If you like a cloudy, highly tart cider, a fruity lambic may be your jam. Lambics deliver a mouth-puckering kick of cherry or raspberry and are thirst quenching, particularly on a warm day.

For IPA drinkers:

If you like IPAs or APAs, go to your local taproom or liquor store and look for a hopped American sour beer. Craft brewers in the U.S. use non-traditional ingredients and newer fermentation techniques to offer innovative flavor profiles and there are quite a few adding dry hops. This makes for an oddly fun combination of sour and hoppy.

Have you tried sour beer? If so, tell us what you think…love it? Hate it? We love a good boozy debate!

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