Food & Drink

Beginner’s Guide to Sour Beer

by Dani Howell January 14, 2019

I had my first sour beer while living in Austin, Texas—home of my two favorite sour brewers: Jester King Brewery and Blue Owl Brewing. It only took one sip, and I was hooked. The tart flavor was unlike any I’d experienced before in a drink. Sours quickly became my beverage of choice.

While these tart beers were invented in Europe hundreds of years ago, they’ve only recently started gaining popularity here in the States.

There’s still a lot of debate about what all should be considered sours. That makes sense, considering there are so many different ways to create them, including barrel aging, sour mashing, and kettle souring. The latter two of which have made it easier (and quicker) to create these beers that previously took months, even years, to perfect.

While these two new approaches may not always create as complex of flavors as the traditional souring methods, they’ve sped up the process so more breweries are able to craft their own inventive takes on the drink. Blue Owl, for example, takes classic styles, like IPAs, red ales, and wheat beers, and puts a sour(-mashed) twist on them.

So, what makes the beer sour?

Well, there are a few different answers to this because the sour factor’s origin varies depending on how each beer is made. Three words you’ll often see when reading about sours: Brettanomyces, lactobacillus, and pediococcus. Or, Brett, lacto, and pedio as they’re more often called. Brett is a type of yeast that affects how the beer ferments and adds a funkiness to the brew. Lacto and pedio are both bacterias that add tartness; the first creates lactic acid and a cleaner taste, whereas the second makes lactic acid and a harsher, funkier taste.

For many sours today, these ingredients are key to the signature taste. Brewers purposefully inoculate the wort with these bacteria to create the classic tart flavor sours are known for.

Given that there are so many ways to make sour beer, you can find a lot of different types of sours. And I mean a lot. There’s the American wild ale, the Berliner Weisse, and the Flemish red. There’s also gose (one of my personal favorites), gueuze (nope, they’re not the same despite the similar names), and that’s just the start.

With so many flavors, my best recommendation for getting into sours is to keep an open mind and try a variety of styles from a variety of breweries. Assuming you’re up for tartness and some at times funky flavors, there’s a whole world of sour beers waiting.

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