Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

August 26, 2013

Beer Diary:

Sour Pusses

Sour beers are the new IPAs, which is ironic on several levels.
by Eddie Glick

I like my beer like my women: pale, strong, full-bodied, and extremely bitter.
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The latest buzz in the beer world, at least for the moment, has shifted from IPAs to sour beers. Sour this, sour that, sour, sour, SOUR! Although I enjoy sour beers, I find this new trend ironic on multiple fronts, and highly indicative of the exciting and sometimes contradictory nature of the new craft beer world we’re living in.

First, it’s more than a little ironic that the rise in popularity of sour beers parallels another conversation in the craft beer world: the concern by established craft breweries about the technical quality of product coming from the profusion of new beer makers popping up across the U.S. and the rest of the world.

The irony lies in the fact that sour flavor, even in small amounts, is a no-doubt-about-it, in-your-face technical flaw in beer that would send any professional brewer or semi-knowledgeable beer drinker into convulsions of distaste … unless that’s what the brewer was intending in the first place. Then it’s not only OK, but in the right beers it becomes a world-class drinking experience (to wit). So technical purists (like, say, the Germans) would consider sour beer unequivocally flawed, while iconoclastic brewers (like, say, the Belgians) might consider the same beer a work of liquid art.

Sour flavor in beer is a glaring technical flaw … unless that’s what the brewer was intending in the first place.
No matter how you feel about that, the sourness in beer—whether put there intentionally or not—comes from either wild yeast (like Brettanomyces) or bacteria. Or both. When it’s a flaw, the sourness comes from unintentional infection of the wort at some point in the fermentation process. If it’s there on purpose, it’s usually from the brewer directly inoculating the wort with the above-mentioned beasties, open-air/spontaneous fermentation (purposely inviting infection by wild yeast and bacteria), and/or barrel aging, since the wood in the barrels is a great hiding place for wild and funky microorganisms. A tasty example of this is the subtly Brett-tinged beers from Jolly Pumpkin, a highly regarded brewery that barrel ages all its beers.

And, for the record, you can’t get sick from sour beer. (Well, you can, if you drink, like, a case of it in one sitting, but that applies to all beer, even watery shit.) Some people might say it tastes like barf or it gives them a stomach ache, but those people are whining candy asses or actually drinking Coors Light.

We won’t get into the business ethics of brewers that take an unintentionally sour batch of beer and sell it as an “experimental Belgian one-off.”
Then we could get into the blurred lines of business ethics and talk about brewers that take an unintentionally sour batch of beer and just call it an “experimental Belgian one-off” and sell it as some specialty release, maybe even at a premium price. But we won’t.

I also find it intriguing that a few of the same people who a year or two ago were bitching about the “extreme” beer movement and how the world was being overridden by these ultra-bitter IPAs and we sense bitter because our brains are hardwired to perceive it as POISON and hopheads don’t really like good beer, blah, blah, blah are the same people who are promoting sour beers, even though you can say the exact same things about them. In fact, I’d argue sour brews are more inaccessible to non-beer dorks than bitter brews are, since most well-crafted beers are supposed to have at least a degree of bitterness to them, while even a small amount of sourness is a flaw. Except when it isn’t.

But, as I said, I dig sour beers. Like smoked beers (the next trend, maybe?) I can only have one, maybe two at a sitting, but for now I’ll do what I usually do when the next progression of the craft beer movement ripples through our collective beer-drinking consciousness: enjoy it while it lasts.

Drinkin’ And Thinkin’

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