As the name suggests, sour beers have a tangy element. But there is much more to these beers than their pucker-inducing flavor. It is actually a very broad category of beers, encompassing a variety of ingredients and brewing methods. Let’s take a look at some of the more popular styles of sour beers and how they are made.
What Makes a Beer a Sour?
Again, the term “sour beer” encompasses a variety of beer styles characterized by their intentionally acidic, tart, or sour flavors. These beers can span a wide range of taste profiles, from mildly tangy to intensely sour. The sourness in these brews is typically achieved through a process called “wild fermentation,” or by intentionally introducing specific strains of bacteria and wild yeast strains during brewing.
The fun part of brewing sours is that it can be highly controlled or more spontaneous. Maybe a brewer adds a calculated dose of lactobacillus (the same probiotic found in yogurt), or maybe he or she leaves a couple open tanks outside in a field and leaves it up to mother nature. Maybe it’s a combination of both. Either way, it is another part of the alchemy that makes craft brewing so fun.
Can You Cultivate Wild Yeast for Sour Beers?
Yes, you can! Certain plants and fruits are naturally high in yeast, and these can be used to make a wild yeast starter at home. One of the easiest things to forage in Colorado is juniper berries. These are not actually berries but little pine cones that grow on various species of juniper. They are also what lends that distinct, piney flavor to gin.
If you have ever looked at a juniper berry up close, you may have noticed a white, waxy coating over either a bright green (unripe) or dark blue (ripe) skin. This indicates the presence of yeast, and it is perfect for a home yeast starter for your sour beers.
You’ll probably see both ripe and unripe berries on a tree. Try to harvest mainly ripe berries. It’s okay if you have a few green ones. It’s really the yeast we’re after, but the green berries are extremely bitter. We want to avoid any unpleasant after tastes in our beer.
Once you have about a half cup of berries, put them in a clean container (with a lid) with 1 ½ cups of water and ½ up of sugar. Close the lid and shake your container every day until bubbles form. Now you have a wild yeast starter! Sour beer, here we come!
Other fruits that have a high concentration of natural yeast include:
You can use these in the same amounts as the junipers for your home starter. Just be sure they are wild versions. Store-bought ones may have been washed (bye bye yeast) or been exposed to icky pesticides.
Sour Beer Styles
There are many variations on the sour beers theme. Each has a unique history and brewing method. A few of the most well known include:
Originating from Berlin, Germany, this style is known for its light body, high carbonation, and refreshing tartness. It is typically lower in alcohol (around 3% ABV), and frequently served with flavored syrups like raspberry or woodruff to balance the acidity. Berliner Weisse beers get their sour flavor from lactobacillus bacteria.
Hailing from Goslar, Germany, Gose beers are characterized by their salinity, sourness, and a hint of coriander spice. The sourness is achieved by adding lactic acid bacteria to the wort. Interestingly, these beers are brewed with a touch of salt, providing a unique savory element.
A Belgian style, Lambics are made by leaving wort to cool in the open air overnight, then transferring it to barrels to age and ferment. Most lambics are a combination of several of these batches, and many are fermented a second time using fruit like raspberries or sour cherries. It is actually quite rare to find a lambic made from a single wild fermenting process.
American Wild Ales
American sour beers are as varied as the states themselves. Being our wily cowboy selves, we tend not to let ourselves be shackled by a bunch of rules and parameters when it comes to sours. Rather, we focus on the wild elements themselves and experimenting with additional flavors to enhance that refreshing tang.
Although Flanders Reds are made with brewers yeast, they undergo an aging and fermentation process in wooden barrels that gives them a sour flavor. Younger beer may be added to adjust the taste, if necessary.
Why Sour Beer Is Popular
Although they have been around for hundreds of years, sour beers have been experiencing a resurgence in popularity among beer enthusiasts. We can think of a few reasons why:
- Complexity of Flavor: Sour beers offer a wide range of complex flavors, from citrusy and fruity to earthy and spiced, making them a captivating option for those seeking unique taste experiences.
- Versatility: The diverse styles and flavors within the sour beer category mean there’s a sour beer for almost every palate, whether you prefer something light and refreshing or intensely sour and complex.
- Innovation: Brewers are constantly experimenting with sour beer styles, ingredients, and aging techniques, leading to an ever-evolving landscape of exciting and creative brews.
- Food Pairing: Sour beers’ acidity and complex flavors make them excellent companions for a variety of foods, from cheeses and charcuterie to seafood and spicy dishes.
Best Summer Sour Beer
Long story short, sour beers are fun to make and fun to drink! If you’re looking for the perfect way to cap off a hot summer day, we’ve got one for you: Diebolt’s Guava Lava Bing Bong Tiki Sour. It’s loaded with tropical flavors, like pineapple, passionfruit, and, of course, guava. Phantasm powder added during the whirlpool means it smells just as juicy and refreshing as it tastes. Quick soured and exceptionally drinkable at a modest 5.5% ABV, you won’t want to miss this one. Stop by for a pint on our patio or take a case home with you.