- Here’s what you need to know about sour beer
- Everything You Need to Know About Sour Beer
- What is Sour Beer?
- History of Sour Beer
- When Was the First Sour Beer Made?
- Who Invented Sour Beer?
- What Makes Sour Beer Sour?
- Is Sour Beer the Same as Beer?
- How to Make Sour Beer
- What Yeast is Used to Make Sour Beer?
- What is the Average Alcohol Content of Sour Beer?
- Different Types of Sour Beer
- Must-Try Sour Beers
- How to Store Sour Beer
- How to Serve Sour Beer
- Suggested Glassware for Serving Sour Beer
- Food Pairings for Sour Beer
Here’s what you need to know about sour beer
Sour beer — defined as a beer that has an intentionally acidic, tart or sour taste — has grown in popularity among microbreweries along the Central Coast. The surge and how the beer is produced has taken people by surprise.
“Sour beer and it’s how’s and why’s may never be completely understood,” head brewer and founder of MadeWest Brewery in Ventura Mike Morrison said.
With 518 microbreweries that opened in California in the past year, craft brewers are always looking for new ways to stand out, allowing sour beer to
Graphic by Rachel Mesaros
In the early 1900s — before the process of refrigeration and development of fermentation — all beers could be considered sour because they were brewed in an open container, which allowed yeast in the air to ferment the beer, giving it a sour taste. It wasn’t until 1996 that the process of using wild yeast in an open wooden-aged barrel was discovered as the fermentation method behind creating sour beer.
According to the New Yorker, William Reed — a former brewer at the Boston Beer Company — accidentally brewed one of the first commonly known sour beers in 1996.
Described as tasting a liquid Sour Patch Kid, Reed called the sour The Brewhouse Tart. It was a Flanders red ale, meaning it was fermented with a mixture of conventional and wild yeasts.
Two local breweries — Libertine and Barrelhouse — are at the forefront of increasing sour beer options in San Luis Obispo.
Bringing sour beers to San Luis Obispo
Libertine started in Morro Bay, California and specializes in creating a variety of sour beers, or as they to call them, Wild Ales. Libertine’s brewing process is done at both the Morro Bay and downtown San Luis Obispo locations.
“Most of the process is the same as a clean beer brewery: grain is ground in the mill, the ground grain meets with the hot water and then gets boiled and hops are added to it,” Libertine head brewer Dan Miller said. “The thing that separates us [Libertine] from clean beer breweries is that we cool it down quickly and then put it in an open top fermentation vessel for about two to three days.”
The open top fermentation vessel is visible to any customer who walks into the downtown San Luis Obispo Libertine, which offers customers insight to the process behind the beer they are about to order. However, this is only half of the process in creating a Libertine sour.
“Generally the beer will sit in the open top fermentation for about three days until most of the sugar has been converted into alcohol … Then we transfer it to our production facility in Santa Maria where most of our oak aging happens and the flavor is added,” Miller said.
A rising trend
When creating a fruity wild ale, Libertine adds whole pieces of fruit into the barrel and lets the yeast eat it to create the discrete flavor. This is common for most breweries that create sour beers. Uncommon to other local breweries in the area, Libertine uses Morro Bay salt water to create one of its most iconic sour beers.
“I recently turned 21 and tried my first sour beer the other day.
It was the Morro Rock Gose from Libertine, which I later found out is brewed with seawater from Morro Bay and avocado honey,” sociology junior Lauren Ashworth said.
“Sour beer is becoming one of my favorite types of beers, but I also have yet to try a variety of different beers since I’m used to drinking whatever is cheapest.”
Graphic by Rachel Mesaros
While students may be attracted to sour beer’s unique taste, they tend to be discouraged by the price. Sour beers are usually more expensive than other types of beer, such as IPAs or Porters.
“There is a price difference when it comes to sour beers, you won’t see sour beers hitting market price at, , seven bucks for a bottle,” BarrelHouse Brewery manager John Pranjic said.
“They require a lot more time, both either in a barrel or in a coolship or however you are storing them.
The price structure comes out more a bottle of wine; the longer you have it in the barrel, the better ingredients you use, how long you store it, that all affects the price.”
Despite the higher price of its sour beers, BarrelHouse increased their sour beer production by at least 1,000 percent since last year.
Pranjic explained that the demand for sour beer has increased, from customers asking for it more and from brewers at BarrelHouse wanting a challenge.
The goal for BarrelHouse Brewery is to keep up with the sour beer trend by introducing a third sour beer in the next year.
“It’s very artful how a sour brewer gets the final product, it requires a lot of work, but it’s worth it,” Pranjic said.
