The Beer World Goes Sour

(Originally published in Maine Today Magazine on September 3, 2014.)

AllagashSourBottlesIf you’ve read my column, you’ve gathered that I’m a hop head. Heck, I even shave with soap made from hoppy beer. As the Beer Muse, I’ve mostly steered the Maine drinking community towards local brews awash in hops.

But it’s clear to me that the next big beer movement in this country is going to be sour beer. This trend has been underway for a few years, and it’s starting to come to the forefront of the beer renaissance.

Quick lesson. While hoppy beers like American-style Pale Ales and India Pale Ales get the brunt of their flavor from hops, the intense flavor of sour beer is derived from yeast such as Brettanomyces or from bacteria intentionally introduced to the beer such as Lactobacillus.

The result is a brew that tastes like Sour Patch Kids or a really tart Granny Smith apple. My face is puckering just writing these sentences.

In an attempt to understand this beer movement, I enlisted the help of some sour-loving friends to give me a crash course in sours. Nick, who works at Novare Res Bier Café (one of Maine’s sour beer epicenters), suggested that we meet at the Bier Cellar in Portland to have owner Greg Norton help us choose a lineup of beers that would be a good introduction to the world of sours. Eight different sours were purchased, and we were off.

BierCellarA solid entry-level sour we tried in our tasting was a Gose style beer called Döllnitzer Ritterguts out of Germany. A Gose is a sour beer brewed with salt. Sounds strange, but the salt cuts the intensity of the tartness. It has almost a lemon Gatorade flavor.

Another beginner sour we popped was a saison from Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales out of Michigan called Bam Biere. For a sour, it’s crisp and easy to drink with a subtle tartness.

As we moved from the training-wheel sours into the heavy hitters, a name that came up over and over was Allagash Brewing Company. Allagash is becoming a leader in sour beers with the innovative work they’re doing with wild yeast in their Coolship series.

By far, one of the best beers we tried in this tasting was a bottle of Allagash Coolship Red. Matt, another Novare Res hand, had been holding onto the bottle for a few years, and he graciously uncorked it for our tasting. This beer is made with Maine raspberries and aged in oak barrels. It has a fresh raspberry nose and a nuanced tartness. After my first sip, I commented, “I love this beer.”

Nick turned to me and said, “Funny, we’ve been around the world with this tasting, and arguably the best beer we’ve had is made in Maine.”

We laughed at the irony, our palates tingling from our tart tasting, our heads light from beer.

In the end, I wouldn’t call myself a sour beer zealot, but I do understand why this craze is sweeping the beer world. So pucker up and get sour.


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