Ah, the world of beer…so interesting, so fun, so crazy! Over the past year, I have to say that I’ve taken way more of an interest in beer. Just like wine, it’s amazing what those brewers can do. Probably one of my most favorite discoveries this year – along with many other people – was discovering how much I enjoyed sour ales. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. From the slight funky tartness all the way to feeling like you just sucked a sour patch kid raw, I love it all! And it seems I’m not the only one, more and more sours are popping up from all over, which makes my taste buds do a little dance of joy.
What is a sour ale, you ask? What a wonderful question with not a straight answer. While there is not a specific definition, it generally refers to the type of brews that are tart and tangy, and maybe a little funky. This flavor comes from bacteria such as Lactobacillus, Acetobacter or Pediococcus, or even yeast strains such as Brettanomyces. Yes, these are some of the bacteria that cause the sour ‘off’ flavor in some foods and other beers, but in this case, this is a good sour flavor.
While we now know where the sourness comes from, people initially thought it was magic, or so our local beer expert, Brent, informed me. Back in the day in Belgium, brewers left the casks open where all the different bacteria or yeasts in the air could come and just sit on top of the brews. The finished product often had a sour or vinegary flavor to them, but no one knew why. As years passed on, it was figured out that, no it wasn’t magic, it came from the different bacteria in the air. This process of using the the natural yeasts in the air is called ‘spontaneous fermentation.’ (Side note, this is how lambics are brewed).
Most breweries now don’t use spontaneous fermentation, but have a culture strain of yeast that they use for the sour ales to recreate the flavors and aromas. There’s also varying degrees of sourness to these interesting brews. Some beers have a slight sweet, sourness to them such as the Monk’s Cafe Flemish ale. Then there’s the Jolly Pumpkin ‘La Roja’ which is a little more earthy and spicy with a touch of sour notes. Then there’s the Cantillon ‘Rose de Gambrinus’ that is pretty tart and super delicious.
Well, there’s a little introduction to the world of sour ales. Many breweries are developing sours, which will keep this little genre of beer really interesting for years to come!