In search of the perfect summer beer: Sour beer

When I first moved to Oregon, I was more of a lover of big, bold wines; I would also occasionally drink a light beer to quench my thirst on a hot summer day. It wasn’t until I went to a few beer festivals, met a few Oregon winemakers who also loved beer, and sipped a few other beers that I realized that there is such a huge world of beer out there to explore. I also learned from my years of working the wine harvests in Oregon that “in order to make a great wine, you need to have a great beer.” Ryan Harms of Union Wine Co. had once told me this when we worked side by side in the wine industry. I heard it again, over and over from other winemakers in the area, and I realized that at the end of the day, winemakers want nothing more than an ice-cold beer to quench their thirst after sipping and spitting out wine samples all day.

Initially, I was turned onto another big, bold, very Oregonian beer style, Indian Pale Ales (IPAs). IPAs are a whole other story, one which I will touch upon later in another blog post. I later went back to the more European style of beers, such as white wheat beers like Hefeweizen, then later to paler ones like lagers and pilsners.  Finally, today, I’ve landed on sour beers.

IMG_7369A little about sour beers. Sour beers can be made from pretty much any beer; however, most follow either traditional or standardized guidelines. Sour beers are intentionally made acidic, tart, or sour in taste. For those Oregon Pinot Noir drinkers who love acid, this may be the beer style for you.

In order to obtain a sour beer, beer brewers need to use wild yeast and bacteria strains such as Lactobacillus, Brettanomyces, and Pediococcus, none of which are generally allowed unless in a controlled environment.

I personally love a little “Brett” in my wine, cider, and obviously, beer. These beers generally satisfy my craving for sour patch kids candies, a hot-summer-day sipper, and a little more depth than just another lager. Not that there is anything wrong with lagers–I love those, too–but lately, I’ve been craving some good sour beers.

Sour beers rarely make an appearance in winter, so if you are adventurous, get them while you can in these upcoming summer months before they’re gone.

Below, I have summarized some information on the most common styles in order of taste preference. (Thank you, Wikipedia, for providing me with some backstory information.)

IMG_7076Berliner Weisse is a beer that is popular in the summertime and meant to be enjoyed outside on a patio in the middle of a hot summer in Berlin. It is generally low alcohol, around 3% abv. and made sour using Lactobacillus bacteria. It is commonly sweetened with a green or red flavored syrup to balance out the tartness. Interestingly enough, it was when I lived in Berlin that this was my first taste of sour beers, and I had no idea that it was a sour beer. I really enjoyed it!

Gose (pronounced “go-suh”) is a top-fermenting beer that originated in Goslar, Germany. I had my first taste of sour Gose from 10 Barrel Brewing Co. in Portland and loved it. I have been in search of Gose since then. Goses have a lemon-/grapefruit-like tartness with a touch of herbal to them. This type of beer is generally characterized by the use of coriander and salt. It is then made sour by inoculating the wort with lactic acid bacteria before primary alcoholic fermentation.

Lambic beer is spontaneously fermented beer made in the Pajottenland region of Belgium and Brussels. I first tried a Kriek lambic beer when a friend told me that I had to try this sour cherry sweet beer. It is generally sweet as it is allowed to perform a secondary fermentation with fruit such as cherries (Kriek] or raspberries (Framboise). These are the most common lambics you are likely to taste.  Honestly, I have only tried the European versions, but you can find a cherry lambic beer at Trader Joe’s. Interestingly enough, the wort is left to cool overnight in the koelschip [italicize] where it is exposed to the open air during the winter and spring, and then placed into barrels to ferment and mature. Most lambics are blends of several seasons’ batches, such as Gueuze, or are secondarily fermented with fruits, such as Kriek and Framboise.

American wild ale is generally brewed using yeast and bacteria strains in addition to standard brewer’s yeast. American wild ales don’t follow specific guidelines, unlike their European counterparts.

Flanders red ale descended from the English porters of the 17th century. It is first fermented using brewer’s yeast,  then allowed to mature in oak barrels. It can later be blended with younger beer to adjust for consistency in taste, similar to the process used for a Solera Sherry.

To learn more about Solera Sherry, click here.

Oud bruin beer originates from the Flemish region of Belgium. Oud bruins differ from the Flanders red ale in that they are darker in color and not aged in wood. Consequently, this style tends to use cultured yeasts to impart its sour notes.

IMG_8305So if you are looking for that great summer beer, look no further then sour beers. Some of my favorites are from Avery BrewingDeschutes Brewery, Ecliptic BrewingDry Dock, 10 Barrel, and River North. If you are in a store, just ask one of the store associates to help you find some great sour beers and they’ll direct you to the right beers. Enjoy summer in a glass! Cheers!