Everything You Need to Know About Sour Beer
WebstaurantStore /Food Service Resources /Blog
If you own a restaurant, brewery, or pub, chances are you've heard of sour beer or even make it yourself. This unique brew is popular among seasoned beer drinkers and novices a, and its tart flavor and aroma has even brought non-beer drinkers into the fray.
Sour beers are notoriously difficult to make and require a long aging period, which discourages some brewers from attempting such an undertaking. However, those who do (and those who purchase sours to sell) reap the rewards of offering these daring and delicious beers.
Keep reading to learn more about the history of sour beer, how to make and serve it, and the differences between various kinds of sours.
What is Sour Beer?
Sour beer is a variety of beer that has a distinctively sour taste. It acquires this sour flavor as a result of a unique brewing process that uses wild bacteria and yeast. In contrast, other types of beer use controlled strains of yeast to produce more familiar flavors.
History of Sour Beer
Sour beers have a very long history and are considered the forefathers of many modern beers. Here are a few of the most important things to know about them.
When Was the First Sour Beer Made?
The advent of brewing and drinking beer can be traced to around 4,000 B.C., when all beers were essentially sour beers. At this point, there were many naturally occurring bacteria present in beer, such as lactobacillus (also known as “sour milk bacteria”).
These living organisms (often called “bugs”) resided in the beer throughout the fermentation process, and their presence produced a sour or funky flavor. As refrigeration and pasteurization technologies evolved and became more prevalent in the mid-nineteenth century, sour beers virtually disappeared as lagers and ales came into prominence.
Since the 1970s, however, sours have become increasingly popular among beer drinkers around the world.
Who Invented Sour Beer?
The first sour beers were brewed in Belgium in the early eighteenth century, and there are still breweries in Flanders (northern Belgium) that have been operating for hundreds of years. Many Belgian and German immigrants brought sour beer to the United States after the Civil War, but this style remained difficult to find in America until the 1970s.
What Makes Sour Beer Sour?
Sour beer is sour due to the intentional incorporation of living bacteria lactobacillus (lacto) and pediococcus (pedio). Lacto converts sugar into lactic acid for lower (more acidic) pH levels and can be found in yogurt and other dairy products.
This bacteria is also responsible for giving sour beer its signature tart, crisp flavors. Pedio, on the other hand, contributes unique aromas and flavors lacto might not produce, therefore giving “wild” yeasts brettanomyces (brett) more to react with.
Pedio also produces lactic acid and creates diacetyl compounds for a more intense taste.
All of these bacteria eat sugar traditional brewer's yeast, but their production of lactic and acetic acids cannot be replicated by regular yeast. Some brewers also add fruit during the aging process to add flavor, spur secondary fermentation, or to contribute microbes naturally present on the fruit's skin.
Is Sour Beer the Same as Beer?
While sours are called “beer,” they are actually quite different than other types of beer. Sour beers typically do not use traditional brewer's yeasts ( saccharomyces cerevisiae), and most are not brewed in a sterile environment.
In fact, many Belgian brewers still encourage wild yeast strains and bacteria to infiltrate their sour brews by cooling their wort (unfermented beer) outdoors. Additionally, while most beers are aged in metal fermentation tanks, sours are usually aged in wooden vessels, which allows communities of organisms to live in the beer.
Interestingly, it took almost 10 years for the first sour beer drinkers to realize the sour taste was intentional and not a brewer error.
How to Make Sour Beer
It is important to determine the specific type of sour beer you will be making before beginning the brewing process. Keep in mind that these basic steps for brewing sour beers may change based upon the specific type of beer you'll be brewing. However, many of the following steps are similar across different sour beer styles.
Mash your grain. Allow it to rest, then sparge until your kettle is full. Sparging is the process of rinsing the grain bed to extract as much sugar as possible without removing tannins from grain husks.
Add a small amount of aged hops to the boil. Adding too much will inhibit the growth of bacteria.
Allow your wort to cool. At this point, pitch the wort into your secondary fermentation vessel and prime it with yeast and the bacteria of your choice.
You can either add the bacteria directly, or wait until after it has been primarily fermented with regular brewers yeast. If you prefer, you can choose to add your bugs for a few weeks and incorporate them before beginning secondary fermentation.
Some brewers use a coolship to cool the wort, which allows it to pick up wild yeast and bacteria during the cooling process.
Look for certain characteristics as the beer begins to ferment. A head of foamy krausen (yeast and wort proteins) will form on top of the beer and bubble for several weeks. As the wort settles, you may also see a film (called pellicle) on top of the beer that protects the bacteria from exposure to air or harmful substances.
Ferment your beer. This process usually takes 3-18 months, or until the desired level of sourness and lactic acid concentration is reached. At this point, you are ready to bottle your sour beer.
