When the weather starts warming up there is nothing I love more than a crisp, refreshing sour! They are so delicious and they are a fantastic “gateway beer” for your friends that claim they don’t like beer!

Sours are incredibly versatile, and the popularity of them is only making the quality and creativity expand into every corner of the craft beer world. 

Whether you are familiar with sours are not, they have a fascinating history and process of how they are made so let’s get into it! 

What Exactly is a Sour Beer? 

A sour beer is a type of beer that is intentionally made with acidic and tart flavors. These flavors are often the result of specific bacteria or yeast strains used during the brewing process, which can produce lactic acid, acetic acid, or other souring compounds.

Sour beers can vary in intensity from mildly tart to mouth-puckeringly sour, and they may also have fruity or funky flavor notes due to the presence of other bacteria or wild yeast strains. Some popular styles of sour beer include Berliner Weisse, Gose, Flanders Red Ale, and Lambic.

Sours have gained popularity in recent years, and many breweries now offer a variety of sour beer options. They are often served in smaller glasses than traditional beers, and can be enjoyed on their own or paired with food, particularly cheeses or dishes with acidic components.

History of Sour Beers

The history of sour beers dates back centuries, and many of the original sour beer styles were developed in Europe.

One of the oldest styles of sour beer is the Belgian Lambic, which is believed to have originated in the Senne River valley near Brussels. Lambic beer is made by exposing the wort (the liquid extracted from the mash during the brewing process) to wild yeast and bacteria in the air, which ferment the beer and give it its characteristic sour and funky flavors. Lambic beer was traditionally brewed in the winter months, when the cooler temperatures helped prevent unwanted bacterial growth, and then aged in barrels for several years to develop complex flavors.

Another classic sour beer style is the German Berliner Weisse, which dates back to the 16th century. Berliner Weisse is made using a combination of Saccharomyces yeast and Lactobacillus bacteria, which give it its sour and tangy flavor. The beer was originally a popular drink in Berlin, and was often served with a shot of raspberry or woodruff syrup to balance out the acidity.

In recent years, the popularity of sour beers has increased, and many new styles and variations have been developed. Some brewers use fruit or other flavorings to add complexity to their sour beers, while others experiment with different types of yeast and bacteria to create unique flavor profiles.

Overall, the history of sour beers is one of experimentation and innovation, as brewers have sought to create new and interesting flavors using a variety of techniques and ingredients.

Brewing Process for Sour Beers

Sour beers are brewed using a combination of traditional brewing methods and techniques specific to sour beer production. Here’s a general overview of the brewing process:

Mashing: The brewing process starts with mashing grains in hot water to create a sweet liquid called wort. The wort is then boiled with hops to balance out the sweetness and add bitterness.

Fermentation: After boiling, the wort is cooled and yeast is added to begin fermentation. For sour beer, wild yeast strains or bacteria are often added in addition to or instead of traditional brewing yeast. The yeast or bacteria consume the sugars in the wort and produce organic acids like lactic acid, which gives the beer its sour taste.

Aging: Once fermentation is complete, the beer is aged for a period of time to allow the sour flavors to develop. Some sour beers are aged in oak barrels or foeders, which can add complexity to the flavor profile.

Blending: Some sour beers are blended with other beers or fruit to create a unique taste. This is often done before bottling or canning.

Carbonation and packaging: Finally, the beer is carbonated and packaged in bottles or cans for distribution.

The exact brewing process for sour beer can vary depending on the style and the specific techniques used by the brewer. However, the addition of wild yeast strains or bacteria is a key factor in creating the sour taste that defines this style of beer.

Yeast Strains in Sour Beers:

Sour beers can be made with a variety of yeast and bacteria strains, which contribute to their distinctive tart and funky flavors. Here are some of the most common microorganisms used in the production of sour beers:

Lactobacillus: This bacteria is commonly used in sour beer production and is responsible for producing lactic acid, which gives sour beers their tart flavor. Lactobacillus can be added directly to the wort during the brewing process, or it may be present in the environment where the beer is being fermented.

Pediococcus: This bacteria is similar to Lactobacillus and also produces lactic acid. Pediococcus is often used in combination with other souring bacteria to create more complex sour flavors.

Brettanomyces: This wild yeast strain is commonly used in the production of Belgian sour beers, such as Lambics and Flanders Reds. Brettanomyces produces a range of flavor compounds, including fruity, funky, and earthy notes.

Saccharomyces: This is a traditional brewing yeast that is sometimes used in the production of sour beers, particularly in styles like Berliner Weisse. Saccharomyces can be used alongside other bacteria to create a balanced sourness and a clean finish.

Acetobacter: This bacteria is responsible for producing acetic acid, which gives sour beers a distinct vinegary taste. Acetobacter is generally not desirable in large quantities, as it can overpower other flavors in the beer, but small amounts can contribute to the overall complexity of the sour profile.

Different combinations of these microorganisms can result in a wide variety of sour beer styles, each with its own unique flavor profile.

Styles of Sours

There are many different styles of sour beers, each with its own unique flavor profile and brewing process. Here are some of the most popular sour beer styles:

Lambic: A traditional Belgian beer made with spontaneously fermented wild yeast and bacteria. Lambics are aged for several years in oak barrels, which gives them a complex, sour flavor with fruity and funky notes.

