What is Sour Beer?
The first time I tasted wine was an awful experience. It was 6:30 in the morning (it was part of my college education and they did these things early to ensure they were not liable for people drinking and driving), my mouth still tasted like toothpaste. I had a coffee in one hand and a glass of pinot in the other. I fired the glass back like it was some sort of giant shot glass and followed it (as quickly as possible) with a shot of coffee. I winced and turned to my professor and professed, “I really don’t like wine.”
He looked at me knowingly and said, “It’s ok – you just haven’t found one you like yet.”
My prof later explained to me that there were so many styles of wine in the world that were so different from one another that it was imply improbable (though not impossible) that I would reject every single one. Time proved him correct.
I often think of that experience when people tell me that they “don’t like beer.” While some people will never get a taste for beer, it’s very likely that there are some people who would thoroughly enjoy beer if they had the chance to explore different varieties (especially once one ventures past the marginally different options made by ‘big’ been manufacturers). There are beers that resemble scotch, others that taste like fruit wine, some are aged in wood as well as sweet, spicy and even sour options. Sour beer is fairly rare to find in Ontario (even among imports) but it’s one of my favorite types of beer in the world.
Panil (the bottle in the picture) is an Italian sour beer. It is acidic, naturally sour and tart. My favorite way to drink it is to slowly drink a glass and allow it to warm up from chilled to room temperature and see how much it changes. As the beer warms up the flavor becomes more and more sour. By the time this beer reaches room temperature, it resembles the sour candies of my youth.
Sour beer is generally recognized as a Belgian style of beer; common subcategories/ types of sours include lambics and gueuzes.
Sour beer is generally the product of wild fermentation. Some sour beer is fermented outside where it’s left exposed to the elements to trap wild yeasts from the air. This makes the process fairly unpredictable and can result in very different flavors of beer (even among bottles of the ‘same’ beer and vintage). People who enjoy home fermented foods (such as kimchi, sauerkraut and more) often find a sour beer very pleasing.
Because of the unpredictability and difficulties in fermenting outside, many brewers will make sour beer with fruit (which has wild yeast on its surface already). Any fruit can be used but cranberries and raspberries are very common.
Sour fruit beers (often labeled lambics) are sweeter than most sour beer without fruit (often labelled gueuzes). It is because of this that I find many red wine drinkers often like the fruit sours (Fruili and Morte Subite are commonly available here) while Champagne and dry white wine drinkers often prefer the straight sours.
Not everyone likes sour beer – but those who do tend to love it. Have you tried or will you try one?