Sour beer is the trending beer style of 2018. This funky brew is the latest to hit the market and has garnered a whole lot of attention, not just among the beer geeks but among all.
Thanks to craft breweries and the rising tribe of young beer drinkers, beer has seen a huge rise in popularity of late. Today, you can find plenty of unique beer styles in the market like extremely hoppy IPAs to other complex and nuanced flavors.
Here, in today’s article, we take a look at the recent entry in this ever-growing list of latest beer styles – sour beers and discern why it’s wildly popular among beer drinkers across continents.
What’s a Sour Beer?
Centuries ago, almost all beer was sour due to poor sanitation practices and beer being stored in large wooden barrels. Over the years, the brewing process was refined, and the sour notes were completely eliminated from beer.
As they say, history repeats itself, today sour beer is making a huge comeback. The one difference – sour notes are added intentionally to the drink.
By using specific strains of bacteria and yeast, brewers are able to impart a sour, funky, tart and other unique flavors to the beer. Very often, the micro-organisms (bacteria and yeast) used for adding sour flavors to the beer are known as “bugs.”
What’s in a Sour Beer?
The sour beer has specific strains of bacteria and yeast. Let’s take a look at the common species added to the brew:
- Brettanomyces – Often called Brett in short, this is a yeast strain added to sour ales. The distinguishing flavors are “horse blanket” or rustic. Yes, we agree that no one likes to drink a beer that smells like an equestrian animal, but then sour beers are an acquired taste. By pairing the Brett with bacteria, you can produce complimentary flavors, that work well together.
- Lactobacillus – Often called Lacto in short, this is a bacterium that makes your beer tart, due to the production of lactic acid. It’s generally used in low hop beers and low ABV brews.
- Pediococcus – Often called Pedio in short, this is another strain of bacteria that produces lactic acid along with diacetyl, giving the brew a rich buttery taste. It works well when paired with Brett.
These are the three most common strains of bacteria and yeast used in sour beer production. Additionally, some breweries also make use of open fermenters, thereby allowing the bacteria in the air to infect the beer. This gives the brew a unique, local flavor that cannot be replicated elsewhere.
How to Make a Beer Sour?
Creating a sour beer is similar to brewing other styles of beer. However, along the way, there are some changes to the regular brewing process, to create a distinct sour flavor. The basic idea here is that – you should make your brew get “infected” with wild yeast or bacterial cultures to make it sour. This “infecting” process is usually done on the wort before it undergoes fermentation.
There are Three Ways to Make Your Beer Sour:
Just as the term implies, this is the process of inoculating beer with bacteria and yeast intentionally to get sour tastes. This is further divided into two types:
- Unrestrained Inoculation – Also known as open fermentation. As mentioned above, breweries expose the wort to open air, thereby getting the natural microbes in the air to interact with the brew. Several popular styles of sour beers use this method.
- Restrained Inoculation – Here, the brewers add specific microbial cultures to sour the beer. This method gives a consistent flavor, that can be replicated any number of times.
This method employs lactic acid. Lactic acid is added to the wort to produce sour flavors. It doesn’t use any wild strains of bacteria or yeast. The one downside of this style of sour beers is that they lack complex flavors. With that said, if you’re drinking sour beers for the first time, then this is a good choice. Additionally, this method also eliminates the risk of microbes in the air contaminating the beer.
As the name suggests, this happens when a beer turns sour without the brewer’s intervention and is often unwelcome. When bacteria come in contact with beer that wasn’t supposed to be sour, it’s known as unintentional souring. Very often, when this happens, brewers discard the lot.
Why is Brewing Sour Beers a Huge Deal?
Very often, brewers (even the pros) get jitters when they have to brew a sour beer. This is because the microbes in sour beers can easily contaminate other regular styles of beers in the brewery. This is why you come across brewers investing in separate facilities and brewing equipment to brew sour beers.
Additionally, sour beers are often aged in large wooden barrels. The reason for this is that – the bacteria in the barrels add further flavors to the beer. Thereby, each sour beer has a unique flavor, thus making it extremely hard for brewers to replicate flavors.
Why do Sour Beers cost a Bit More than Other Regular Beer Styles?
Sour beers are nicknamed as the “Burgundy of the Beer World.” This is because the finesse and style required for brewing sour beers are a lot more nuanced than a regular IPA. Also, brewing sour beers take a lot more time. The complexity of the flavors needs time to achieve. Due to the time consumption and the labor involved, sour beers cost a bit more than regular styles. But, with one sip of a finely-brewed sour beer, you’ll understand that it’s worth it.
New to Sour Beers?
If this is the first time (or dozenth time) you’re trying sour beers, then the chances are that you may not like the sour taste. We understand you. But, we urge you to keep on trying, at least a few sips every time. Sour beers are an acquired taste, and it takes some time to fall in love with them (or tolerate them).
Have you tried any sour beers? How was the experience? Liked it or hated it? Let us know in the comments below.