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Sour Beer


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#1 Chris Hennes

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Posted 28 May 2011 - 10:50 AM

Over at Serious Eats I just read about Sour Beer, which is totally foreign to me. What brands are readily available in the US? Anyone here drink or brew this stuff?

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#2 thayes1c

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Posted 28 May 2011 - 12:09 PM

Oh man, you've been missing out on the true champagne of beers. Lindeman's is probably the most widely available brand. The raspberry, cassis, apple and peach lambics they make are available in most grocery stores, but they tend to be fairly sweet and not incredibly complex. If you can find Lindeman's Gueuze Cuvee Rene pick up a bottle. It's the beer that proves Lindeman's can keep it real. Cantillon lambics are also excellent, though very sour. The first time you try one it might be a little much, but persistence pays off. (Gueuze, the blend of one, two and three year old lambic is my personal favorite as far as lambics go. Probably my favorite as far as beer goes, actually. The complexity and funk and sourness makes me happy)

For other sour beers, like Oude Bruin or Flemish red you can't go wrong with Rodenbach or the Duchess de Bourgougne. Rodenbach has two main beers they sell with different proportions of older and younger beer, both of which are excellent. They also have a single barrel vintage bottling that is worth picking up if you can find it. Rodenbach also has a cherry flavored beer that's actually quite good and not overly sweet, called Redbach.

And finally, the American sour beer explosion in recent years has produced many excellent brews. New Belgium hired a former brewmaster from Rodenbach and they now have a line of sours that stand up to any European beer. The first time I drank La Folie it was hard to believe that it was made on this side of the Atlantic. Highly recommended. Jolly Pumpkin makes barrel aged sour beers, not as sour as the your typical European styles delicious nonetheless. La Roja is probably my favorite from them. There are more and more breweries producing sours in America, but they tend to be in such small batches that it's hard to get a hold of them reliably. Not all of them are excellent, and some might leave you disappointed, especially for the price. But it's definitely worth tracking them down and trying them when you have a chance. An excellent resource for understanding the different traditional styles is the book Wild Brews by Jeff Sparrow. BeerAdvocate is also a great place to look up reviews and info on beers you might want to try.

If you get to liking sour beers, remember that they can be layed down, sometime for decades. Ive aged a couple for a few years and time seems to mellow the sour edge and let more of the subtle funk come through. Mmmmm....Subtle funk.

#3 cdh

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Posted 28 May 2011 - 12:17 PM

Agreed, thayes1c!

They're all a little different stylistically... some come across as pure sour, some are sweet and sour, e.g. Lindeman's fruit enhanced beers... Vichtenaar is sweet, though sour in an acetic way, unlike most other sour beers. Here in the Philadelphia market, we've got our own Monk's Cafe Flemish sour, custom brewed and imported for us... I think it came on the market during the time Rodenbach was unavailable during their ownership shake up when Palm took them over. Another fairly widely distributed one is Liefman's Goundenband, which is a classic Oud Bruin...
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#4 ScoopKW

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Posted 28 May 2011 - 03:39 PM

Sour beer is also the current "in" beer, just like all Belgian beers (of which, many are sour) was the thing about five years ago.

I both drink and brew the stuff. I intentionally sour a beer by adding a fermentable agent -- usually fruit, but often just simple maltose or unfermented wort -- and then a strain of Brettanomyces. My current sour is fermenting with B. Claussenii. I give it a little oxygen by barrel aging it, or tossing wood chips into the fermentor -- depends on how much time or money we're willing to spend on the sour beer.

In my opinion, the best example of the style, readily available to the average U.S. beer enthusiast, is La Folie Flanders Red Ale by the New Belgium Brewing Company in Fort Collins, CO. I don't just consider it one of the top sour beer, I consider it one of the best beers period. (Although, I'm only good for about six ounces at any given time. It's quite tart and very complex.)
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#5 BrentKulman

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Posted 28 May 2011 - 04:16 PM

Some very good posts, thus far.

