Beer is in a constant state of flux. This decade has been dominated by hop-forward IPAs and Double IPAs, with bitterness and florals leading the way. As with any trend, there’s a peak followed by an inevitable decline. Well, we’re in the last quarter of 2017 and IPAs have had their day. There. We said it. Let’s move on. Not that they’re going anywhere, it’s just time to let another style reign supreme for awhile.
Enter the wonderfully tart sour beers — the next style to snatch the title of “Beer of the Moment.”
In a very broad brush stroke, there are two major branches of sour beers. On one side you have beers dosed with wild yeasts. Most commonly Brettanomyces — or Brett for short — is used during fermentation (though, of course, other yeasts are used). These styles are generally from Belgium and bring along a distinct farmhouse/barn/summer field of wild flowers vibe, along with a distinct tartness. These are your Lambics, Gueuze (blended Lambics), Saisons, Flanders red ale, and so forth.
On the other side of the spectrum are beers made using Lactobacillus. This is a dairy bacteria that converts sugars into lactic acids. Beers like Berliner Weisse and Gose from Germany utilize this souring method — often during a secondary fermentation. The primary fermentation is often similar to that of other white wheat beers and uses yeasts and grains to nudge the flavors in certain directions. The use of a dairy probiotic gives the beers a more sour than tart texture. There’s a distinct fizziness that leans more towards creamy yogurt than barnyard funk. And sometimes those Brett yeasts are combined with Lacto to make even funkier and more sour beers.
There’s been a massive uptick in microbrewers dabbling in the sour side of beer over the last couple years, as old Belgian and German standards become en vogue once again. With ABVs often well below five percent and a refreshing body, sours are poised to be the next big thing in craft beer. Below are some of our favorites from Belgium, Germany, and the American craft scene to help you ease your way into this new and exciting world of sour beers.
Rodenbach Fruitage — Brouwerij Rodenbach N.V.
This Belgian beer is a great gateway into the world of sour and fruity beers. It’s not overpowering in any way yet maintains excellent craftsmanship. The beer is a blend of aged Flanders Red Ales (3/4 new beer and 1/4 aged beer) that’s then aged for two years in oak, with sour cherries and elderberries.
Rodenbach hints at tartness more through the fruit juice than a yeast funk. There’s a definite red wine oak twinge in the background of heavy hitting dark fruits, bales of straw, wildflowers, and a slight barnyard funk buried deep under the brown sugar malt and tart fizz.