Sour Beer Guide for Beginners

Reading Time: 10 minutes

Why a Sour Should Be Your Next Pint

Sour beer guide

It may seem like sour beers are a new trend. However, sour beers have been around for centuries and their popularity has increased in recent years.

It’s only been in the last few years that the craft beer industry started to take sour beers seriously and really devoted some time to make the very best.

This type of brew has existed for centuries, but with so many options and different styles now available, it can be difficult to know where to start when sampling them for the first time.

This guide will explore all aspects of sours: from the brewing process to how these beers are flavoured and everything in between!

Within this article, we will also explore various kinds of sour beer and review each one for your viewing pleasure!

What is Sour beer?

a scooner of sour beer

To put it simply, sour beer is beer that has an intentionally acidic, sour or tart taste to it.

This sourness is achieved by utilising a unique technique when it comes to the beer brewing process. More on this process in a moment, but it utilises wild bacteria and years, as well as tart fruits to achieve the highly sought after sourness.

In most cases, you will find sours to be flavoured with fruits including lemon, orange or grapefruit.

The History of Sour beer

Brewing and drinking beer traces back to around 4,000BC.

At this point in time, essentially all beers were sour beers. Brewers did not have the technology or the knowledge to properly maintain a sanitary environment. This meant plenty of naturally occurring types of bacteria and yeast made their way into the beer during the brewing process. One of those types of bacteria was Lactobacillus.

Lactobacillus, also known as sour milk bacteria, is a living organism that produces a tart flavour when it finds its way into beer and thus, sour beer was born!

As technology improved and our understanding of the biological world improved with it, we began to develop ways to keep these types of bacteria and yeast away from our precious hops.

The evolution of refrigeration and pasteurization in the mid-nineteenth century saw these beers almost disappear from the market. They were replaced instead with lagers and ales.

But thankfully, this wasn’t the end of the sour beer!

Since the turn of the century, craft breweries all over the world have picked up the ancient tradition of sour beer brewing. They are innovating in a multitude of ways and are creating some of the best sours the world has ever seen.

Nowadays, the sky is the limit when it comes to sour beer. With more and more unique combinations of flavourings, you are sure to find a beer out there for you.

Who Invented Sour Beer?

Thanks to historical evidence dating from the 18th century, we can point to Belgium as being the first place where sour beers were brewed.

The Rodenbach Brewery of Roeselare in Belgium has been open since 1836!

In fact, there are still a number of breweries operating in Flanders to this very day. They have been brewing sour beer for hundreds of years and have championed this age-old tradition.

belgium

What Makes The Beer Sour?

We have living bacteria to thank for the sour but crips notes that are found in sour beers. We have already mentioned one of those bacterias, Lactobacillus.

Lactobacillus (Lacto) converts sugar into lactic acid. This results in a lower pH and you will most commonly find this type of bacteria in yoghurt, sauerkraut, kefir, sourdough bread and kimchi.

Just like in some of the foods mentioned above, Lacto is the bacteria that is responsible for giving sour beer its unique, sour flavour.

Pediococcus (pedio) is another common living bacteria that finds its way into the sour beer brewing process. Pedio is responsible for contributing the unique aromas and flavours that sour beer has. These flavours give wild yeasts like Brettanomyces, more to react with.

Pedio also produces notable amounts of lactic acid and create diacetyl compounds. All of this leads to a much more intense, tart taste.

Regular yeast that is commonly used when brewing lager or ale cannot produce the levels of lactic and acetic acids found in the wild yeast. This is the difference between your larger and ale compared to your sour beer.

When brewing sour beer, some brewers will also add fruit during the ageing process. The addition of fruit not only adds flavour, but it can also spur on a secondary form of fermentation and adds another layer of microbes to the mix.

a line of sours

Is Sour beer Aged?

In most cases, sour beer, just like your typical ale, can be created in a matter of days. There are some cases, however, where depending on the method used during the brewing process, it can take several months for the wild yeast to ferment and to develop the sour flavours you are after.

