Sour beers are an interesting breed, you love ‘em or you hate ‘em. While some find the tartness overwhelming, others find a delicious complexity hidden deep within.
I personally fall into the camp of those who love sour beers, but when the sun is shining bright even those who aren’t fans of the style find it hard to resist the tongue-tickling, mouth-puckering pull of a cold, tart drink. Summer might be ending but don’t let that stop you from enjoying these refreshing brews!
The term “sour beer” is an incredibly broad one, encompassing many styles and flavors from funky to fresh. Rather than run through specific beer styles, I’m going to instead talk about some common fruit additions breweries use in sour beers, which might help you pick out that perfect bottle off the store shelves.
2 Scoops Passionfruit Raspberry Gose
Berries lend themselves well to lower ABV sour beers, complementing the tartness with clean sweetness and delicate fruitiness. A lot of berries have a light and thin quality which binds to the base flavor of a beer without overpowering it. If the ABV is too high, however, these delicate flavors can quickly fall to the wayside.
If the opening photo didn’t give it away, I’m a sucker for anything with raspberries. The lightly sweet and more sour character of this berry allows it to fully permeate a beer while still leaving it open for other flavors. Plus, they give the beer a striking ruby hue! This Gose by The Answer is a great example, the raspberries blending perfectly with the more tropical passionfruit for a very fruity and refreshing flavor at only 3.5%. The bottles at the top of the page are two very different raspberry sours by Allagash, the Mattina Rossa being more tart and the Coolship Red being more sweet (and slightly funky). It just goes to show how you can make two very different beers while using the same main ingredient!
The label accurately describes how intense the apricot flavor is here!
My general rule of thumb is that stone fruits are foolproof additions to sour beers. The more equal balance between sweet and sour comes with less risk of an imbalance in flavor. A lot of good barrel-aged beers tend to use fruits like plums, cherries and apricots, as they take on the characteristics of the woods and spirits quite well. Because of this, they can handle being in some higher ABV brews.
Possibly the best stone fruit you can use is apricot. While it might be hard to nail perfectly, the more earthy sweetness and slight bitterness provides a lot of balance to a beer which can otherwise be too tart. KCBC out of Brooklyn recently released avariant of their Full Contact sour with apricot, and while it definitely brings the pucker, it also brings that fleshy, muddled earthy quality, which makes it a great sour to sip year-round.
Sours like this are the reason Bellwoods is one of my favorite breweries.
Sitting at the other end of the spectrum are straight citrus sour beers. These beers often don’t hold back, instead leaning right into the tartness for an extra powerful flavor. The zest is often included to add a nice bitterness to counterbalance the sourness, and a light sweet note ties the whole package together. Like with berries, the light crispness of these fruits typically lend themselves well to a lower ABV beer.
Of course, some citrus fruits are inherently bitter without the rind. Take this blood orange Gose by Bellwoods – my favorite Toronto brewery. This beer took the tart and bitter notes and smoothed it out with lactose and vanilla, giving it an orange creamsicle taste, only more robust. The light saltiness accentuates the citrus flavor (think salt and lime).
Of course, this is just a taste of the many fruits one could find (I barely touched on the more tropical ones), and you don’t even need to add fruit to make a great sour. When picking a beer, I usually go for a new fruit and am often pleasantly surprised! If you feel like reading a bit more about these particular beers, you can check them out on my Instagram. Happy hunting!