Sour beers make up one of the most interesting and exciting categories of modern craft beer. They are incredibly diverse, with flavors ranging from a subtle, acidic bite to a taste-bud-puckering, eye-opening sourness.
What Are Sour Beers?
The history of sour beers goes way back – a few centuries, in fact – to the days before beer was brewed in stainless-steel equipment. Brewers stored, aged and shipped beer in wooden barrels, exposing the beverage to natural organisms that influenced its flavor.
As an article in the New Yorker put it:
Before the advent of refrigeration and advances in the science of fermentation in the mid-nineteenth century, almost all beer was, to varying degrees, sour. The culprits were pre-modern sanitation and poorly understood, often naturally occurring bacteria including Lactobacillus and Pediococcus, as well as Brettanomyces yeasts, which can contribute a hint of tartness and characteristic “funky” flavors and aromas, sometimes compared to leather, smoke, and “horse blanket.”
But don’t let that “horse blanket” comparison deter you! Sour beers are delicious and complex, and they’re making a major comeback on the modern craft beer scene.
Belgian Sour Beers
Belgian brewers are famous for their sour beers – most notably Lambics, red ales and brown ales – and they deserve credit for inspiring American craft brewers to develop their own varieties. Beligan sour beers often incorporate fresh fruit flavors, which balance the tartness with natural sweetness.
German Sour Beers
Germany also has a long history of brewing sour beers, but the two most common types that are still made are Berliner Weisse – which is refreshingly carbonated and acidic – and Leipziger Gose – which also adds a note of saltiness.
American Sour Beers
American craft brewers are starting to experiment more with their own spin on sour beers. Many use traditional method of letting wild yeasts like Brettanomyces develop or using live bacteria like Lactobacillus, then barrel-aging and bottle-conditioning them to perfect their flavors. Sour beers are notoriously finicky to brew – but the payoff is well worth the risk when a brewer gets a beer just right!
Dogfish Head brews two sours: Festina Peche and Festina Lente. While Festina Lente is currently on hiatus, Festina Peche is the seasonal summer brew. Summer is fading soon so get it while you can!