Hello Sour Beer Friends!
With my recent foray into the world of online blogging and the creation of this site, I have been thinking a lot about ways to teach people more about sour and funky beers. One of the many ways I arrived at was to recommend beers for readers to seek out and taste. The in-depth beer reviews I publish on Sour Beer Blog are one facet of these recommendations. Another will be lists of beers that are educational for various reasons. The first of these lists will be a collection of 10 excellent sour or funky beers that are both “relatively” available and highlight many of the potential flavor components of sour beers.
Essentially, if someone asked me to create a gift basket of 10 beers that would teach them as much as possible about the variety of possibilities within the realm of sour beers, this would be a basket of beers that I would be proud to give:
- Jolly Pumpkin Madrugada Obscura
- Drie Fonteinen Oude Kriek
- Cantillon Rosé de Gambrinus
- Russian River Consecration
- The Bruery Rueuze
- Oude Gueuze Tilquin à l’Ancienne
- Dogfish Head Festina Peche
- Goose Island Sofie
- Crooked Stave Hop Savant
- Petrus Aged Pale
Pitch black, 8.1% ABV, and full of flavors of dark roasted malts and sour fruits, Madrugada Obscura, produced by Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales from Dexter, Michigan, USA, would be included in my gift basket because it shows that both Brettanomyces funk and moderate levels of lactic sourness can balance well with the dark roasty flavors in a black “stout-like” beer. Through the cultivation of their own “wild” mixed cultures of microbes from spontaneous fermentation, Jolly Pumpkin has developed a unique house flavor which is present in all of their beers and is very pleasant.
This classic Belgian kriek would be included in my gift basket for the sour beer newbie in order to show off the awesome flavors of the sour cherry. Sour cherries are the most common fruit classically blended into lambic beers of Belgium as well as being very common in American sour brewing. Drie Fonteinen produces some of the most excellent lambic beers that I have ever tasted and any one of their beers would be well suited to a list of sour beers for flavor education. In this case, their Oude Kriek is firmly sour and funky while highlighting the strong flavors of cherry juice, cherry pie filling, and an almond bitterness of cherry pits. These flavors all blend seamlessly and add to the existing sour profile of the lambic used to create this beer.
The Cantillon brewery may be the single most famous lambic brewery among the sour beer fans of the world. In addition to producing a wide profile of world class sour beers, the family also operates a museum devoted to traditional lambic brewing and blending which is a very popular tourist attraction in their home city of Brussels. Their classic framboise, Rosé de Gambrinus, would be included in my gift basket for two reasons. First, Cantillon beers have a house flavor that is delicious and unique in the sour beer world and I feel that anyone truly trying to “learn the ropes” of sour beers should taste it. Second, the tart red raspberry is the second most common fruit for blending with lambics and sour beers in general (behind the sour cherry). Rosé de Gambrinus showcases the intense flavors of this fruit without trying to back-sweeten or tone down the product in any way. It is a pleasantly sour, funky, dry, and fruity beer that has many qualities found in a fruit wine. Delicious and refreshing, I have also published a full length review of this beer here.
This unique and delicious sour beer would be included in my newbie gift basket in order to teach that sour beers can be high in alcohol content as well as potently oak flavored. The 10 % ABV Consecration, brewed by Russian River Brewing Company of Santa Rosa, CA, USA, is based on a Belgian dark strong which then has black currants added and is aged in cabernet sauvignon barrels with a mixed culture of organisms including Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus, and Pediococcus. The beer has strong flavors of dark malts, raisins, wine, and oak blended with a moderate level of souring and light Brettanomyces funk. Many traditional sour beers average 5% to 6% ABV. At a much higher 10% ABV, Consecration is deeply complex and very tasty. There is a more detailed review of this beer published here.
Rueuze, an American craft brewed take on a classic Belgian gueuze brewed by The Bruery from Placentia, CA, USA, is included in my theoretical basket of sour beers for a beginner because to date it may be the most potently sour beer I have ever drank. It is my understanding that recent releases of this beer have been more moderate in their level of souring, but the original release of this beer, while maintaining a very nice gueuze flavor and drinkability, was at the upper level of sour potency that I have experienced in a commercial beer. These bottles would earn a 10 on the sour scale I include on each of my detailed beer reviews. These original release bottles were nice because in the world of sour beers it is very helpful to have potent examples of certain flavors like lactic acid in order to more fully organize and understand all of the other sour beers that one tastes.
