There was a time when I didn’t think I wanted beer with tasting notes like “barnyard” and “horse blanket.” But that was before my first visit to Millvale’s Draai Laag Brewing and my introduction to the wide world of sour beer.
For years, hops have dominated American craft beer. And while IPAs are hardly endangered, sours have become a new darling of the craft-beer scene. The term “sour beer” is a catch-all for several loosely defined categories united by noticeably sour or funky notes, the sorts of “off” flavors that are carefully avoided in other styles. Sourness can be cultivated through wild or uncommon yeast, with the Brettanomyces strain often contributing a characteristic funk. Brewers can also introduce bacteria like Lactobacillus, which creates a clean tartness in traditional styles like Berliner Weisse. Many sours also introduce fruit or barrel-aging to further deepen flavors.
Just as our perception of bitter hops can grow from mild disgust to full-blown obsession, developing a taste for the sourness of lambics and wild ales may take some time. But as beer drinkers and brewers continue to search for new frontiers, sour beer provides a world of untapped potential.
Sour beer is a risky proposition for brewers. It is unpredictable by definition and consistency is a difficult, if not impossible, goal. Additionally, tenacious yeast like Brettanomyces can go places it isn’t wanted, and potentially infect an entire brewery. But all that hasn’t stopped local breweries from diving headfirst into the funk.
Hop Farm is currently scaling up its sour program, expanding on the popularity of past brews like a blueberry Berliner Weisse and a tart cherry ale. Full Pint’s Wild Side series regularly features sour beers like the Ned, a barrel-aged Flanders red ale. And the aforementioned Draai Laag focuses strictly on wild fermented, Belgian-style ales.
Whether it’s a biting fruit beer or an earthy, malt-driven ale, sour beers offer an exciting addition to your drinking arsenal.