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National Sour Beer Day Has Come and Gone, But You Might’ve Missed The Fine Lines Between Styles…

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When it comes to describing these types of beers, two terms are often used: sour and tart. But what’s the difference? And what about the nuances between styles?

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National Sour Beer Day was this past Tuesday, September 8th. While celebrating in a taproom is somewhat challenging this year, we still wanted to take the opportunity to honor these mouth-puckering beers. Even though National Sour Beer day has come and gone, sour beers are still being imbibed regularly.

The term “sour beer” is pretty wide open and includes several styles, which we will look at below.

When it comes to describing these types of beers, two terms are often used: sour and tart. But what’s the difference?

Well, that depends on who you ask.

The dictionary defines them almost as synonyms. While in the beer world, both can be described as “sharp and acidic.”

To me, they are pretty darn similar, which can make characterizing particular sour ales very difficult.

Here’s how I decide when to use the term “sour” and the “tart” on my beer list:

  • Sour – acidic, lingering, unsweet
  • Tart – sharp, biting, upfront, dry, sweet

When it comes to seeking out and sampling sour beers, there are seven main types to choose from, each of which has a unique background and approach to their production

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Different Types of Sour Beers

American Wild Ales

Essentially a catch-all for sour beers that don’t fall into the classic sour styles, American Wild Ales are fermented, “either primary or secondary, with non-saccharomyces yeast or acid-producing bacteria.” These beers can be light, dark, fruity, spicy, hoppy, malty, etc. Even the fermentation flavors have a vast range, covering tart to earthy. Indeed an all-encompassing category!

Berliner Weisse

These hazy, super low ABV beers originated in 16th century Germany. These days, the style is brewed with low amounts of wheat. The sourness is created via a second fermentation in the bottle or by adding Lactobacillus, which lowers the beer’s pH. Berliners are often fruited, like many sour beers.

Belgian Lambics

One of the traditional sour styles, lambics were first created just outside Brussels in the 13th century. This style is incredibly unique because it is fermented wildly via a coolship or a wide, shallow metal pan in which the beer cools overnight. The natural bacteria in the air ferment the wort as the beer sits in the container. An authentic lambic, produced in Belgium, can only be brewed in between the cooler weather of October through April due to the collection of organisms found in the air. These Belgian beers share many flavors with red wine and are drier with a definite tartness.

Flanders Red Ale

This is one of the most complex sour styles available. The complete opposite of lambics because they are tightly controlled during the fermentation process. Lactobacillus is a common bacteria used to sour this style. There is a reasonably legit rumor that Rodenbach named this beer to set it apart from the very similar Oud Bruin. While that’s never been confirmed, they do share many similarities. However, Flanders stand apart because they are aged in oak barrels for extended periods (up to 18 months), and new batches are mixed with old batches, just like the solera method that Sigma mentioned recently. Flanders are brewed with red malt, resulting in a red body, and bring tasting notes such as plum, black cherry, and red currants.

Gose

Not to be confused with Gueuze (coming up next!), this style originated in Germany. They are often herbal with a lemon-like sourness and a salty backend, typically due to the brewery’s water source or added salt. At least 50% of the grain bill must come from malted wheat and Goses are soured due to inoculation with lactobacillus bacteria. Their ABV ratings typically run just higher than Berliner Weisses and interestingly enough, Goses come from the same beer family as them as well.

Gueuze

This style is a type of lambic and is made by blending 1-year-old and 2- to 3-year-old batches. Because the younger batch doesn’t fully ferment, the blend receives a second fermentation in the bottle from the excess sugars. Aged hops are used as well, though none of the classic hop flavors are present. The final product is sour, dry, and musty (but in a good way) with a cider-like and barnyardy taste. They are also very carbonated and often referred to as “Brussels Champagne.”

Oud Bruin

Sometimes called “Flanders Brown”, this is another sour beer that ages for a significant amount of time before being sold. They are typically aged for up to a year, then several more months for a secondary fermentation. This process gives the cultured yeast and bacteria plenty of time to sour. Much like a Flanders Red Ale, Oud Bruins also carry a red pigment. However, most of their color profile is brown, giving drinkers a preview of their subtle maltiness.

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As you can see, there are many options to create your sour beer experience. And yet, many of them share characteristics.

Whether you want to keep it local with an American Wild Ale or chase something international, there are a ton of ways to celebrate on September 8 or all year.

Houston is known for its beer selection, especially with so many new breweries coming into town. No doubt, you’ll find something sour and delicious. With so many iterations of these styles with fruit and other interesting ingredients being added, you’re sure to find something reminiscent of Warheads, Sour Patch Kids, or Sweet Tarts to take you right back to Halloween.

Fruit or not, if you’re like me, you’ll want to try them all.

Beers to you, Houston.


Brent is originally from Ohio but has been in Houston for over 10 years. As an Aggie, musician, animal advocate, and Lego collector, he always has something going on. If you have an imperial stout, come find him. He’ll want to add it to his insatiable beer spreadsheet.


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Brent Topa
brent.topa@beerchronicle.com

Brent is originally from Ohio but has been in Houston for over 10 years. As an Aggie, musician, animal advocate, and Lego collector, he always has something going on. If you have an imperial stout, come find him. He'll want to add it to his insatiable beer spreadsheet.

1Comment
  • Mathew Herrold
    Posted at 12:05h, 25 September

    Great Article. Interesting theres alot of talk in the brewers association about combining flanders red and Oud Bruin. Makes sense to me. Rodenbach gets their fruit flavor in the flanders red by adding cherry essence during aging. Michael Jackson talks about this in his Beer companion book. Red malt is not used to make flanders a red beer. The color is obtained by adding a touch of roast malts. Pretty much all unaduletrated beer is a shade of red, even stouts.

    I’m also surprised at the lack of mention of True Anamoly. They’re leading the pack in Houston with wild beers made via traditional methods. Theres a brewery in planning, (http://ovinnikbrewing.com/) which will have some excellent sours. I’ve tried their test batches and they know what they’re doing.

    Last to mention is a style not covered. Lichtenhainer. This is a smoked sour light beer in the realm of Berliner Weisse. When done right this is a delicious, unique, and refreshing sour.

    I also think it would be cook to give a list of local commercial examples of each style. e.g.

    Flanders Red – Barrier Wolf by Devil and the deep
    Berliner Weisse – Boiler room by Saint Arnold

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