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The Rare Barrel
January 22, 2013 | About Us, Sour Beer | The Rare Barrel

What is sour beer?

As we sit here and drink our 3,000,000th glass of sour beer (rough estimate), our conversation inevitably leads us to talk about the flavor profile, acidity, yeast and bacterial characteristics, and ingredients… you know… the kind of stuff everyone ponders about when they’re enjoying a sour beer, right?

Well, probably not. While we geek out over the sour beers we drink, we also realize that a lot of our friends still aren’t familiar with what sour beer actually is… yet.  Let me take a moment and give you a quick rundown on sour beer:

Sour beer…

…is a term used to encompass many different beer styles, some of which include lambic, gueuze, Flemish red, and Berliner Weisse. The first three styles mentioned are traditional to Belgium, while the last is traditional to Germany.

…has an extremely wide range of complex flavors. Some of the more common descriptors are sour, acidic, tart, dry, yoghurt-y, and fruity.

…is the oldest style of beer in the world. This wasn’t really by choice though. For thousands of years, beers were “accidentally” sour because humans didn’t even know that yeast and bacteria existed! If beer wasn’t consumed quickly enough, it would become sour.

…becomes “sour” from Lactobacillus and/or Pediococcus, which are both bacteria. “You’re putting WHAT in my beer???” someone might ask. Yup, bacteria! You may have already been introduced to these bacteria, if you enjoy yogurt, kefir, milk, cheese, miso, sauerkraut, or sourdough bread. Lactobacillus (Lacto) or Pediococcus (Pedio) are responsible for the flavors produced in these foods.

…usually ages in wood barrels. The wood creates a perfect environment for the souring microorganisms to grow and ferment over a long period of time.

…takes a long time to make. In general, sour beers will age in barrels for anywhere from 6-36 months before they are ready to be consumed. At least that’s how long our sour beers will age.

…is commonly fermented with fruits. Cherries and raspberries are among the most traditional fruits fermented with sour beer, but apricots, peaches, figs, blackberries, and strawberries also make for great ingredients in sour beers. Fruit was traditionally added to beer as a way to preserve the fruit, but now fruits are added because they just taste amazing in the sour beers!

…is commonly fermented with Brettanomyces (Brett), which is a kind of yeast that is most commonly known for its funky flavors that are found in saisons and farmhouse ales. Brett will add a small amount of acidity to a beer, but won’t add enough sourness to make a beer sour by itself.  

…is a great beer for you to try if you enjoy wine. Some of characteristics they share are acidity, dryness, and fruit notes.

…can be spontaneously fermented, which means that the wort is exposed to the open air, which allows the natural yeast and bacteria in the air to fall into the wort, and ferment it into beer. By definition, lambics and gueuzes need to be spontaneously fermented. 

…is usually blended. For example, a brewery might have 10 oak barrels with sour beer. Once the sour beers are ready to be consumed, the brewery will blend some (or all) of those barrels back together to create the final product. Each of those 10 barrels will be slightly different, so it is up to the blender to decide what barrels and proportions are blended to make the final product. 

We originally were going to include an additional 39 descriptions of what sour beer is, but instead we decided to drink another sour beer and thought you would probably have more fun doing the same.



akila's Gravatar
@ Jun 4, 2014 at 5:13 AM
Wow I never knew there was a science story behind the sour beer. All I ever do is drink the whole jar of beer as quickly as I can. And it is good to know that beer gets soured if it stays opened for a long time.

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