So, you walk into your local brewery and you’re faced with an interesting beer on tap, a sour beer. You’re hesitant to order one since you don’t know what it is, but then you start to see sour beers everywhere and you realize there’s a trend (a movement?) underway….but you still don’t know what a SOUR BEER IS! That was us for a while and it inspired us to write this for all of you out there who might be wondering, “what is a sour beer and why should I drink one?”
Unsurprisingly, sour beer comes from the brewing process itself. Sour beers incorporate wild yeasts that give the beer a distinctive sour, or acidic, taste. They’re then aged for long periods of time to produce a highly complex taste. It’s a brewing style that has been popular in Europe for years, mostly in Belgium with some popularity in Germany as well, but has grown in popularity in the U.S. in the last 20 years or so. The complex flavors behind a sour beer have converted many a wine/whiskey enthusiast over to the beer world and the unpredictable nature of the wild yeast strains mean that no two sour beers are going to taste, or look, exactly alike.
Now, those of you who have peeked at modern brewing equipment and realized it basically looks like a chemistry lab with squeaky clean, highly sterilized vats might be scratching your head….wild yeast?! Don’t they try to keep that out so that it doesn’t ruin the beer? Generally speaking, yes, but in the case of sour beers, no. Wild yeast is carefully introduced to produce the tart flavors that make the beers so complex and delicious. The brewers have to be very careful with controlling the wild yeast to make sure that it doesn’t get into other brews.
Traditionally, Belgian brewers let the yeast enter the brew through the barrels in which the beer was stored. Modern breweries do it in a number of different methods, and some still use a traditional barrel aging process to create the sour flavors (the beer is literally stored in hardwood barrels). The final ingredient to any successful sour beer is time. Sour beers are aged for long periods of time, sometimes years, to allow their full flavors to develop. Try one at our local brewery and you’ll see it was worth the wait!