This beer style is usually aged in wooden vessels rather than the more common metal fermentation tanks. These vessels allow outside organisms to live in the beer and helps with the entire fermentation process.

Different Kinds of Sour Beer

Due to the fact they have been around a while, there are a wide variety of different types of sour beer on the market.

Sour beers are not all created equal and depending on the brewer, you can find sour beer that is fruity or spicy with a little hint of citrus. You might come across beer that uses herbs!

The main types of sour beer are:

American Wild Ale

This is basically the American term for sours developed in the country. They don’t have any specific brewing rules or guidelines, but instead simply refer to the use of the non-traditional type of yeast, in most cases is wild yeast.

REVELRY RAMBLINRUBUS

Berliner Weisse

The Berliner Weisse was once the favoured drink amongst pub-goers in Berlin. This lower-alcohol German beer, usually around 3%, is made using the Lacto bacteria we outlined above.

For flavouring, various types of syrups are used to balance the sourness of the beer.

BErliner Weisse

Flanders Red Ale

This is the more mature sour beer of the bunch. Flanders red ale is fermented with traditional brewers yeast and then left to mature in oak barrels.

This mature beer is then blended with younger beer until the desires taste is achieved!

Gose

There are two unique things about the Gose variety of Sour beer. One is the use of coriander and salt during the brewing process. The other is the way in which the sourness is achieved – To make Gose sour, they inoculate the wort (the liquid that is extracted from the mashing process during brewing) with lactic acid bacteria before even starting the primary fermentation.

Gose gets its name from the town in which it originated, Goslar, Germany.

Lambic

Originating in the Pajottenland region of Belgium, Lambic beer is spontaneously fermented directly in the open air. During the winter and spring months, the wort of the beer is left outside to cool before being placed into barrels to ferment and mature.

Most varieties of the Belgian lambic are blends and will be secondarily fermented with fruits.

Gueuze

Gueuze is a unique blend of old and young batches of lambic that has been combined, and then bottled for secondary fermentation.

Within a gueuze beer, you will find notes of cherry, raspberry and other sweet fruits that have been used to balance out the tartness and funk of the beer.

A fun fact about this beer style is that it’s sometimes referred to as Brussels Champagne thanks to its carbonation.

Oud Bruin

Oud Bruin is most commonly the darkest sour beer on our list. This guy comes from the Flemish region of Belgium and unlike the Flankers red, it is not aged in wood.

Cultured yeasts are used to achieve the sour notes in this Belgian variety.

Sour Beer in the UK

In the UK, sour beers are a relatively new thing. But, that doesn’t mean we don’t have some absolutely cracking sour beers knocking about!

Here are a couple of our current favourites:

Literally Vampire Potbelly Goblins - 8% - Pomano Island Brew Co.

Literally Vampire Potbelly Goblins - 8% - Pomano Island Brew Co.​

From the Brewer: I’m angry. I’ve had enough of these Boysenberry and Blackcurrant Sour DIPAs with Ceylon Tea. What more do you need to know about this beer? 

A few thoughts from me: I am a sucker for well-designed packaging and interesting names. This sour beer from Pomano Island Brew Company ticks both of those boxes. In fact, every beer Pomano makes ticks those boxes.

But it isn’t just a well-designed can and a clever name that LIterally Vampire Potbelly Goblins has going for it. It actually tastes great too!

I don’t think I’ve ever had a beer that used Ceylon tea before and I have never even heard of a Boysenberry (After doing some research, a Boysenberry is a cross between a European Rasberry, A European blackberry, an American Dewberry and a Loganberry). Nevertheless, the flavour profile of this sour beer is outstanding and it is one you simply have to try.

Gary's Fizzy Army Triple Fruited Sour - 2.4% - Northern Monk

Gary's Fizzy Army Triple Fruited Sour - 2.4% - Northern Monk​

From the Brewer: Next up in our series with LeiMai, we team up with the creative-minded low-alcohol aficionados at Mash Gang to make this 2.4% Berliner Weisse, featuring our biggest ever fruit addition by quite a distance.

