Go sour or go home

So I think I want to be a brewmaster/award-winning winemaker/master distiller when I grow up. Please don’t rain on my parade. This fantasy (ridiculous or genius) is getting me through the professional transition I am trying to execute.

Lacking sufficient space, appropriate ingredients, tools of the trade, or income that I want to dispose of in that way, my interest in the liquid-fermenting arts has only one outlet right now: becoming annoyingly knowledgeable about wine and beer minutia. While I am not alone –sold out craft-brew festivals nationwide and an expanding brew-your-own magazine market attest to the interest of many in these ages-old skills– it only takes one trip to a homebrew supply store to understand that there is a bit of the ‘comic book nerd’ to this genre of modern homesteading.

I’m not embarrassed that I own the entire original run of The Tick (more than half of them first printing!). And I’m not afraid of inked, barrel-chested, mustachioed hipsters having arguments about hops aromas in front of the cold case. Better to learn from them than bore my friends to tears.

I will bore you instead.

Why should you drink sour beer?

Sour beer doesn’t sound good. Maybe it’s the similar syllable thing, but it sounds like sour milk. Sour milk has its applications but basically isn’t good. Or maybe it sounds like sour cream, which is more familiar and tends to be more welcome, but is still pretty divisive; some people just hate it. And if you’re not really a big beer drinker anyway, why would you deliberately choose something that sounds like it would taste worse/weirder than regular beer?

Because it’s good. It’s good the way tart apples are good. It’s refreshing  the way lemonade is refreshing. It’s perky.

Sour beer is a style (typically) of ale. Belgium makes two: Lambic (and its derivatives) and Flanders Red Ale. Germany also makes two Berliner weisse and Gose. These tend to be low alcohol beers (usu less than 6%), making them great ‘session’ drinks. The two German styles are, at their heart, wheat beers. The Belgians use more barley. Malted grains seem to increase: Berliner weisse < Lambic < Gose < Flanders Red.

What makes them sour is natural fermentation with non-Saccharomyces yeasties or other non-yeast beasties such as: Lactobacillus, Pediococcus, Brettanomyces and Acetobacter. Most of these folks produce one or another of some common acids we all encounter (and some of us even like) lactic, malic, acetic. These are the chemicals that make you pucker, salivate and grab for more sour patch kids, lemon heads, and tart apples.

In spite of that enticement sour beers aren’t that sour. They’re just bright. Like the first sip of Hefewiezen right after you squeezed the lemon in it; or chewing on your lime a bit before you drink your Corona (okay MUCH better than a Corona). To me sour beers bring that cutting freshness you are looking for when you reach for a cold beer on a hot day. If you already like lemon in your wheat bear, lime in your corona, vinegar on your fries, any Belgian beer (except perhaps, Leffe), or wine you should try a sour beer, preferably during a cook-out on a hot summer day.

Where do you get sour beer?

Look for Berliner weisse, Lambic (get the not fruit stuff), Gose or Flanders Red at your local purveyor. Check out the following great articles/blogs for some brand recs. If you’re in the Boston area, I recall The Publick House in Washington Square having a good menu of Belgian beers. There was a sour on the menu at Craigie last fall. And I think my tongue first got tempted toward sour by Cape Ann Brewing‘s Lemongrass  Saison which I found on tap at Local 149 last year. You might also give Meadhall and Lord Hobo a visit. I don’t know their sour status but they have lots of beers, great sampling policies at at Lord Hobo the food is also good.

How do you drink sour beer?

I think sour beer is great unadorned, chilled, in a frosty glass, but there are some traditions. Lambics are often brewed or served with fruit or fruit syrups (producing Kriek, Framboise, etc.). Berliner weisse was once served with Woodruff syrup! Alternatively, Berliner weisse is sometimes served with a shot of aquavit or sherry in it. The latter is particularly intriguing to me. That’s my next bit of research.

Drink responsibly.


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