The Sour Boom

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ABC’s beer consultant meeting was last week.  About 30 beer experts from across the state piled in a bus and headed to a day teeming with beer training and tastings.

We kicked things off with a Sam Adams cider presentation, learning all about what makes apples into delicious liquid. Then we were given six beers; five of the six were tainted with “off flavors” and we were to tell which flavors were off by identifying them (beer taste like wet cardboard? That’s Trans-2-nonenal and it’s oxidized!).

The working lunch was covered by Neil Witty, one of only 10 Master Cicerones in the world! Presentations from Barrel of Monks, Wynwood, Green Bench and Barley Mow breweries followed.

The one theme that permeated the day, however, was sour beers. They’re huge and growing.

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Sours are produced when wild yeast and bacteria come into the beer during open fermentation, a risky practice where the brewer allows the beer to ferment in an open, shallow vat. There is a high chance of the beer spoiling, getting infected or of bugs like fruit flies finding a home in the beer. When done properly, beers produced through open fermentation might make for distinct and flavorful palates that many craft beer lovers crave.

The most common sour beers are of six substyles: American wild ale, Berliner weisse, Flanders red ale, gose, lambic and oud bruin. All are characterized by a tart, tangy palate, but in varying degrees. A Berliner weisse, for example, is typically served with raspberry syrup or woodruff to balance the sourness of the beer.

Sours are often considered a beer style to ease into, but one can grow to love them. If you don’t like them or aren’t familiar, check out Boulevard’s Tell Tale Tart. It’s funky enough to entice interest, but not tangy enough to entirely dismantle a newbie’s palate.

With flavors like barnyard, cheese and wool, who the heck would want to even try it? I was apprehensive too, but after getting past the aromas (yes, they’re FUNKY!) I realized that this style is exploding for a reason.

The complexity of the palate finds itself in the favor of beer lovers worldwide. We suggest you start your sour love affair with a sampling of the style.

The best examples come from Belgium, where the style’s origins can be found, though many breweries outside of Belgium’s borders have found steadfast followers with the introduction of their sour styles. Talk to your beer consultant to learn more before picking up a few bottles of your own for experimentation. We invest a lot of time in their education, and they’re crazy about this stuff. Find a consultant on twitter here!

Interested in this style of craft beer? Read more here!

Allie Smallwood and Meghan Guarino, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits copywriters

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