Tag Archives: sour beer

Taste for sour beer may be due to evolution

sourThe power of sour is undeniable. For centuries, breweries have been making sour beers that range from mildly tart to toe-curling, tooth enamel-eating sour. Sour beers that go by names like gose (pronounced go-zah), lambic, Berliner Weiss and more are seeing a surge in popularity rivaled only by the IPA craze of the past few years. And, with the hot, humid summer months coming, you will see more and more of these thirst-quenching beers on local shelves.

But, why do we humans have such a craving for sour things? It all goes back to biology. Sour tastes are generally associated with acids that are found in relatively few places when it comes to food. Somewhere in our evolutionary history, we lost the ability to synthesize vitamin C meaning that we had to get it from our environment in the form of food. Acids in the form of vitamin C are key nutrients in holding off a number of deadly conditions like scurvy and also help to build our immune systems. Since sour meant acid to our ancestors and that satisfied our body’s need for vitamin C, our collective physiology made us seek out acidic foods like citrus fruits.

Now that we have an idea why some of us are inclined to enjoy sour flavors, let’s take a look at how sour beer developed.

Before yeast was discovered in the late 1800’s, most beers were at least a little sour. This was because the role of yeast was not known to brewers and beer was usually brewed using open-topped fermentation vessels. Wild yeast “infected” the sugary pre-beer liquid known as wort and caused the magical process of fermentation to occur.

Once the properties of yeast were understood, breweries began to control the amount of sour flavors in their beers. Some breweries, particularly those in Belgium continued allowing their wort to “spontaneously ferment” by withholding yeast and allowing natural yeast to inoculate the liquid. From these breweries come beers such as gueuze, an intensely sour beer created from blending one, two and three year-old lambic ales.

Other sour styles such as German goze, are produced by intentionally adding yeast strains that add sour flavors to the finished beer. This style is also characterized by the addition of salt and coriander. Yet another style is Berliner Weiss a German wheat beer made with Lactobacillus bacteria and usually, but not always, served with flavored syrup. Yet another sour beer is Flanders Red named for the area of Belgium where it is made as well as the red color and sour flavor it obtains from the red wine barrels it is aged in.

Sour beers have emerged as one of the hot trends in craft beer today. You can look forward to more and more sour beer produced by craft brewers in the coming months and years.

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Posted by on June 15, 2017 in Beer, Beer Styles


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New Belgium La Folie marks its 20th anniversary

2017_la_folie_22oz_bottleSour beer lovers look forward to the annual release of New Belgium‘s La Folie with puckered lips. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the superbly blended beer. Get all the details about it from the official press release below.

Ft. Collins, Colo. – February 20, 2017 – This year marks New Belgium’s 20th year for making sour beers, which first launched its wood beer program in 1997 with La Folie. The award-winning sour ale’s 2017 version is now available and continues the sour ale tradition thanks to the craftsmanship of New Belgium’s blending team.

Every year, Eric Salazar, New Belgium’s Wood Cellar Manager, and Lauren Salazar, New Belgium’s Sour Beer Blender, coordinate a blending of various foeders (oak barrels) to make La Folie a winning interpretation of a Flanders-style sour brown ale.

“We’ve been blending and experimenting with sour wood beers for two decades and as the name La Folie implies it’s always with a touch of eccentric madness,” said New Belgium Spokesman, Bryan Simpson. “We combine multiple barrels based on continual tasting to create a combination that is just right. Once again, the crew nailed it this year.”

The 2017 La Folie is a sharp, tart sour ale full of green apple, deep cherry, dark chocolate, and tannin-like plum skin notes. It’s 7% ABV and available in both 22-oz. bombers and on draft.

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Posted by on February 22, 2017 in Beer, Beer Releases


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New Belgium expands sour beer brewing capacity

new-belgium-brewery-logoSeveral years ago when I visited Belgium, the first beer I ordered at a bar there was Cantillion’s Gueuze. As it was a particularly chilly and rainy night, I was the only patron in the bar and the bartender and bar staff was all standing around near the end of the bar where I sat. The bartender, deducing that I was American – I think the accent gave it away – asked me if I was sure that that was the beer I wanted. “It is not like any American beer you have ever had,” he said.

Having done my research before I left the States, I knew that that was exactly what I wanted. So, I replied, “That’s the point.”

The entire staff watched as I took my first sip of the powerfully sour brew, expecting a negative reaction. What they got was a surprise because I absolutely loved it. Thus began my love affair with sour beers. Over the next nine days of my vacation I took the opportunity to drink as many sour beers as I could find. In Belgium, that is not very difficult to do.

Now, three years later, the craft beer craze is beginning to turn to sours as the next big thing. Here in Jacksonville I have had the opportunity to taste several locally-produced Berliner Weiss brews, one from Aardwolf and one from Intuition. Both were excellent with Aardwolf’s version being the more sour of the two.

One larger craft brewer that has been experimenting with sour beers for some time now is, not surprisingly, New Belgium out of Ft. Collins, Colo. In fact, the brewery has been making sour beers since 1998 when Peter Bouckaert, formerly of Redenbach inBelgium, joined the company. Rodenhbach is known for their deliciously sour beers and Boukaert wanted to bring some of that to his new home in the United States. The result was La Folie, part of the brewery’s Lips of Faith series of beers.

Just the other day I received a press release from New Belgium detailing the expansion of the wood-aged sour beer program. This is a welcome expansion to sour beer lovers like myself that is sure to produce even more delightfully sour and complex beers.

