By Alec Weaver
On a hot day last June my friend Corbin and I were spending some time at our favorite watering-hole. Trying to decide what to drink, the young woman behind the counter recommended we try the new “sour beer.” At first I was skeptical but after taking my first sip of the refreshing, lemony beverage I was sold. There is definitely something in the spectrum for everyone. From fruity Lambics to tart, crisp Berliner Weisses, Food and Wine has called the budding sour beer trend “the most exciting brewing trend right now.”
At first the phrase “sour beer ” might raise a few eyebrows, but the term is just a catch-all for five distinct styles of brew namely; Gose, Berliner Weisse, American Wild Ale, Lambic and Flanders Red Ale.
“Each style is going to have varying degrees of tartness and funkiness depending on the different strains of bacteria and yeast that are used” says Chris Cordero, who works for Cork & Barrel at 9th and Massachusetts.
Sour beers are by no means new, but there is a gathering interest in this style of beer. At Kansas Crown Discount Liquor, employee Kyle Wolfe says that he has seen this growing interest first hand. “I’ve definitely had more people asking about sour beers over the past year, it seems that more and more people want to try them.” Kansas Crown currently offers four different styles of sour beer; a Gose from Anderson Valley Brewing, a Berliner Weisse from Eviltwin, an American Wild ale from Boulevard and several Lambics.
Cork & Barrel offers the same beers in addition to a second Berliner Weisse from Eviltwin and several Flanders Reds and Cordero says that while there hasn’t been a sour beer boom in Lawrence, they have been getting more variety over the past year, with their popularity peaking last spring.
“We sold more sour beers during the warmer weather because they are really refreshing and work well as more of a session beer,” says Cordero.
So what gives sour beer that distinct taste? The secret lies in the bacteria. Geoff Deman, head of downtown brewing at Free State Brewing Co. says that sour beers get their distinct taste from two types of volatile bacteria which produce high amounts of acid during the brewing process. These yeasts can be added deliberately or can be cultivated from “wild” bacteria that occur when the beer is exposed to the open-air during the fermentation process. According to Deman these bacteria can be finicky and can even “infect” other beers, turning them sour.
“For this reason, breweries producing Sour Beers will dedicate specific fermenters, hosing, parts, and even entire packaging lines to the production of Sour Beers,” says Deman.
So are sour beers merely a fad among foodies or should you expect to see more cropping up?
“I think that sour beers are here to stay, but like all things food and beverage will likely see peaks and valleys with regards to popularity,” says Deman. “Classic beer styles that were popular over a decade ago, like Brown Ale, or Stouts, are less so now, with beer styles that push the envelope becoming more and more popular.”
If you’re curious about sour beers, you might want to give one of these brews a try, all of which are available locally.
Name: Lovechild No.4
Brewery: Boulevard Brewing Company
Style: American Wild
Sourness rating: 8
Purchase at: Kansas Crown Discount Liquor, $17.99, 750ml
Description: Man oh man, this beer is funkier than James Brown in a paisley cape. Aged in both whiskey and wine barrels, Lovechild No.4 is without a doubt the most complex beverage that will ever pass your lips. The aroma of this beer is reminiscent of a good white wine, similar in astringency to chardonnay. The taste opens with a pleasant tartness before giving way to a more pungent flavor, similar to Roquefort cheese. This quickly fades to a subtle fruity sweetness that begs you to take another sip.
Name: Justin Blåbær
Brewery: Evil Twin Brewing
Style: Berliner Weisse
Sourness rating: 5
Purchase at: Cork & Barrel, $9.99, 22 FlOz
This offering from Evil Twin Brewing is exactly what you’d expect a sour beer to taste like. Pronounced tartness at first sip gives way to the familiar maltiness of a macro lager. The Label claims that this beer is brewed with blueberries, but that flavor didn’t really come through.
Name: Blood Orange Gose
Brewery: Anderson Valley
Sourness rating: 6
Purchase at: Kansas Crown Discount Liquor, $8.99, 6 cans
A very refreshing session beer for the impending heat of summer. This offering from Anderson valley has a very bright and crisp orange flavor throughout.
Name: Duchesse De Bourgogne
Style: Flanders Red
Sourness rating: 10
Purchase at: Cork & Barrel, $4.89, 11.2 Fl Oz
This is a very intense sour beer. The initial sip is a huge fruity affair with a grape and red berries being the most prominent flavors. This then fades into a very tart punch, much like expensive balsamic vinegar.
Name: Kriek Lambic
Sourness rating: 1
Where to buy: Alvin’s Wines & Spirits, $9.71, 750 ml
Kriek is Flemish for cherry, and this traditional Lambic doesn’t lack for cherry flavor. Think of an Italian soda with a splash of alcohol and you’ll have the just of what this beer tastes like. There are several other flavors of Lambics (Peach, Raspberry, Grape) and the Lindemans Lambics are fairly easy to find around town.
Name: Nomader Weisse
Style: Berliner Weisse
Sourness rating: 8
Where to buy: Mass Liqour, $18.00, 6 cans
Eviltwin’s Nomader Weisse is a little too tart to be a true session beer, but nevertheless it has a very crisp, clean flavor. Don’t let the exorbitant price tag fool you, there was very little complexity to the flavor and absolutely zero maltiness. In other words buy something cheaper and more drinkable or spend your money on one of the better brews listed above.
Photos by Jordan Thompson
Edited by Katie Gilbaugh