Founded in 2009, Gueuzerie Tilquin is the new kid on the block amongst the community of Belgian lambic brewers and blenders. Youth, however, is no indication of quality when it comes to this lambic blender’s products which, to date, include both a gueuze and a plum fruit lambic that are both excellent. I have included their Oude Gueuze in my newbie gift basket because, in addition to being pleasantly sour and dry, this is one of the smoothest and “soft” drinking gueuzes on the market. Many flavors in sour beers are often presented in “sharp” ways. These beers will have a sourness that stands out and is puckering. Only after a few sips to adjust to this puckering sourness will the other flavors in the product begin to come forward and add to the experience. On the other hand, Tilquin’s Oude Gueuze is a sour beer that is delicately blended to balance the sour acidity with the malty flavors and body of the product in a way that is soft and non-puckering. In a lot of ways this gueuze drinks like an American cream ale or a German kölsch in which the hop bitterness has been replaced by an equivalent level of lactic acid sourness.
This lightly peach flavored Berliner Weisse brewed by Dogfish Head Brewery of Milton, DE, USA would be included in my gift basket because it is a nice example of a beer that is sour, but has no presence of Brettanomyces or the “funky” flavors and aromas that result from these yeasts. At 4.5% ABV, Festina Peche is a pleasant session beer which I frequently drink throughout the warmer months of the year because of its refreshing nature, high availability (on the East Coast of the US), and low cost. Most sour beers achieve their flavor profiles from mixed cultures of both bacteria and Brettanomyces or other “wild” yeasts. Due to this, most sour beers will have a mixture of flavors arising from each of the organisms used in its fermentation and aging. These microbes give rise to a blend of both sour and funky flavors which go hand-in-hand in the majority of sour beers. Berliner Weisses break this trend by using only Lactobacillus bacteria and a “clean” brewer’s yeast (Saccharomyces) during fermentation. This gives these beers a tangy sour acidity without any funky notes or other complexity derived from traditional mixed cultures. Dogfish Head’s Festina Peche is tart, refreshing, tasty and is a good beer to teach a newcomer to sours what lactic acid tastes like on its own.
Taking a look on the flip-side of the coin from my previous example, Festina Peche by Dogfish Head, Sofie is a delicious Belgian Saison made by Goose Island Beer Company of Chicago, IL, USA. Unlike the Lactobacillus fermented Berliner Weisse, this Saison is fermented using only Brettanomyces without the inclusion of any souring bacteria. This produces a beer with funky flavors and a dry finish without actually being sour. I would include this in my newbie sour beer basket for two reasons. First, it’s an excellent and readily available example of the saison / farmhouse ale style. Second, it teaches a drinker about some of the characters of Brettanomyces and how both these flavors and changes to the mouthfeel and dryness of a beer can exist in the absence of acidic sourness. Sofie has spicy pepper-like flavors as well as doughy and tropical fruit flavors derived from its Brettanomyces fermentation. It is also dry in the finish and has a light body and high level of carbonation. Overall an excellent beer and although it is not sour, Sofie is definitely funky enough to be included in my educational basket.
Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project is a brewery from Denver, CO, USA which produces a large portfolio of excellent sour and funky beers all utilizing Brettanomyces for at least some portion of their fermentation or aging. I chose to include their Hop Savant, a dry hopped Brettanomyces Pale Ale, in my list of 10 sour beers for education because this beer highlights the ability of funky and sour beers to highlight hops as an ingredient. Most traditional sour beers only utilize aged hops or leave hops very much in the background of their flavor profiles because typically high levels of hop bitterness will clash with the sour and funky flavors present in these beers. While hop bitterness typically doesn’t work in sour beers, hop flavors and aromas achieved from using hops late in the boil or through dry hopping can blend very nicely with Brettanomyces flavor profiles. Hop Savant portrays these flavors very nicely, using ample quantities of American citrus hops such as Mosaic, Simcoe, and Citra to dry hop the beer while it ages in oak foeders (large oak vessels much bigger than a standard wine barrel). The citrus and tropical fruit flavors of these hops blend nicely with the doughy, leathery, and tropical fruit flavors produced by the Brettanomyces.
I chose to include Petrus Aged Pale, by Belgian brewery Bavik – De Brabandere, in my newbie sour beer drinker’s gift basket because this beer highlights acetic acid (vinegar) as a flavor component. This beer is best described as a sour, oak aged, Belgian Pale Ale. The beer blends pale malt flavors with grassy hops and a sour profile that is an approximately equal blend of lactic and acetic acid. I typically view any amount of vinegar in a beer that is more intense than the lactic acid sourness to be an off flavor. However, Petrus Aged Pale is a tasty example of a product where the vinegar is strong enough to clearly taste but not so strong as to overwhelm the lactic sourness. In the United States, this beer is fairly available and is a nice example of a non-lambic Belgian sour.