What Exactly Is A Sour Beer?

Though sour beers have been around since humans started brewing beer thousands of years ago, they are definitely having a moment right now in the beer community. As American craft brewers continue to push their limits and creativity, more and more sours keep hitting the market.

To put it simply, a sour beer is a style of beer that is specifically brewed to have sour, tart, or acidic flavor. Sour beers can range from being light and crisp like champagne to fruity or to funky and mouth-puckering. If you like oranges, grapefruits, or sour candy, you'll love sour beer.

What’s The Difference Between A Sour Beer And A Regular Beer?

Depending on what kind of beer you're drinking, you will typically taste the hoppy or malty elements that went into the brewing process. However, that's not the case with sour beer. Unlike most modern brews that are made in sterile environments, sours are brewed with wild yeasts and bacterias. The three most common bacterias used are Lactobacillus, Brettanomyces, and Pediococcus. Don't let the use of bacteria deter you from diving into the world of sour beer; these types are totally safe to consume.

Unlike your typical ales that take about a month to make, the brewing process of a sour beer can take months - sometimes years - to complete. However, the payoff is having a delicious beverage that is much more complex than your standard ale.

Group of friends raising a glass to toast

Why Are Sours More Expensive Than Other Beers?

Here's the thing: because sours have a more intricate brewing process, they require more resources, like specialized brewing equipment, staff, storage, ingredients, and more. All these things cost money, which affect the cost of the final product.

However, most sour enthusiasts would argue that paying the few extra dollars is worth it, especially because the complexity of the flavor your experience when drinking a sour is unmatched by any other style of beer. Plus they often come in a 750 ml bottle (versus the standard 330 ml) when bought at the store, so at least your bottle goes a longer way.

Sour beer sitting on barrel

What Kind Of Styles Do Sour Beers Come In?

Sours come in all types of styles and flavor profiles. It can be a little intimidating at first, but here's an overview of the most common styles you'll come across. We also threw in some recommendations of our favorites!

  • Flanders Red Ale

    • The West Flanders province in Belgium is the namesake of this type of sour ale. As the name also suggests, this type of beer has a distinct red hue. Flanders Red Ales have long maturation process, sometimes lasting two years, and use the Lactobacillus bacteria, which gives the beer it's acidity. Though no fruits are added into the brewing process, it does have fruity flavor that is reminiscent of black cherry, raisins, and currants.

  • Lambic

    • Lambic beers are created when wild yeast is spontaneously fermented, which is how beer was first discovered centuries ago. There are a few different types of lambics. Fruit lambics add in fruit to help balance the beer's acidity, while geuze lambics are created from a blend of fermented beers. Generally, lambics give a rich flavor that aren't quick as sour as a Flanders red but still pack a punch.

  • Gose

    • Although they originated in Germany, Gose sours are beloved all around the world. Goses are made with coriander and sea salt giving them a unique flavor profile with a wide spectrum ranging from sharp and crisp to salty and sour.

  • American Sour Ale

    • In the American craft beer scene, pretty much anything goes. Besides using wild yeast to create a sour flavor, there really aren't any rules when it comes to making an American sour. It's not uncommon for American brewers to combine different styles of sours to create a totally unique beer. Take our staff pick, Dogfish Head SeaQuench, for example. It's a "session sour mash-up of a crisp Kolsch, a salty Gose, and a tart Berliner Weiss" and it's taking sour beer to the next level.

  • Berliner Weisse

    • The Berliner Weisse originated in Germany near, used guessed it, Berlin. It has a low alcohol volume (around three or four percent) and has fruity and tart character with and a crisp and dry finish. Berliner Weisse's were traditionally served with a shot of berry-flavored syrup to help ease the tartness going down and give the overall flavor more complexity.

Now that you're a scholar on sour beer, head to your local beer emporium and start your journey into the wonderful world of sours.

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