Sour But Tasty

Everything you wanted to know about Sour Beers, but were afraid to drink…
Story & Photos by Jeff Stites
This month we tackle the hip new trend of sour beers. Maybe you haven’t seen one yet, let alone tried one, but more and more craft brewers are trying their hand at this style and you’re sure to run across one sooner or later. I’ve taken the first sips so you have some warning before you jump on the bandwagon.

Even the most enthusiastic supporters of sour beers admit they are an “acquired taste.” I haven’t acquired it. But that’s getting ahead of things. What are sour beers, you ask? Simply put, they are beers into which some unusual yeast or bacteria has been introduced. In a very real way, sour beers are a bit of brewing history come to life. Before science and the brewing arts refined ways to control yeast’s behavior during the brewing process and learned how to isolate types of yeast that yield specific flavors, all beer was sour. If you home brew, many mistakes can make your beer go sour. And that should give you pause.
The yeasts and bacteria in sours can be introduced in a controlled manner or just find their way in by clinging to the skins of the fruit with which many sours are aged or, in some cases, just drop in as the brewing liquid is left in open vats in a brewery. Yes, they do that. The most common bacteria leave the beer with a yogurt-ish sourness or a more vinegary flavor. When your milk goes bad, it has too much of one of these bacteria strains in it. See why these are an acquired taste?
You’ll see my reactions to three examples below, but in general I’m not a fan. I love the historical aspect of this, but I also appreciate human progress. We’ve learned to make beer that isn’t sour, and that’s a good thing. I suspect there’s something of an “Emporer wears no clothes” aspect to this sour beer renaissance. I wonder if people don’t drink this stuff so other people will think they are true beer connoisseurs, while in truth almost no one actually likes it. Or I could be wrong. Maybe it IS an acquired taste and I just haven’t had enough practice. I think I’ll be happy living with that possibility.
Destihl Brewery Wild Sour Series Synchopathic Apricot, 6% ABV 8 IBU
The Label Says: Synchopathic Apricot “syncha” our refreshingly tart sour ale with the citus dry-hopping of a pale ale. Biscuity malt and an uplifting stone fruit beat from added apricots form a perfect harmony in this delicately balanced and delightfully enjoyable beer. Cheers!
My Take: So I girded my loins and tried this. At first I thought that if I got it though my head that this wasn’t like any beer I’m used to, and that it is SUPPOSED to taste sour, I could put my biases aside and give it a fair shake. I almost finished half a can, thinking that it’s an acquired taste and it would grow on me. So far, not so much.
I like to hold beers up against the label claims, which is why I designed this column as I did. In this case, I can’t really justify anything the makers say. There’s no maltiness, biscuit or otherwise, it’s not balanced at all, and it’s not the least bit delightful.
It IS sour, if that’s what you’re after. And it does indeed have a bit of an apricot flavor to it, but it’s struggling to overcome the sour. It’s very tart, and that’s the saving grace for me. That bit is interesting and not bad at all.
I also poured some for my lovely and talented wife Lisa to try. I wish you could have seen her face. “Nasty” was pretty much her entire summation of the unfortunate Synchopathic Apricot.
Red Hare Brewing Company Well Bless Her Tart Berliner Weisse
3.85% ABV N/A IBU
Superficialities first…..the can this beer is packaged in is completely awesome, but bringing the ABV number out two decimal places is nothing but pretentious. Odd for a brewery that just this summer opened a brewing facility on Shallotte’s Main Street. Yes, THAT Shallotte.
Well Bless Her Tart (one of the best beer names ever) is a strawberry-flavored sour brew. I had higher hopes for this than the apricot version. First impression was scary, though, as it literally smells like vomit. No joke. But me and my loyal wife put that aside and gave it a try, and this is actually better than the previous beer. Now, the caveat here is that it’s better in the sense that it’s not as bad. I still poured most of it down the sink drain. It’s over-carbonated, which kills a lot of the flavor, and sadly I think does this beer a favor in doing so. I could have finished this one if manners demanded, but getting over the smell would be a problem.
Ommegang Rosetta, Lambic-Kriek Ale Aged on Cherries 5.6% ABV
The Label Says: This elegant fruit beer, matured on cherries, is brewed exclusively for brewery Ommegang by Liefmans, a sister brewery, in Belguim
My Take: It stands to reason that a lambic brewed in Belgium (Ommegang’s sister brewery) would be the best of the lot. This brew is a very pleasant dark amber color with a nice cherry flavor. The sour in this comes from the cherries, it seems to me, which makes it less “smack you in the face”.
I’m still not going to buy this again, and may not finish the bottle, but it is the best of a category that I simply don’t enjoy. This beer tastes well thought out and carefully crafted, and, well, less gimmicky than the others.

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