Gueuze: A blend of young and old Lambic beers, which undergo a secondary fermentation in the bottle. Gueuze beers are highly carbonated and have a dry, tart flavor.

Flanders Red Ale: A Belgian ale that is aged for several months in oak barrels. Flanders Red Ales have a distinctive tart flavor with notes of cherry and oak.

Berliner Weisse: A German beer that is made with a combination of Saccharomyces yeast and Lactobacillus bacteria, which give it a tart and refreshing flavor. Berliner Weisse is often served with a shot of raspberry or woodruff syrup to balance out the acidity.

Gose: A sour and salty German beer that is brewed with coriander and salt. Gose beers have a tart and refreshing flavor, with notes of citrus and spice.

American Wild Ale: A sour beer style that is popular in the United States, and often made with a blend of different yeast and bacteria strains. American Wild Ales can have a wide variety of flavors, ranging from tart and fruity to funky and earthy.

Sour Stout: A dark beer style that is brewed with souring bacteria to give it a tart flavor. Sour stouts often have flavors of roasted malt and chocolate, with a sour finish.

There are many other sour beer styles as well, each with its own unique brewing process and flavor profile. As the popularity of sour beers continues to grow, it is likely that new styles will continue to emerge.

Storing Sours

Sour beers should be stored in a cool, dark place, away from light and heat. Unlike many other beer styles, sour beers are often aged for several months or even years, which can lead to changes in flavor and aroma over time. Here are some tips for storing sour beers:

Keep them cool: Sour beers should be stored at a temperature between 40-55°F (4-13°C), which is cooler than the typical serving temperature for most beer styles. A wine fridge or cellar is an ideal storage location, as it will maintain a consistent temperature.

Protect from light: Sour beers are often bottled in clear or green glass, which can allow UV light to penetrate and cause skunking. To protect your sour beers from light, store them in a dark place or wrap them in foil.

Store upright: Unlike some wine styles, sour beers should be stored upright to prevent sediment from settling in the bottom of the bottle. This can cause off-flavors and cloudiness in the beer.

Avoid heat: Heat can cause sour beers to spoil, so it’s important to store them in a cool location away from direct sunlight or heat sources like radiators or ovens.

Be patient: Sour beers are often aged for months or even years, so it’s important to be patient and allow the beer to develop its full flavor profile over time. The longer a sour beer is aged, the more complex and intense its flavors will become.

By storing your sour beers properly, you can ensure that they will maintain their quality and develop complex flavors over time.

Serving and Pouring Sours

Sour beers should be served and poured differently than other beer styles to ensure that their unique flavors and aromas are fully appreciated. Here are some tips for serving and pouring sour beers:

Serve at the right temperature: Sour beers are best served chilled, but not too cold. Aim for a serving temperature between 45-55°F (7-13°C). This will allow the flavors and aromas to fully develop without being muted by the cold temperature.

Choose the right glass: The best glassware for sour beers is a tulip or stemmed glass with a wide bowl and narrow opening. This will help to concentrate the aromas and allow you to fully appreciate the complex flavors of the beer.

Pour carefully: Sour beers often have a high level of carbonation, so it’s important to pour them carefully to avoid excessive foaming. Tilt the glass at a 45-degree angle and pour slowly down the side of the glass until it’s about halfway full. Then, slowly pour the rest of the beer down the middle of the glass, allowing the head to form gradually.

Take your time: Sour beers are often complex and layered, with a range of flavors and aromas. Take your time to appreciate the beer and allow it to fully develop on your palate. Sip slowly and savor the different notes of tartness, fruitiness, and funkiness.

By following these tips, you can ensure that you are serving and pouring sour beers in a way that fully highlights their unique characteristics and flavors.

Sours expansion and growth in the craft beer industry

Sour beers have experienced a surge in popularity in recent years, both in the United States and around the world. This trend can be attributed to a number of factors, including the growing interest in craft beer and the desire for more unique and flavorful beer styles. Here are some ways in which sour beers have expanded in the world:

More breweries are producing sour beers: As the demand for sour beers has grown, more and more breweries have started to produce their own versions of the style. This has led to an increase in the availability and variety of sour beers on the market.

New sour beer styles are emerging: While traditional sour beer styles like Lambic and Flanders Red Ale continue to be popular, new sour beer styles are emerging all the time. These new styles often incorporate different brewing techniques or flavorings to create unique and innovative sour beers.

Sour beer festivals are becoming more common: In recent years, sour beer festivals have become increasingly popular, providing an opportunity for brewers and beer lovers to come together to celebrate the style. These festivals often feature a wide variety of sour beers from different breweries, as well as educational seminars and tastings.

Sour beers are gaining recognition and awards: Sour beers are starting to receive more recognition from beer competitions and festivals. For example, the Great American Beer Festival has added several sour beer categories to its competition in recent years, reflecting the growing popularity and diversity of the style.

Sour beers are becoming more widely available: As sour beers have gained in popularity, they have become more widely available in bars, restaurants, and retail stores. This has helped to introduce the style to a wider audience and expand its reach beyond traditional beer enthusiasts.

Overall, the popularity of sour beers is expanding in the world, with more and more people discovering and appreciating the unique flavors and characteristics of the style.

Now that you know more about sour beers, go out and try them! Comment below what your favorite sour beer is and let us know what you try next!