Just to add a few other American breweries that are making interesting sours, Among the more readily available ones, here are some of the best of the bunch that I have tried, though some are easier to find than others:

Allagash (Confluence and Interlude)
Avery (Brabant)
Captain Lawrence (Cuvee de Castleton)
Goose Island (Dominique, Juliet)
Ithaca (Brute)
Jolly Pumpkin (in addition to La Roja - Luciernaga)
Lost Abbey (Cuvee de Tomme, Framboise de Amarosa)
New Belgium (In addition to La Folie - Le Terrior and Eric's Ale)
Russian River (Beatification, Sanctification, Supplication, Temptation)

#6 abadoozy

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Posted 29 May 2011 - 05:48 AM

This is my favorite style of beer, hands-down. It's really the only style of beer that gets me excited anymore; I like beer, but the traditional varieties just don't get me going the way a good sour does.

Flanders Red is the best of the lot, IMO. Gueuze and lambics are good, but to me, they are more sweet than sour (especially the Lindeman's, probably the most easily found of all the beers mentioned in this thread. That's not to say it's not worth trying - they're good, they're just on the sweet side.)

We just got back from a few days in Madison, WI, which is really a great beer town, and I got to try a lot of sours that I haven't had before. And I bought a bunch to bring home (yay!) so have a few lined up in the fridge to try.

Probably the best I had there was the previously mentioned Rodenbach. We tried both the Rodenbach classic and the Grand Cru after ordering the Grand Cru, but they had a mix-up and brought us the classic instead. They were gracious enough that they brought us the right beer, and gave us tasters of the first one (and enough of a beer place that the staff jumped on the rest of the "mistake" like a bunch of starving vultures.) Both were delicious, but the Grand Cru had more complexity and a bit more acid. I'm guessing that were we not tasting them side-by-side, the classic would have shown a little better. I'm going to test out that theory sometime this week, as I found a six-pack of the classic to bring home.

Also found a couple bottles of Rodenbach Vintage 2008 that I haven't tried yet.

Duchesse de Bourgogne is probably my favorite of all the sours I've tried so far. It's got the right balance of sweet versus sour. In fact, I like it so much that part of this year's Christmas present from my husband were 6 of the big bottles of Duchesse. Mmmmm..... Duchesse.....

La Folie is good, as the Jolly Pumpkin La Roja (being in Michigan, we can get Jolly Pumpkin easily), but I prefer both the Rodenbach and Duchesse a bit more mostly because they have a hint of sweetness to them. La Folie and La Roja are on the dryer side.

Now you make me want beer for breakfast.

Edited by abadoozy, 29 May 2011 - 05:52 AM.


#7 David A. Goldfarb

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Posted 29 May 2011 - 05:59 PM

I like lambics, but has anyone else noticed strange intoxicating effects from them, beyond what one would expect from drinking an equivalent amount of another alcoholic beverage? I first observed this once when I had a rather modest amount of Lindemans Framboise-maybe 6 or 8 oz., and I felt like I had vertigo. I thought maybe I was fooled by the sweet flavor and had drunk more than I'd realized, so I tried a more controlled experiment and the next evening tried just one wine glass--4-6 oz--and noticed the same effect, as if I'd just drunk two or three pints in the same time period.

I haven't noticed this with other lambics, but this was really strange.

#8 emannths

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Posted 31 May 2011 - 08:38 AM

For more on the process and development of sour beers, you might want to peruse Michael Tonsmeire's blog. It's a pretty neat look at the process, and I think it helps give some context for a) how sours are made and b) why they tend to be expensive (short answer: time and unpredictability). There's also a very interesting interview with Ron Jeffries (the head of Jolly Pumpkin) on the Can You Brew It podcast where he discusses how they use barrels, blending, and aging to create the flavor profiles they're looking for.

One style that's not mentioned here is the Berlinerweiss, a sour, low abv wheat beer (though today's Germans add syrup to it). There are also some sour porters out there.

Lindeman's is mentioned by a number of commenters. Aside from the Cuvee Rene, none are really worth bothering with if you're looking for a proper example of the style (they're sweetened prior to bottling, among other adulterations). To the many excellent suggestions, I'll add Cuvee Des Jacobins Rouge, a Flanders that nicely sour with lots of funkiness in the nose. I've seen it popping up on tap with increasing frequency.