I love sour and wild beers, but this was not always the case. My very first sour beer was Wicked Weed’s Black Angel Cherry Sour. Although I love the beer now, I just didn’t get it. It tasted like someone had thrown cherry Sour Patch Kids into a red wine. I could not fathom why anyone would want to drink this stuff. My palate was overwhelmed with flavors that I had not yet grown to appreciate. The brewers and employees at Wicked Weed encouraged me to keep trying them, that something would eventually click. For a couple of months I would taste various sours, still not liking them, until finally all the stars lined up and I had the first wild ale I enjoyed; La Bonte, a golden sour brewed with 120 pounds of apricots, fermented with lactobacillus in primary and finished with brettanomyces. This beer was light and delicious. So why the change? Was it a mindset thing, a developing palate, or just becoming more educated about sour and wild ales? Honestly, it was a mash up of all those things that helped me on the road to sour beers. The biggest factor in growing a love and appreciation for sours was understanding the differences from one sour to the next. Not all sour beers make you pucker your lips and squint your eyes. “American sour beer is still in the process of being defined. We are literally writing the history of what American sour beer will be,” claims Luke Dickinson, head brewer at Wicked Weed. “We want people to understand that there is a large spectrum of sour and wild ales, much in the way that there is a wide range of bitterness in traditional American style ales. From a Pale Ale (mild bitterness) to an India Pale Ale and a Double IPA, there is a wide range in terms of bitterness. We want people to understand there is a similar range in terms of sour and wild beer.” The gateway for me was a little thing called brettanomyces, or Brett as it’s commonly referred to. Brettanomyces is a wild yeast used in the production of sour and wild ales.
So what makes the beer more or less sour?
When I spoke with Wicked Weed’s director of marketing and PR, Abby Dickinson, I asked her about misconceptions and what she wants people to know about sour beer. “There is a great spectrum of sour and wild beer,” Abby stated, “that people are lumping into the sour beer category. The biggest misconception is that anything brewed with brettanomyces is a sour.” For the longest time I mistakingly thought that Serenity was a sour beer, but it is actually an American Style Brett Beer, the category in which Wicked Weed won a GABF Gold Medal. Brettanomyces makes a regular beer into a wild ale, as it is a wild yeast strain, but what makes beers like Black Angel a sour? Bacteria. That’s right, these brewers are actually putting bacteria into these beers. Enter lactobacillus and pediococcus, two types of lactic acid producing bacteria that contribute to the souring effect which are often used in conjunction with brettanomyces to eliminate unwanted flavors (namely diacetyl which produces an unwanted buttery flavor). So if you have tried a sour beer and hated it, I would encourage you to start with a wild Brett beer such as Serenity or one of my favorites, Bretticent, which is very similar to the Reticent Saison, but with Brett added to it. If you find that you don’t like it, most bars are very willing to let you sample something else before you order a pint. If it’s not your thing right now, I totally understand, just don’t write off sour and funky beer forever. Keep tasting and keep trying, because when it clicks, it feels like a whole world you have been missing out on. Cheers.