Sour What? The Rise of Sour Beer

What We Recently Learned About Beer – Saturday School Session 5

The sour flavor is our taste sense that perceives acidity.  While a sought after flavor in wines (though for different reasons and achieved by different means) such acidity/sourness in most contemporary styles of beer is avoided as it often indicates that something is wrong with the beer.  But many old world beer styles, (Germany’s Berliner Weisse and Belgian’s Oud Bruin, Flanders Red, and Lambics), which intentionally portray sour notes, are being brought back with growing popularity and quite a bit of innovation by new world brewers.

These contemporary sour beers actually have very few parameters and classifications, at least ones that are entirely agreed-upon by every brewer.  Some commonalities might include: 1) the use of Brettanomyces (though 100% Brett beers can fall into the separate though similar category of “wild” beers), 2) the addition of acidifying bacterias like Lactobacillus and Pediococcus (both give those true sour notes and offer different complexities and mouth-feels), and 3) aging the beer (though not always) in wine barrels or now, bourbon and whiskey barrels.

While a consensus has yet to be reached about guidelines for these new-old styles of beer, one thing is for certain: as a style, these beers are intricate, nuanced, flavorful, and difficult to grasp with just one sip. They can also easily confuse the beer enthusiast as the re-occurring question rises again and again, “is this beer?” Sour beer pushes our typical understanding about craft beer, exploring incredibly nuanced realms.  I’m all for this journey, and yes, it is indeed beer, some of the finest brewed today.

Where can you get sour beers in Colorado? The Colorado craft beer market has not yet been flooded with sour beer options.  There are quite a few places with Belgian styles and barrel-aged beer, but these are different from what we’re talking about here.  To explore sours, keep watch for special announcements and limited releases, particularly at one of our favorite Front Range breweries, Trinity, as well as these other not-to-miss spots: Crooked Stave (in Fort Collins, moving to Denver), Odell in Fort Collins (their Friek won the 2011 GABF Gold), and Grimm Brothers in Loveland (a limited release Brett Bock was available in the spring). Warm your palette for sour beer with saisons at Funkwerks (another Fort Collins gem), and barrel-aged delights at Elevation in Poncha Springs.

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