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.
Oude Gueuze Tilquin — Gueuzerie Tilquin
Tilquin is one the premier blenders in Belgium drawing from the best brewers in the area to create a truly special beer. Tilquin blends young and old lambics and ages them for various times in used French oak barrels until they achieve a transcendent level of funky-sour greatness.
Oude Gueuze Tilquin is the perfect place to start with Gueuze. It’s a little like jumping off the high dive at the pool for the first time — you’re going to be scared, shocked, and then addicted to the rush of this beer. There are a mild malt butter and sugar toast textures to the light fizz of the beer that amplifies a distinct wild flower field, wet straw, and barnyard funk. There are hints of apple and pear orchards and a cider vinegar edge of acidity. Overall, this is what a great gueuze is and should always be.
Boon Geuze — Brouwerij Boon
Boon makes a lot of lambics and few ales. Their work in blending their delicious lambics into even more delicious Geuze is an outstanding exercise in the blending and aging of beer.
Boon Geuze hits all the right marks, without overwhelming any one component. There’s an immediate hit of funk to the beer that’s followed by a very dry, vinous tartness. That tart is anchored in a grassy earthiness with hits of dark fruits and whispers of peppercorn spice on the back end.*
*”Whispers of Peppercorn” is up for grabs as an indie band name. “Spice on the Back End” is up for grabs as an adult film title.
Berliner Kindl Weisse — Berliner Kindl Brauerei
Back at the turn of the last century, there were 55 Berliner Weisse breweries in Berlin alone. By the end of the 20th century, there were only two left. 17 years later, the style is back and at the forefront of the sour beer revolution. The style is generally a fermented wheat beer with very minimally malted grains and proprietary yeasts. Then a secondary kettle fermentation happens with the addition of dairy (sometimes yogurt) lacto. The beer is then pasteurized and bottled. It’s best drunk young and the low three percent ABV means you can enjoy it all day.
Berliner Kindl Weisse is one of the two breweries that luckily survived as sour beers were sidelined over the 20th century for bitter hops. This beer is the key to understanding the style. It’s champagne-like fizzy carbonation counters with a fully textured sour mouth feel. There are hints of citrus, forest floor, and mild sour cream. Generally, this beer is served with a shot of berry or woodruff syrup to amp up the texture and flavors, but that’s not necessary.
BRŁO Weisse — BRŁO
There’s a new kid in town in Berlin when it comes to Berliner Weisse. Brło is one of Berlin’s biggest craft beer scenes and it wouldn’t be a legitimate attempt at being a well-respected brewery without a great Berliner Weisse.
Brło Weisse is a slightly amped up version of the Berliner Kindl’s old-school traditional Weisse. There are heavier hits of earthiness and grassy forest floors in parallel with strong whiffs of lemon citrus and echoes of apple cider vinegar. It’s a shockingly refreshing beer with an almost velvety texture.
Hallo Ich Bin Berliner Weisse — Mikkeller ApS
Mikkeller is a juggernaut of craft brewing in Denmark and across the world. They’re on the cutting edge of making great beer and toying with the average beer to inch it towards whatever the next big thing in beer is. So it’s no wonder they have a great Berliner Weisse.
Hallo Ich Bin Berliner Weisse on amps up the flavors to precise levels of deliciousness. There’s a distinct sourness that’s not overpowering but kind of delightfully surprising. That’s followed by a burst of citrus and shakes of salt over the wheaty malts and vinegar tartness. Try this one without fruit first to give yourself a good foundation and then dive into the fruit infused versions.
Allagash Coolship Resurgam — Allagash Brewing Company
You don’t have to go all the way to Belgium to get a great Gueuze. We’re making them in America too. Plus, you don’t have to spend that premium for transportation over the Atlantic. Allagash Brewing has got your back on this front.
Coolship Resurgam is an American Gueuze that hits some great flavor nails right on the head. There’s a slightly saline funkiness to the beer. Next, comes a wide blend of apple orchards, stewed pears, oak tannins, white grapes, and a solid wheat malt dryness balancing out a wild orchard full of funky tartness. If you can track a bottle down, you won’t be disappointed.
Sour Reserve — Upland Brewing Company
Upland in Indiana is another great American spot to find a solid Gueuze that hits the sweet spot between tart and funky. Their blends are what beer dreams are made of and worth tracking down — even if it costs a little too much money to buy a couple well-aged bottles.
Sour Reserve starts with a sea breeze brininess that’s an introduction to some serious funky tart. Then comes good hits of green apple, lemon and grapefruit zest, champagne fizz, and an echo of a well-worn leather jacket that’s spent one too many rainy seasons on an adventure in South America. It’s a funky, sour delight that has truly intriguing depths.
Mourning Cloak — Watermark Brewing Co.
Watermark up in Michigan continues to take big swings and make big beers that please. This selection is a bit of a cheat because it literally just got a release a couple weeks ago and you may have to get yourself to Michigan to snag a pint.
Mourning Cloak has a farmhouse Saison with a twinge of barnyard funk rooted in a fresh field of wet green grass that plows into a hazy tartness. There’s a very dry fizz that accentuates a citrus edge and almost peppery finish. It’s worth the trip to beautiful Michigan for a beautiful beer like this.
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Bombadile — Wicked Weed Brewing
Wicked Weed’s brewers are masters at the art of creating funky, fruity beer bombs that delight palates and challenge the senses. There’s a lot going on in their beers every time and every time those beers deliver a great pint that’ll haunt you until you get a refill.
Bombadile is a Saison that gets a blast of fresh strawberries to amp up its complexity. There’s a larder full of funk in this beer from an almost prosciutto and blue cheese whisper that turns into a full throated hit of spicy and wild strawberry jam. The sour of the beer gives way to a lemony tartness that’s underpinning some orange rind and a slight oakiness. It’s a big beer that you’ll want another sip of immediately.