There’s been a turn toward the wild and less-predictable side of beers over the past several years—and the sour-beer spectrum is evolving into a maze of conflicting substyles.
Kettle sours vs. barrel-aged sours? Berliner weisse or gose? What about dry-hopped American kettle sours?
Sour beers are refreshing and delicious during hotter months, but I’m going to go against the yeasty grain and delve into sours now that fall has arrived. What some non-beer-drinkers may not know—I’m looking at you, drinkers of only wine—is that sour beers can be perfect substitutes for wine. This is good news, considering that we’re coming up on the celebratory time of year with Thanksgiving feasts and holiday parties.
The bright, wild, vibrant world of sours offers a wide range of flavors and intensity—meaning they’re perfect for pairing with rich dishes. Many sour beers are fermented using a strain of Brettanomyces yeast, or Brett, for short. Although winemakers consider it a spoiling agent, brewers embrace the funky, flavorful yeast strains that help make sours, well, sour.
Here’s a primer on some of the terms you’ll hear in the world of sours.
Lambic beers: All lambics are spontaneously fermented with naturally occurring wild yeast. They are the only beers fermented via wild, airborne yeast. In other words, no yeast is added by the brewers. This rare style is produced in a very small region of Belgium. Fruit lambics are made by adding whole fruit, fruit pulp or fruit juice to a batch as it ages in oak casks.
Gose: Not to be confused with gueuze, gose is a traditional German-style unfiltered sour wheat beer. Goses are often viewed as perfect summer beers—but let’s face it: Summerish days are still lingering in the Coachella Valley. Characterized by ingredients such as coriander and salt, the German-style gose dates back to medieval Germany. Modern-day gose is usually light and crisp with a touch of sourness.
Flanders red ale: These come from West Flanders, Belgium. English brewmasters had established schedules of aging and blending for their ales in the 17th and 18th centuries, and it’s believed that Flanders brewmasters took this blending practice and ran with it. Flanders reds are aged in barrels or foeders for 8 to 18 months and are more red-wine-like because of black cherry, red currant and orange flavors. Flanders brown ales are more of a modern interpretation. I am a fan of the Duchesse de Bourgogne Brouwerij Verhaeghe. This 6 percent alcohol-by-volume mahogany brown sour is faintly tart with balsamic notes, and is punctuated by rich fruit astringency, plentiful oak and modest vanilla. I also recommend the Bruery Terreux Oude Tart. Aged in red-wine barrels for up to 18 months, this 7.5 percent ABV Flemish-style red is also available with fruit additions of cherries, boysenberries and raspberries.
As for other sour-style beers: The following are worth picking up for your next get-together or celebration:
• 8 Wired Gypsy Funk
• Beachwood Blendery Coolship Chaos
• Boulevard Love Child #8
• Casa Agria Heritage Gold
• Cigar City Lactobacillus Guava Grove
• Crooked Stave St Bretta Citrus Wildbier
• Firestone Walker SLOambic
• Funkwerks Raspberry Provincial
• Lost Abbey Framboise de Amorosa
• Mikkeller Hallo Ich Bin Berliner Weisse Raspberry
• Oud Beersel Oude Kriek Vieille
• Societe The Thief
• Track 7 Chasing Rainbows
Mistletoes aren’t the only place appropriate for puckering up. Thanks to sours, lip-smacking boozy flavors are perfect just about any time.