If you caught our Sunday International episode a few months back, then you know all about Gose beer! If not check out the recap HERE! So, to piggy back on that, we’re going to go over a few other sour styles, and how they differ.
If you want to play a drinking game, take a sip anytime I attempt to say something sciencey, German, or Belgium.
Sours, I think, are the strangest style of beer because the ingredients that make them, can also ruin other beer styles. Nevertheless, they tend to get more and more popular every year, and I’m not gonna lie, they’ve grown on me. Before we get into different kinds, let’s learn what the hell makes them so different?
Bacteria & Yeast
We learned about this during Gose beer school, but real quick, this is a bacteria strain that causes a sour taste. When it ferments it creates ‘lactic acid’ rather than alcohol, like yeast does. This causes an acidic, or sour flavor. For example, lactobacillus gives yogurt its sour taste.
This is another bacteria, and it creates diacetyl, which creates flavors like butterscotch or butter. Butter generally means the beer is off, but diacetyl, combined with Brettanonmyces, produces lactid acid, thereby making a sour flavor as well.
This is a wild yeast strain also known as Brett. This yeast strain never gets full, and will eat almost anything! It lives on the skin of fruit, and can mean ultimate demise for wine, and some beers. It does not create a sour taste, but gives the beer an earthy, horsey, leather smell. Brett is easier to control in steel kegs, as it can hide in wooden kegs. However, it is not fully controllable.
Michael Jackson (NOT the King of Pop) compared brett to a cat, saying that it would, “do its own thing; it’s not going to come when you call it and sit when you say ‘sit.’ If you can respect its individuality and suggest rather than dictate what it does in your fermentation, it can reward the brewer and the drinker.”
BEWARE of these ingredients! Many breweries have paid dearly for certain bacteria and yeast strains getting loose. In 2015, Goose Island paid more in refunds than they received in profits, when their Bourbon County Coffee and Barleywine were found to be tainted with a specific strain of lactobacillus, acetotolerans. It took 3 months and 4 labs to figure out what the hell went wrong. They believe the culprit was a tainted keg, that then spread around. It was an extensive and expensive clean up!
TYPES OF SOURS, and a Few Fun Facts About Each One
Lambic: When talking lambic, you have to mention Belgium, because that is the only place that true lambics are brewed. This style has been brewed fairly the same for almost a thousand years (possibly longer). The hops they use….this feels so wrong…are old stale hops. This allows the beer to get the preservative characteristic, but no aroma or bitterness from the hop. Lambics are fermented using wild fermentation. Normally when brewing, once the wort is done you add some yeast, and let the beer ferment in a closed container. Not lambics! Once the wort is done, it is left in an open fermenter, with the windows open all night! Wild (hence wild fermentation) yeast and bacteria find the wort and treat it like an All You Can Eat Buffet in Vegas! This is not done during the Summer months, to prevent the wrong kind of bacteria and yeast finding its way in.
After this is done, the lambic is put into wooden kegs, and left to age for a few years. Straight lambic can have a strong vinegar taste, so it is often fermented with fruit. Different fruits result in all sorts of different names, Cassis (black currants), Kriek (sour cherries), Pomme (apple), etc.
*I only named those ones, so you guys had to take 3 quick sips.
Gueze (gu-ew-zz): This is the result of old and young lambics being combined. Belgians compare this style to sparkling wine.
Flanders Red Ale: These beers come from the Dutch speaking part of Belgium, called Flanders. This ale gets its red color from the combination of light and dark barley malts. Once yeast and bacteria has been added, it generally ages for up to two years in oak tanks. Then it’s mixed with a younger version. They can also be known as the “Burgundies of Belgium.”
One example of a Flanders Red Ale is Duchesse De Bourgegne. I will never forget the first time I had this beer. It tasted so much like balsamic vinaigrette, that I actually poured it on my salad and ate it. That probably sounds like severe alcohol abuse to some, but this is one style of beer I don’t see ever getting on board with. Of course, I have said that before, and I would taste it again.
Flanders Oud Bruin: This is the Red Ale’s neighbor! Oud Bruin just means old brown. This style uses darker malts, and was described in a book I read, as tasting like “Sour Patch Kids.” This beer also involves some aging, and some combination of old and young batches.
Berliner Weisse: This one can be deceiving for those Hefeweizen, and Belgium White lovers. I had a friend who was very angry at herself after she ordered a Berliner Weisse, for the second time (different days), and expected a classic German wheat beer. While it is a classic German wheat beer, it is also a sour and tastes nothing like the hefeweizen that most of us Americans would expect when we hear, German wheat beer!
Berliner Weisse usually gets its sour flavor from lactobacillus, and is traditionally served with syrup. To me that makes it sound like a sour boozy Shirley Temple, but if Covid ever ends and I get to Germany, I will let you know what it actually tastes like! I also read that in some German bars it is served in a bowl with a straw. Like Gose, the style was a bit dormant for years, and has recently grown in popularity again. Napoleon’s military nicknamed this style, “Champagne of the north!” (I assume they yelled it like they were Winterfell) I’m guessing they didn’t get the fruit juice added, along with a bowl and a straw.
Gose: This is a milder version of Berline Weisse with salt and coriander added. Sounds off, but it works. If you want to know more about this old school sour, click the link above!
American Sours: American sours are basically everything I have mentioned, but with flare! Berliner Weisse style beers here, are generally brewed with a sour kettle. We are also seeing different styles blended together like, a sour IPA. Allagash has even attempted some wild fermentation, and some breweries even specialize in sours. We’re also seeing very crazy colored sours. There really is no set way to describe American sours, so I will leave it at that, and tell you to just try them all. You honestly never know which ones you will love, and which ones you will pour on your salad. In case you’re still sober… lactobacillus, berliner weisse, brettomyces, gose, PROST!