Tag Archives: sour beer

Tuesday is Gueuzeday

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Ya heard? Tuesday is gueuzeday, at least in these parts.

I like to celebrate the death of the start of the work week and the coming of humpday with a nice, room-temp tumbler of Belgian gueuze – preferably Cantillon or Tilquin. The gueuze pictured in the image above is Gueuzerie Tilquin’s fantastic Oude Quetsche Tilquin A l’ancienne, a top-notch gueuze made with plums. I’ve never seen this one for sale in the United States; I shipped mine in from Belgium. So you probably won’t be able to find this particular spontaneously-fermented beverage. But I strongly suggest running out to your local purveyor of fine beer right now so you too can partake in the Guezeday festivities.  If nothing else, it’s an excuse to drink on Tuesday.

UBN

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The Difference Between ‘Sour Beer’ and ‘Wild Beer’

Russian River Sour Ales

Russian River Brewing Co. makes some of my favorite sour ales

It took me quite some time to acquire a real taste for sour beer, but now that I have one, sour beers are pretty much all I want to drink—except for IPAs; I still love my hops. (Check out my lists of sour ales and Flemish red/brown ales for details on my favorite sours.)

In my quest to try every sour beer I can get my mitts on, I’ve encountered quite a few “wild ales,” some of which were sour and many that were not. I also read the word “Brettanomyces” or “Brett” a lot. Brett is a wild yeast strain used in many wild and sour ales.

At first, I assumed that sour beers and wild ales were one in the same, but after tasting many wild ales with Brett that were not at all sour, I did some research to determine the difference between the two.

First of all, there are no concrete definitions of sour beer and wild beer. But here’s what The Oxford Companion to Beer says on the subject:

“The development, largely by American craft brewers, of entirely new categories of beer [that use wild yeast and/or bacteria] during the past decade, has resulted in the need for a new nomenclature to describe them. This nomenclature is surely unsettled, but the two terms in general use are ‘sour beer’ and ‘wild beer.’ ‘Wild beer’ is generally used to describe any beer that displays earthy characteristics of Brettanomyces yeast strains, regardless of whether the beer is a light golden ale or a strong dark stout. If the brewer adds acidifying bacteria to the beer, it is termed a ‘sour beer.’ If both Brettanomyces character and bacterial acidity are in evidence, then the beer is generally deemed to fit both categories.”

So, to sum that up. Beers with funky, Brett character but no acidity from added bacteria are commonly referred to as “wild ales,” and they are not necessarily sour. If a brewer opts to add bacteria to a beer made with wild yeast the beer will take on an acidic, sour flavor. These beers are called sour beers. Wild ales can be sour, but not all of them are. The difference between the two is the addition of bacteria during the barrel aging process—the two most common bacteria used in the process are Lactobacillus and Pediococcus.

There you have it, wild beers are not necessarily sour beers; some just taste “funky” due to the wild yeast used during fermentation. And many sour beers, but not all, can be called wild, because they use wild yeast, as well.

UBN

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Five Fantastic Flemish Sour Ales

Cuvée des Jacobins Rouge Flemish sour red ale

A few months ago, I wrote a post spotlighting my favorite sour beers. That post has since become one of the most popular entries on this blog—based on page views—because a whole lot of people apparently search Google for “sour beer” and “the best sour beers.”

Many different styles of sour beer exist today, but my single favorite style is the Flemish or Flanders sour red/brown ale.

If you’re unfamiliar with the style it consists of Belgian red or brown ales aged in oak for long periods of time, sometimes multiple years, and then typically blended with “younger” beer of the same style to balance the acidic, sour flavor.

From the Oxford Companion to Beer:

“Oak aging allows lactic fermentation to occur and some additional conditioning by slowly working yeasts, turning the beer slightly sour like neatly aged wine, though many varieties [of Flemish/Flanders aged ales] are later softened by the addition of younger beer.”

Flemish sour ales are often favored by red-wine drinkers because of the crossover in taste. They’re also extremely refreshing. These beers are often expensive, at least compared to other brews, but a lot of work goes into them and they’re usually well worth the price, in my opinion. Here’s a quick list of the best Flemish/Flanders red/brown sour ales I’ve tasted:

1) Brouwerij Bockor Cuvée des Jacobins Rouge

My single favorite Flemish sour ale is Bockor Brewery’s Cuvée des Jacobins Rouge. It’s very sour and acidic yet impressively balanced.  Cuvée des Jacobins Rouge is made from spontaneously fermented beer that’s been aged in oak for at least 18 months.

2) Anything Rodenbach

The most common, easiest to find and least challenging Rodenbach beer is the brewery’s flagship Rodenbach Red. It’s the least sour of its brews, and it’s a great starting point for drinkers looking to experiment with the Flemish sour style and sour beer in general. Folks with an established taste for sour beer will also appreciate Rodenbach’s Grand Cru, which is more sour than Rodenbach Red because it’s composed of more older-aged beer and less young beer, and Rodenbach’s Reserve series.

3) Brouwerij Van Honsebrouck Bacchus

Castle Brewery Van Honsebrouck’s Bacchus Flemish brown ale is another must-try Flemish sour beer. It’s similar to the other beer noted here, but it has a very fruity aroma.

4) Brouwerij Verhaeghe Duchesse de Bourgogne

Duchesse de Bourgogne, or just “Duchesse” as it’s often called in beer bars, is a reddish-brown Flemish sour ale that’s notable due to its strong vinegar taste, which blends nicely with its sour body. The beer is top fermented and is a blend of eight-month and 18-month-old oak-aged beers.

5) Brouwerij Verhaeghe Vichtenaar

Vichtenaar is another top-notch Flemish sour ale from Brouwerij Verhaeghe, and it’s aged in oak casks for at least eight months, but unlike most of the other beers featured in this post, it’s not blended with any other younger or older beer.

Those are my five favorite Flemish sour ales. Drop a comment below if you know of any other worthy Flemish sour brews that should be on my list.

UBN

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Pucker Up: 12 Sour Beers that’ll Have You Hooked in No Time

Russian River Supplication Sour Ale

Sour beers aren’t for everyone. They’re definitely an acquired taste, and not everyone will acquire the taste for tart ales. Those who are daring enough to push their beer boundaries a bit, however, will very likely be rewarded. (Check out this post for details on the difference between “sour beer” and “wild beer.”)

I started drinking sour beers about a year ago, and I’m absolutely hooked today. It took a bartender at the Sunset Grill and Tap in Allston, Mass., to convince me to give sours a try beyond that first challenging sip. Now the first thing I do when I visit a beer bar is scan the draft/bottle list for sours.

It pays to start off slowly when wading into the waters of sour ales, though. The following list spotlights a dozen of my favorite sour beers, starting with some less-challenging sours and finishing up with some seriously sour brews. Most of these beers, with a few exceptions, can be found in quality craft beer shops throughout the United States. (Note: The Russian River beers at the bottom of the list are very hard to find outside of California, but they’re so damn good, I had to include them.)

UBN

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