A couple of months ago I wrote the article below for my column in Folio Weekly Magazine. After a conversation with a representative from Belgian Brewery Rodenbach, I decided to re-post it here for those who may have missed it.
The power of sour is undeniable. For centuries, breweries have been making sour beers that range from mildly tart to toe-curling, tooth-enamel-eating sour. Sour beers that go by names like gose (pronounced go-zah), lambic, Berliner Weiss and more are experiencing a surge in popularity rivaled only by the IPA craze of the past few years. And, with the hot, humid summer months coming, you’re sure to see more and more of these thirst-quenching beers on local shelves.
Why do we have such a craving for sour things? It all traces back to biology. Sour tastes are generally associated with acids found in relatively few places when it comes to food. Acids in vitamin C are key to holding off a number of deadly conditions — like scurvy — and also help build our immune systems. Somewhere in our evolutionary history, we lost the ability to synthesize vitamin C, so we had to get it from our diets. It’s not just the street cred associated with chowing down on Warheads without flinching; our physiology drives us to seek out acidic foods like citrus.
Before yeast was discovered in the late 1800s, most beers were at least a little sour. This was because brewers didn’t know the role of yeast, and beer was usually brewed using open-topped fermentation vessels. Wild yeast “infected” the sugary pre-beer liquid, or wort, and caused the magical process of fermentation to occur.
Once the properties of yeast were understood, breweries began to control the amount of sour flavors in their beers. Some breweries, particularly those in Belgium, allowed their wort to “spontaneously ferment” by withholding yeast and allowing natural yeast to inoculate the liquid. From these breweries come such brews as gueuze, an intensely sour beer created from blending one-, two- and three-year-old lambic ales.
Other sour styles, such as German goze, are produced by adding yeast strains that imbue sour flavors to the finished beer. This style is also created by the addition of salt and coriander. Yet another style is Berliner Weiss, a German wheat beer made with lactobacillus bacteria and usually, but not always, served with flavored syrup. Another sour concoction is Flanders Red, named for the area of Belgium where it’s made, as well as for its color and sourness it gets from the red wine barrels in which it’s aged.
Sour beers are emerging as a hot trend in craft beer today. You can look forward to more and more sour beer produced by craft brewers in the months and years ahead.
Here are some sour beers you can find locally.
Brewed at Aardwolf Brewing Company, it’s a mildly sour Berliner Weiss with a bright citrus flavor. Enjoy this refresher along with the afternoon sea breeze on a hot summer day.
Key Lime Berliner
Green Room Brewing Company’s Berliner Weiss is like a trip to the Keys — you know, for the limes. It’s tart yet refreshing and only on tap as a seasonal brew, so get out to Jax Beach and try it while you can.
Rodenbach Grand Cru
Aged for longer than most Flanders red ales, this classic Belgian sour brewed by Brouwerij Rodenbach N.V. is a blend of one-third young beer and two-thirds beer aged in oak for two years. It’s often referred to as the “red wine of beer.”