What Yeast is Used to Make Sour Beer?
In most cases, sour beers are not made with traditional brewer's yeasts saccharomyces cerevisiae. Instead, wild yeasts brettanomyces are used because they provide the sour notes and unique flavors pure yeast cannot.
Brett slowly ferments beer and is responsible for what brewers refer to as “funk.
” While lagers and ales (“clean” beers) are fermented with a pure culture of brewer's yeast, the phenols in brett create the signature taste and aromatic “funk” present in sour beers.
What is the Average Alcohol Content of Sour Beer?
On average, most sour beers are somewhere between 3-5% alcohol by volume (ABV), although some may be as low as 2% or as high as 8-9%. The alcohol content largely depends upon the style of sour and the conditions under which it was brewed.
Different Types of Sour Beer
There are a wide variety of sour beers available today, many of which have their origins in Belgium and Germany. However, there is also an increasing amount of American-made sours produced each year by craft breweries. The main types of sour beers are described below:
- American wild ales: This is a catch-all category for sour beers originating in America. There are no specific brewing rules concerning American wild ales.
- Berliner weisse: Originating in Berlin, these sours are typically flavored with fruit syrups to balance their tart flavor.
- East Flanders brown ale/Oud bruin: These sours come from the Flemish region of Belgium and are not aged in wood. As a result, brewers use cultured yeasts to impart sour flavors.
- Gose: Goses are from Goslar, Germany, and usually incorporate coriander and salt during the brewing process. These beers are made sour from brewers inoculating the wort with lactic acid before primary fermentation.
- Gueuze: This sour is a specific type of lambic made by blending young and old batches of lambics and then bottling them for secondary fermentation. Gueuzes frequently incorporate cherries or other sweet fruits during secondary fermentation to temper their tartness.
- Lambic: Lambics originated in the Pajottenland region of Belgium (including Brussels) and are usually spontaneously fermented in open air. Lambics are frequently blended with other batches or secondarily fermented with fruit.
- West Flanders sour red ale: Originating in the Flemish region of Belgium, these brews are descendants of English porters. West Flanders sours are typically fermented with traditional brewer's yeast, then placed in oak barrels to mature and age alongside bacteria.
Must-Try Sour Beers
While there are many delicious sour beers, here are a handful of our favorites:
- Russian River Brewing Company (Santa Rosa, California) Supplication, an American wild ale
- Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales (Milton, Delaware) Festina Pêche, a neo-Berliner weisse
- Deschutes Brewery (Bend, Oregon) The Dissident, an East Flanders Oud bruin
- Victory Brewing Company (Downingtown, Pennsylvania) Kirsch Gose, a gose
- Lindemans Brewery (Vlezenbeek, Belgium) Oude Gueuze Cuveé René, a gueuze
- Cantillon Brewery (Brussels, Belgium) Fou' Foune, a lambic
- Green Flash Brewing Company (San Diego, California) Cellar 3 Flanders Drive, a West Flanders sour red ale
How to Store Sour Beer
Sour beer should be stored between 45-55 degrees Fahrenheit. If you cap your sour beers, you should store them upright. If they are corked, however, it is recommended that you store them on their sides. This keeps the corks moist and prevents air from getting into the bottle.
How to Serve Sour Beer
Serving temperatures for sour beers vary depending on the specific varieties. Berliner weisse should be served between 40-45 degrees, while others (including sour ales, lambics, and gueuzes) taste best between 50-55 degrees.
Suggested Glassware for Serving Sour Beer
Sour beer can be served in a variety of different glasses, but your best bet is the tulip.
This glass allows you to generate a complex aroma from the head of the beer and also allows the brew to breathe, which is especially important when enjoying a sour.
Depending upon your (or your customer's) preference, however, you can also serve sours from snifters, tumblers, and oversized wine glasses. If you're serving these as a part of a tasting flight, make sure they come after any heavy or dark beers.
Food Pairings for Sour Beer
Sour beer goes well with a variety of different foods, but its uniquely tart flavor and aroma specifically compliment the following dishes:
- Spicy foods chili or fajitas
- Fatty cuts of beef
- Sausage and other salty, cured meats
- Deep-fried foods french fries or onion rings
- Assertive cheeses sharp cheddar, blue, and goat
- Mussels, clams, and oysters, especially when served with lemon juice and drawn butter
- Omelets and other egg dishes
From lambics to goses and everything in between, sour beers are one of the most unique and refreshing options available in the world of beer.
Their low alcohol content is also an attractive feature to establishments looking to sell a lot of beer and customers in search of an easy-to-drink beer that goes down easy.
By teaming up exotic yeast with beneficial bacteria, sour beers produce a taste explosion that will leave patrons puckering up and coming back for more.