We went with the widely varying combination of passion fruit, pineapple, blueberry, and sour cherry for a fun contrast of juicy and tangy, pushing the acidity to really bring out that gummy worm ‘sour’. This is an insatiably drinkable, thick, smoothie of a beer in a tidy low alcohol package.

A few thoughts from me: If you are looking for an intensely fruity but hella refreshing sour, then this one from Northern monk needs to be on your radar.

There is passion fruit, pineapple, blueberries and cherries knocking around in this brew so almost achieves your 5 a day! This, combined with the low alcohol percentage means that this sour beer can be enjoyed at all times of the day and more than once!

Golden Milk - 6% - North Brewing Co.

Golden Milk - 6% - North Brewing Co. ​

From the brewer: Originally brewed as part of 2019’s Rainbow Project with California’s Fieldwork Brewing, it was our take on the colour Orange. Golden Milk is a 6% sour made using loads of Naked Oats, Flaked Oats and Wheat. We used coconut chips in the mash, boil and post-fermentation. We infused Cinnamon into the beer along with fresh peeled Turmeric Root – the smells in the brewhouse when we were making this were immense!

We then finished it with the triple fruited treatment, adding 1.2 tons of Organic Apricot puree. The addition of lactose boosts the mouthfeel further and bring the sweetness back up a touch after fermenting the Apricot’s sugar content. We know, it’s a real cocktail of ingredients, but trust us, it is an absolute delight to drink and we are very happy to have it back! It’s thick, it’s juicy, it’s aromatic, a little spicy and absolutely delicious!

A few thoughts from me: I dig this beer. I dig this beer a lot. So much so that it tends to be the first one I pick up if I’m buying a selection of sours.

Its flavour profile is just so unique to me. The combination of apricot, turmeric and coconut sounds like it shouldn’t work in a beer, but trust me on this one, it absolutely does.

FAQ's on Sour Beer

Are sour beers healthier?

It depends on what you mean when you say healthier. If you are talking about calories then no, sours are still beer and beer contains a decent number of calories purely because of how it’s made.

In fact, thanks to the extra sugar needed to balance out the flavour in sours, you might actually find that your sour beer has more calories.

But there is an argument for the impact on gut health that this style of beer may have. According to a 2017 study, scientists found that a sour beer incorporating the Lactobacillus bacteria has the ability to neutralize toxins and viruses as well as regular the immune system.

What do sour beers taste like?

Funnily enough, they taste sour! Not an unpleasant, toxic waste kind of sour though. Brewer’s worldwide work hard to balance out the flavour notes and create a beer that is perfectly flavoured. 

Are sour beers high in sugar?

Given that brewers tend to add higher amounts of fruits, syrups and other sweet things such as various types of honey,  to balance our sourness, this style of beer does indeed have a higher level of sugar than other beers.

Why are sour beers so expensive?

It’s all in the process!

Sour beers often run triple the price of your standard larger and this is down to how they are made. For regular beer, you could create a batch in an afternoon and be ready to sell in a couple of weeks.

For a sour beer, it can be a bit more of a complicated and time-consuming process. You also had the added risk of including outside bacteria. This makes it difficult to control just how it interacts with the beer.

It can take a brewery around 5 years to really nail down the process of sour beer brewing before they are ready to sell – hence the higher price tag.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Andy Canter

Andy

Ever since I started cooking I’ve been fascinated by how different people’s techniques are and how they best utilise the ingredients around them. Even the person living next door will have their own unique way of frying an egg or cooking a salmon fillet.

This fascination led me on a journey across the globe to discover the countless practices and traditions the world of cooking has to offer. I thought you’d enjoy and find value in sharing that journey with me so I created Cooked Best! 

what the food podcast

HOPE YOU'RE HUNGRY...
You've just found YOUR NEW favourite podcast.

What the Food is a podcast about food (who’d have guessed that ey?). We talk about the origins, history and everything in the middle of dishes from all around the world, both popular and obscure.