Sour. Wild. Funky. Tart.
Call it what you will, but don’t call it a fad.
Once a niche product crafted by a handful of brewers primarily in Belgium’s Senne Valley, sour beers have been steadily growing in popularity as more and more breweries experiment with wild yeast, bacteria and barrel-aging.
The resulting flavors add a whole new complexity to what we commonly think of as beer.
For many, however, it’s hard to determine where to start exploring this ever-growing selection of sours, and diving in at random can have mixed results.
Here’s a look at just a few ways to approach the wild side of beer with a selection of brews currently available at specialty beer stores in Lower Alabama.
If you’ve never had a sour beer, I recommend dipping your toes in the water with New Belgium Snapshot Wheat Ale. This beer is a great introduction to the tartness provided by lactobacillus, a souring bacteria, because it’s a blend of soured and traditional wheat beer. The result is a light, refreshing, hazy ale with just a hint of tartness to start you on your sour journey.
Also consider: Avondale Reuhir Farmhouse Tart; Blackberry Farm Spring Saison; Tallgrass Songbird Saison
Sweet and sour
While Belgium gets the lion’s share of credit for inspiring American sour experimentation, Germany, with its once-nearly-extinct Gose and Berliner Weisse styles, probably deserves it just as much.
Berliner Weisse is a low-alcohol, straw-colored wheat beer with a significant level of sourness. It’s traditionally served in Berlin (surprise, surprise) with either raspberry or woodruff root syrup on the side to help cut the beer’s acidity and to adhere to the reinheitsgebot, the German Beer Purity Law which dictates only water, malted barley or wheat, hops and yeast can be used to brew beer.
This is why syrups are blended in at the bier garten, but Paradise Now from Birmingham’s TrimTab Brewing is bound by no such laws. Raspberry and tart cherry puree are added at the brewery, culminating in a crushably tart ale with a sweet raspberry balance.
Also consider: Six Point Little Raspy; Evil Twin Nomader Weisse; Ritterguts Gose
If you’ve made it this far and are left wanting more mouth-puckering acidity, perhaps it’s time to explore the selections from Portland, Oregon’s Cascade Brewing Company, which just recently started distributing its popular sour beers in Alabama.
Figaro is a perfect example of what Cascade does right — extended barrel-aging, a deft hand at blending and a chef’s touch with exotic ingredients. This strong blond ale is aged in chardonnay barrels for up to 12 months, then aged with dried white figs and lemon peel for up to 12 more months. As the saying goes, time is money, and that’s no exception here. A 750mL bottle of Figaro retails for around $32, but you’re paying for the layers of complexity that can only be achieved when a beer is allowed to develop over time. For my money, the result is worth every penny.
Also consider: Gueuze Tilquin; Haansen’s Oude Gueuze; Mikeller Hues
Dan Murphy is a Certified Cicerone® and the founding brewer at Fairhope Brewing Co. Follow him on Instagram @Grand_Krewe and on Twitter @Beer_Man_Dan.