While a sour beer may not initially sound appealing to everyone, I would encourage those of you who have never tried one to take the plunge. If you’ve become accustomed to craft beers that are all about the hops — and more hops — sours will come as a nice change. Light and acidic, sours tend to have a relatively low ABV (usually from 4.5 to 5.5, about the same as a lager), and are often flavored with some type of fruit.
The sour beer tradition originated in Belgium, with styles such as lambics and red ales. The most popular German style of sour is a gose, an unfiltered wheat beer. A number of these European varieties can be found in our area, often in 22-ounce or 750ml wine-shaped bottles (often called bombers).
In the United States, sours have become increasingly popular with craft brewers, who have taken the style and made it their own, with unique twists. They are still not as widespread as craft IPAs or porters, but more and more pubs — especially those specializing in craft brews, such as Alchemy Tavern and Old Shell Growlers — have sours on tap.
One of the best sours I’ve tried — on the excellent recommendation of my server at LoDa Bier Garten — was the wonderfully named Gose Gone Wild Tijuana from Baltimore’s Stillwater Artisanal. It is said to be brewed with blackberries, hibiscus, lime, Mayan sea salt and smoked agave, and looked more like a Cosmopolitan than a beer. I was skeptical of its pomegranate color, but delighted when I tried it, as it was very strong — with a grapefruit bite — and grows on you, sip by sip. Another very strong sour is Serpent Bite from Atlanta’s Orpheus Brewing. Unlike the Gose Gone Wild, it had a very pale coloring, like a light lager, but with a nice strong flavor.
Some of the bigger craft brewers have also put out sours available both on tap and in bottles. Sierra Nevada’s Otra Vez is a gose with strong cactus flavor. I found it dry, and more bitter than sour; I wouldn’t order it again. On the other end of the spectrum is New Belgium’s Tartastic, a lemon ginger sour ale. It is very good — citrusy and refreshing, just right for a hot afternoon. It tastes a bit like a shandy — or even a crisp white wine.
Closer to home, a number of Alabama brewers also are putting out some sour beers. Madison’s Blue Pants Gose is very light, with a golden color and no head. It is not overpowering, and while it might be too bland for those who really like sour beers, if you’re new to sours it might be a good one to start with.
Birmingham’s Avondale Brewery also puts out a sour ale, the Réunir Farmhouse Tart, and Fairhope Brewing Co. currently has three sour styles: Merlin, Sundown and Tarts & Crafts. Tarts & Crafts is a pale wheat beer with cherry flavors, and my favorite. The color of a blush wine, it is light, but with great flavor. It is widely available in our area, and has recently joined the number of Fairhope brews available in bottles. Enjoy!