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Sour Beer: the New IPA!

October 17, 2013

The buzz is building for sour beers. I didn't understand it when I first heard some of the fuss a couple years ago, but now I'm catching on.

IPA's are cool because they offer a big new element for beer taste: bold hops. The grassy bitterness offsets the malted sweetness and slows you down, boosting both the 'dry' and the astringent aspects. Gives ya something to chew on.

Well, grass is grass -- it can get old. Thankfully, there's way more to beer than grass! Obviously, you can go lighter, or darker and maltier -- just plain thicker. Probably many other directions, too.

But a new direction that's lately catching on comes from Belgium, mostly the Flemish part. And in turn the word is spreading around the cyclocross bike scene because of its Belgian fetishization. And that's the sour beer.

Well, I bumped into it again by accident via Michigan's Jolly Pumpkin "Firefly" Ale. They had it on tap at Zoobies, a newly renovated/reopened bar in Oldtown Lansing. At first I almost spit it out. Sour! Yuck! ...But then it grew on me. And even hung around in my bad memory. I asked for it the next time I visited but they were out. It was $8 a pint, anyway!

I then started exploring the concept here and there as I could. I discovered that they're often sold in large bottles that run over $15.

Then I bumped into Raenart's Flemish Wild Ale for $9 a big bottle in Grand Rapids. ...More affordable. Dang, it was tasty! It had a head on it like MERINGUE! Like whipped cream. Like you could take it out and spoon it onto something else. I never noticed beer heads much before but somehow this played into the good flavor.

I've since bumped into the Goose Island Belgians which are only $7 a big bottle. ...Coming down! Now, these aren't exactly sour.

I'm not expert at this whole scene yet. Apparently the sours are made by using BACTERIA in addition to yeast. The yeasts are themselves unusual "Belgian" yeasts. But the bacterias need YEARS to work, thus the higher prices. A famous one has the nickname "Brett."

Another major but weird angle is that this beer is said to taste like HORSEBLANKET. ...That's the buzzword. Also "manure" pops up now'n'then. Barnyard. Goaty. ...It's true! And these aren't bad things!

Oh, and they can be fussy about the glasses you pour it into. Often they're a variation on tulip -- not pint or pils.

I'm not sure what it's all about, but I am digging the sours. It seemed new to me and I haven't bumped into it much, but everywhere I go lately if I scratch around a bit I dig up "sour fever." So it's out there! Just google it a bit and see!

Basically, it seems like another way to add complexity to beer. It's another dimension. Sour -- a classic flavor profile -- comes to beer. Why not? Try it and see! It might grow on you. Actually, it's famous for its interaction with food. I dunno which foods go best with it, but that's the word. OK, I just googled it -- they're saying bold flavor food, fried food, strong cheese, chocolate, smelly seafood (someone said ceviche). So there ya go!

In this type of beer there's Sour, Wild, Lambic, Oude, Gueuze, Saison -- likely others.

I've also read up a bit on homebrewing the sours. Brett comes up along with another bacteria, "Sacc" for short. I suppose I could spare a couple carboys for a couple years. Apparently it's not too hard. It does seem like a step up in brewing. ...But maybe it's a smart step, since otherwise, I'd go broke trying to drink sour.

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