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Drink614: The year of sour batch kids

By Steve Croyle
Self-proclaimed beer afficionado

Craft beer insiders have been predicting a spike in the popularity of sour beers for decades, and in 2017 we saw a surge locally. I know you all want to hop on the bandwagon but what you need to understand is that all sours are not created equal.  

Styles like the popular Berliner Weisse and Gose, are “kettle soured” which is to say that the brewing process is paused after the mash to allow lactobacillus some time to convert sugar to lactic acid, which gives beer a distinct sour flavor. After the desired acid level is achieved, the brewing process continues as per the desired style. This is a cheap, and relatively easy method that should not reflect a price point that greatly exceeds other craft beers.  If we’re being honest, some brewers skip this process entirely and simply add lactic acid to their product as a flavoring adjunct. It’s probably smarter, because you have more control over the acidity.

The other souring method is more complex and introduces a number of other bacteria. In addition to Lactobacillus you have Brettanomyces,  Pediococcus, and a number of wild strains that can bring in flavors ranging from ripe fruit, to barnyard musk.  This process often involves the use of a barrel, and the brewers will often blend several beer together to achieve the final product they want to offer for public consumption. These beers are generally quite pricey because they can tie up space for over a year. Wolf’s Ridge Chris Davison also insists on carefully planning his sours from scratch, rather than simply take something already on hand and souring it. So the extra effort is an end to end process for him.

Lenny Kolada (Commonhouse and Smokehouse) believes that sour beers actually stimulate different neurological pathways which makes it nearly impossible to effectively judge a sour beer on the strength of one sip.

“It takes a while for your brain to process what’s happening,” he explained. “That first sip might taste like vinegar, but after a few minutes you realize there’s a lot of complexity in that beer.” 

He’s onto something, because it’s difficult to switch back and forth between sours and traditional beers. It’s also impossible to drink sours copiously. The residual acids can trigger intense indigestion if one over imbibes. 

Despite the degree of difficulty, it’s worth exploring this niche, especially with two new breweries (Random Precision, and Pretentious Barrel House) in the marketplace that are dedicated solely to sours.

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