Advertisement
  1. Bars & Breweries

Beer lovers: It's time we sour on use of the adjective 'sour'

We often lump dissimilar beers together as "sour."
Published Aug. 2, 2016

It wasn't long ago that even serious beer drinkers considered "dark beer" a legitimate way of describing their preferences. As these drinkers have become more savvy, dark beer has been replaced with actual styles - stout, porter, dunkelweizen, barleywine, oud bruin - and a range of flavor profiles so wide that they demonstrate how unnecessarily broad and undescriptive the term dark beer was in the first place.

Nowadays, few in-the-know beer drinkers will tell you that they love to drink dark beers, but many will gladly do so for a similarly vague term: sour beer. Even serious aficionados will tell you they tend to gravitate toward sours, and respectable beer bars are staffed by folks who will eagerly explain to you that the beer you want a sample of is a sour.

"Sour" is about as meaningful as "dark." Both terms are woefully lacking in information, and they unfairly lump dissimilar beers together, simply because they share a single, arbitrary attribute.

We can do better.

For example, take Berliner weisse. This style of tart German wheat beer is often reminiscent of a mild lemonade, with a crisp tartness and a wheaty finish. Its Leipziger cousin, gose, is similar in composition, but modern versions include additions of salt and coriander, creating a unique mouthfeel and a spiciness lacking in Berliner weisse.

These are two closely related styles, but I think we can all agree they deserve to be recognized independently, no? Why do we insist on lumping them in under the sour-beer banner with styles as diverse as lambic, Flanders red and American wild ale? If we can differentiate between a sour stout, a Lichtenhainer, and a gueuze, then why wouldn't we?

This isn't strictly pedantry. The unnecessary reliance on the sour-beer umbrella creates much confusion and miscommunication amongst budding beer enthusiasts.

Many excited new beer drinkers are sold on the concept of sour beers and quickly develop a taste for styles such as lambic and gueuze, spontaneously fermented Belgian ales that some consider the ale equivalent of champagne. But when these same drinkers - armed with a newfound appreciation for "sour" beers - encounter other Belgian styles like Flanders red ale, they often incorrectly assume that the beers aren't good because of the presence of acetic acid, a signature of excellent Flanders reds.

Acetic acid - vinegar, frankly - is a huge no-no in lambic, gueuze, Berliner weisse, and gose. It's even a mistake if it features too heavily in oud bruin, a style from the east side of the Flanders region that shares more similarities with its western red-ale counterpart than not. But it's a standard and welcome flavor (in reasonable quantities) in Flanders reds and similar wild-ale styles from around the world.

Drinkers who start with Flanders reds and move onto the comparatively mild Berliner weisse and gose often mistakenly criticize those beers for a lack of complexity, when in reality, comparing Flanders red and gose on a complexity scale is about as useful as doing the same with brown ale and barleywine.

Appearances and attributes may share similarities at times, but lumping them in together as a result is not helpful.

Here's another reason why we should ditch "sour beer" as a catch-all for such a diverse range of unique beers: we need that catch-all for beers that don't fit into well-established and recognized styles.

Of course, we have American wild ale as a somewhat vague category that encompasses beers fermented with wild yeast and sometimes bacteria (which may or may not be sour at all), but non-wild, soured versions of traditional styles like IPA, stout, saison, and blond ale are becoming increasingly common, and these beers can quite accurately and meaningfully be described as sour beers.

Instead of talking about your love of, or distaste for, sour beers, try talking about the actual styles that you love or hate, and the specific characteristics that make you feel that way. After all, many people will have different preferences for the different beers that typically are described as "sour."

Just as we have moved beyond the naive dichotomy of light versus dark beers, we should give unique beers the respect they deserve. "Sour" is just one of many attributes that you'll find in these beers.

For the sake of the quality of dialogue, as well as your own journey to become a better beer drinker, let's consider some of the others, too.

Contact Justin Grant at jg@saintbeat.com; Follow @WordsWithJG.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Craft rum distillery, 82 West Distilling, opened a few months ago in Seminole Heights and recently celebrated its grand opening with neighbor Wine Bar Cafe on Saturday (Oct. 27). Special to the Times | 82 West Distilling MONIQUE WELCH  |  Courtesy of 82 West Distilling
    Tasting laws limit drinkers to two “samples,” but the Seminole Heights’ venue uses its rums to punch up craft cocktails. | Bar review
  2. Zongo IPA Tampa Bay Brewing Company
    The hazy New England-style IPA is on tap at the brewery’s tasting rooms in Ybor City and Westchase. | Craft beer of the week
  3. Sep. 15• Bars & Breweries
    Noble Crust may turn heads as an acclaimed pizza restaurant, but it also holds water as a celebrated brunch destination with a range of midday cocktails and drink buckets. Photo by Noble Crust
    Some favorite spots to catch a buzz with bacon.
  4. Kozuba and B Square vodkas. B Square is a brand produced by Kozuba and Sons. xxxxx
    Kozuba and Sons, Florida Cane and St. Petersburg Distillery make the list.
  5. Sour Beers Tampa Bay Times
    Sour beers can be found all over, and have sparked new trends enthusing brewers and connoisseurs alike.
  6. Devon Kreps, owner of 7venth Sun, pictured in August in Dunedin. ALLIE GOULDING  |  Tampa Bay Times
    These three women are part of a growing industry in Tampa Bay.
  7. Jess, Leaven Brewing, on Friday, Aug. 02, 2019 in Riverview.  ALLIE GOULDING   |   Times ALLIE GOULDING  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Planning to go out and enjoy a drink? Read up on what these popular bartenders have to say about their trade.
  8. *tbt 2019 Tampa Bay Brewery Guide Staff
    76 on Tampa in Tampa Bay
  9. Your picks for Tampa Bay’s best beach/waterfront, brewery/craft beer, cocktail, sports, neighborhood, dive, gay, Irish, live music and restaurant/hotel bars. Shutterstock
    Your picks for Tampa Bay’s best beach/waterfront, brewery/craft beer, cocktail, sports, neighborhood, dive, gay, Irish, live music and restaurant/hotel bars.
  10. The Mint + Lime Berliner Weisse Photo courtesy of Geneva Johnson
    Dunedin brewery brings back a citrus-forward favorite.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement