CVIndependent

Thu08222019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

There’s been a turn toward the wild and less-predictable side of beers over the past several years—and the sour-beer spectrum is evolving into a maze of conflicting substyles.

Kettle sours vs. barrel-aged sours? Berliner weisse or gose? What about dry-hopped American kettle sours?

Sour beers are refreshing and delicious during hotter months, but I’m going to go against the yeasty grain and delve into sours now that fall has arrived. What some non-beer-drinkers may not know—I’m looking at you, drinkers of only wine—is that sour beers can be perfect substitutes for wine. This is good news, considering that we’re coming up on the celebratory time of year with Thanksgiving feasts and holiday parties.

The bright, wild, vibrant world of sours offers a wide range of flavors and intensity—meaning they’re perfect for pairing with rich dishes. Many sour beers are fermented using a strain of Brettanomyces yeast, or Brett, for short. Although winemakers consider it a spoiling agent, brewers embrace the funky, flavorful yeast strains that help make sours, well, sour.

Here’s a primer on some of the terms you’ll hear in the world of sours.

Lambic beers: All lambics are spontaneously fermented with naturally occurring wild yeast. They are the only beers fermented via wild, airborne yeast. In other words, no yeast is added by the brewers. This rare style is produced in a very small region of Belgium. Fruit lambics are made by adding whole fruit, fruit pulp or fruit juice to a batch as it ages in oak casks.

Gose: Not to be confused with gueuze, gose is a traditional German-style unfiltered sour wheat beer. Goses are often viewed as perfect summer beers—but let’s face it: Summerish days are still lingering in the Coachella Valley. Characterized by ingredients such as coriander and salt, the German-style gose dates back to medieval Germany. Modern-day gose is usually light and crisp with a touch of sourness.

Flanders red ale: These come from West Flanders, Belgium. English brewmasters had established schedules of aging and blending for their ales in the 17th and 18th centuries, and it’s believed that Flanders brewmasters took this blending practice and ran with it. Flanders reds are aged in barrels or foeders for 8 to 18 months and are more red-wine-like because of black cherry, red currant and orange flavors. Flanders brown ales are more of a modern interpretation. I am a fan of the Duchesse de Bourgogne Brouwerij Verhaeghe. This 6 percent alcohol-by-volume mahogany brown sour is faintly tart with balsamic notes, and is punctuated by rich fruit astringency, plentiful oak and modest vanilla. I also recommend the Bruery Terreux Oude Tart. Aged in red-wine barrels for up to 18 months, this 7.5 percent ABV Flemish-style red is also available with fruit additions of cherries, boysenberries and raspberries.

As for other sour-style beers: The following are worth picking up for your next get-together or celebration:

• 8 Wired Gypsy Funk

• Beachwood Blendery Coolship Chaos

• Boulevard Love Child #8

• Casa Agria Heritage Gold

• Cigar City Lactobacillus Guava Grove

• Crooked Stave St Bretta Citrus Wildbier

• Firestone Walker SLOambic

• Funkwerks Raspberry Provincial

• Lost Abbey Framboise de Amorosa

• Mikkeller Hallo Ich Bin Berliner Weisse Raspberry

• Oud Beersel Oude Kriek Vieille

• Societe The Thief

• Track 7 Chasing Rainbows

Mistletoes aren’t the only place appropriate for puckering up. Thanks to sours, lip-smacking boozy flavors are perfect just about any time.

Published in Beer

With the help of nature’s unpredictability, experienced brewers are adapting traditional European techniques to bring bursts of tart and tangy flavors to beers.

Yep. We’re talking about sours.

In the mid-19th century, when beer was aged and shipped in wooden barrels before the advent of refrigeration, nearly all beer was, to some extent, sour.

Today, good sours can take up to two to three years to produce. But the wait is worth it: All hail Pediococcus, Lactobacillus and Brettanomyces. The remarkable flavors in sour ales can be attributed to these wild yeast strains.

We recently spoke to people at three Southern California breweries that are helping lead the sour resurgence.


The Bruery: A Chat with Benjamin Weiss

Benjamin Weiss is the marketing director of The Bruery, in the Orange County community of Placentia. The Bruery celebrated its seventh anniversary in May.

Benjamin became a professional brewer at The Bruery in 2008, just two years after starting to homebrew in Los Angeles. He eventually became the brewer on the infamous Black Tuesday beer.

What’s your background brewing sours?

I just drank them. Brewing them is pretty much the same as anything—you’re just fermenting slightly differently. … Most of our sours are aged in a used wine barrel. (With) most of them nowadays, actually, primary fermentation starts in an oak barrel, then we rack into smaller oak barrels.

Do you have favorite wineries from which you like to get your barrels from

No. … We get the barrels from wineries, but we’re really using a neutral barrel. We clean them out … so as long as they’re newer, solid barrels, we’re happy with them.

What do you love about sours?

I’ve loved sours since I’ve first tried them back in my homebrew meeting about 10 years ago. … When you have a good sour, there’s something complex and delicious about it. Most of our sours are not purely lactic fermentation. They’re not just one note. It’s hard to describe; it’s almost a clean sour taste … also the funkiness that you can get from different strains of Brett (Brettanomyces) that comes with time. … I find them just fascinating.

What do you think of the resurgence in popularity of sours?

It’s crazy. I was just commenting to one of my co-workers that, we were at some festival … five years ago. Every single person that came up to you, you had to explain what a sour beer was. … Now, almost everyone walks up and says, “Oh, you have a sour beer?” It’s completely the opposite, at least with the beer crowd. It’s still a very, very small segment of beer. But within the craft-beer aficionado community, it’s increasingly more popular.

What are some of your favorites from The Bruery?

One of my favorites we make is Rueuze, our kind of gueuze style. … It’s gotten a little bit better every year. It has that funky character that I like. Gueuze is a type of lambic made by blending young (1-year-old) and old (2- to 3-year-old) lambics, which is then bottled for a second fermentation. Rueuze is a blend of sour blonde ale from several of their oak barrels, some of which have been aging several months, some several years. Notes of apricots, peach, lemon and bright barnyard funk flavors come through—perfect for summer.

What are some of your upcoming plans?

We’re launching a tasting room for Bruery Terreux (in Anaheim) hopefully at the end of this year, if not early next year. … Bruery Terreux is a newish brand, loosely translating to “Earthy Bruery” in French. Developed by Patrick Rue of The Bruery, it’s a new space that focuses solely on their farmhouse-style ales fermented with the wild yeasts.


Firestone Walker’s Barrelworks: A Brewery in Wine Country

The “accidental” story of Firestone Walker’s Barrelworks is beautifully tasty. The story of renegade brewers Matt Brynildson, Jim Crooks (“Sour Jim”) and Jeffers Richardson has grown from humble beginnings in 2005 to a program that produces more than 1,500 barrels annually in Buellton, just south of Paso Robles.

This innovative and unprecedented barrelhouse is the birthplace of several of the wildly coveted beers being poured annually at the Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival, held every May. Their Agrestic (2014) began as the brewery’s DBA; it then goes through a “chrysalis” process involving 87 percent French and 13 percent American oak barrels, and a proprietary collection of micro flora. It spends 14 months there. This sour leans towards the punker, tropical and oaky side of things.

The Sour Opal is an American Gueuze style with a titratable acidity (T.A.) of 6.6 g/L. Currently, no other brewery that I know of divulges this information. With their home in wine country, Firestone Walker has adapted traditions and techniques from winery friends.

I spoke to Jeffers, the director of Barrelworks (aka the “Barrelmeister”).

What’s your fascination with sours?

I love how it contributes depth and complexity to beer. Acidity adds a whole new dimension of flavor to beer … and plays teasingly with wild yeast and oak, when those components are involved.

How long have you been experimenting with sours?

My palate has been experimenting with acidified beers since 1985, when I lived in Brussels and first tried them. But I didn’t become comfortable with wild beer production until I teamed up with Jim. I’m old school. I was indoctrinated in the ways of clean beer practices. Once we were given our own padded room, and the inmates were allowed to run it, I was more comfortable. Jim, on the other hand has been a certifiable experimenter of sours for some time.


Coachella Valley Brewing: Pucker Up in the Desert

On a local level, Coachella Valley Brewing Co.’s Chris Anderson has been brewing up a sour program in Thousand Palms over the past year.

This sour program at CVB is taking off. Anderson hinted the brewery might be expanding its sour program outside of the current space in the near future.

The new Profligate Society will feature upcoming sours, cabernet-barrel-aged Epineux Poire prickly pear wild ale, cabernet-barrel-aged Cassis Noir black currant sour ale and cabernet-barrel-aged Flame Rouges wild ale. Less than 500 bottles of each beer will be released to Profligate members.

What sours are on tap now?

The Peche, an American wild ale with locally grown white peaches and pediococcus, and lactic and multiple Brettanomyces cultures. Tasters are $3, and there’s only one keg left.

When did you start this, or think about starting to brew sours?

We immediately started getting into that mode when we had the capacity to store that type of a beer. We got a bunch of tanks dedicated just for making sour beers. That was probably about a year ago. That was the inception of the first couple sour bases that we use to make a couple different beers with a batch of different fruits.

How many tanks?

We have three right now. We immediately made a sour base, which is your run-of-the-mill wheat beer and used some really old hops, which is typical of sour beers. You want to use old, cheesy, skanky hops, rather than the real aromatic ones. You don’t want that to shine through in the beer. We aged it away; we use a special flora. We have an onsite laboratory. … We built our own culture, that we inoculate all the barrels with, as well as the wort.

What do you love about sours?

I don’t know. It’s kind of mysterious, you know? A little unorthodox. It’s the opposite of everything you’re told as a brewer, even the way the mash is done. The long aging … you still may not get really high quality results … and it’s all about blending, too.

Published in Beer