The entire press release is below:

Ft. Collins, Colo. – November 20, 2013 –  New Belgium Brewing is about to double its wood beer capacity with the addition of 32 new French Oak foeders (large wooden casks for conditioning sour beer) that will bring their total foeder count to 64. Space has been allocated, reinforced concrete flooring has been poured, and the first 12 foeders will be put in place this week. The expansion will allow New Belgium to effectively double its wood beer production in coming years. New Belgium first began making wood-aged sour beers in the form of the award-winning La Folie in 1998 when Brewmaster, Peter Bouckaert, joined the brewery. Bouckaert formerly brewed at Rodenbach in Belgium, home of the Flanders style, Rodenbach Red.

“With this expansion, we’ll get so close to that feeling I had the first time I walked through the forest of foeders at Rodenbach,” said New Belgium’s Wood Cellar Manager/Blender, Lauren Salazar. “Just knowing they’re all full of souring beer – ALL of them – is exciting. It’s a destination. Something you have to experience first hand.”

New Belgium has been experimenting with lighter and blended sour beers through its Lips of Faith program since 2003. The brewery will use this expansion to bring Lips of Faith offerings like Tart Lychee and Eric’s Ale into year round production by 2015. The newest set of oak foeders are 130 hectoliters each and come from Sterling vineyards in California. After the initial installation of 12 in November, 20 more foeders will be placed in December. Once rehydration is complete, sour beer from the current wood cellar will be used to inoculate the barrels with resident souring bacteria and wild yeasts. The beer will then age up to two years before it is blended.

On February 1st, 2014 New Belgium will hold its second annual Lost in the Woods party where guests can mingle and experience the wonders of wood beer first hand.  Check back in mid-December for details at


Posted by on November 22, 2013 in Beer Styles, Craft Beer Brewery


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Sour Beer, Warm People

Traditional wooden lambic barrels; the L on th...

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Back in late February and early March of this year, I had the opportunity and pleasure to take a nine day pilgrimage to the Mecca of beer: Belgium. While I was there I tasted nearly 50 different beers and fell in love with nearly all of them. But, even with the astounding variety and selection available in that great country, my mind kept wandering back to the first beer I tried – just a couple of hours off the airplane – in Brussels.

I found myself wandering in the city center historical district as night fell and the city began to light up and transform into a magical fairy tale land. It was damp with the near constant mist that this part of the world gets and the air was cold on its way to frigid. I wrapped my jaunty red scarf around my neck and snuggled into my wool coat as I walked through the cityscape.

At last I found myself standing in front of a bar that looked both inviting and adventurous. Sitting at tables outside the place were several patrons sipping at their beers, seemingly oblivious to the elements, laughing and joking. I stepped inside and was immediately awed at the bar with it brass beer tower running the length of it. There had to be 40 taps, all with Belgian beers, all calling my name.

But, before I had left the United States I made a pact with myself to try a specific type of beer first upon arrival in Belgium. I wanted a beer that was out-of-the-ordinary for a wayward gentleman from Jacksonville, FL. Something that was rare if not non-existent back home. I had promised myself a gueuze as my first Belgian brew.

Gueuze is often referred to as the champagne of the beer world for its effervescent, acidic, and very dry flavor. It is also a brew that is extremely limited in production as it can only be produced in a very small geographic area immediately south of Brussels, Belgium. The reason for this is two-fold. First, gueuze is a spontaneously fermented beer, meaning that yeast is not added by the brewer; rather wild yeast is allowed to inoculate the beer while it cools in a large, open copper tub usually in a room on the upper levels of the brewery with open windows to let the yeast blow in. This yeast is only found in the river valley of the Sienne near Brussels. The second reason that gueuze can only be produced in this region is that Belgian and European law governs the production of this beer and allows it only in the designated appellation region.

To understand why this beer is so special and why I chose it as my first beer in Belgium, you need to have an understanding of what it takes to make this unusual beverage. It goes beyond the spontaneous fermentation; there is also an extensive aging process. Gueuze is a blend of several lambic beers that have been aged in either oak or chestnut barrels. Lambics require an extensive amount of time to fully ferment – up to three years. Gueuze is made of older, three-year-old lambics blended with younger one- and two-year-old brews. The older beer imparts the majority of the flavor and aroma characters while the younger brews supply sugars to restart the fermentation process. A good gueuze will be allowed to ferment at least one additional year, but unlike most beers, this brew can be cellared and aged for up to 20 years. The flavor will mellow and deepen, just as a wine’s, the longer it spends in the cellar.

Back in Brussels, I sat near the end of the bar and smiled at the pretty waitress sitting two stools down at the end. Later we struck up a lively conversation about beer and how different American beer was from Belgian. The bartender asked in French what I would like to drink, when he realized I was American he switched seamlessly to English and repeated his query. I explained what I had decided and asked for him to make a suggestion. I immediately went to a tap and drew a tulip glass of a deep golden liquid with a slight haze; he made sure that the pour had a rich head that he scraped even to the top of the glass with a beer knife. Before he sat it down he looked at me and asked if I was sure I wanted this beer, he warned that it was very different than any other beer I have ever tasted. I assured him that that was what I wanted and he set it down in front of me. He explained that I was about to taste one of the best gueuze beers brewed in Belgium: Cantillon Lou Pepe gueuze.

The pretty waitress watched with a mischievous smile as I smelled the beer. My eyes must have gotten quite wide as the waitress and other staff let out a small laugh at my expense. The aroma filled my nose with a plethora of surprises. I could smell sour apple and grape along with vinegar and grass. There were notes of cherry and, of all things, a musty old blanket that evoked a barn in the summer; not unpleasant, more reassuring and homey. There was also the famous Belgian funk, a smell that is hard to describe, but easily identified when you smell it.

I brought the glass to my lips and took my first sip. An explosion went off in my mouth as the intensely sour flavor of the beer shocked my uneducated palate before it mellowed and flavor nuances began to unfold. I could begin to taste the sour apple and fruit flavors my nose had detected, but I also noticed oak from the aging barrels along with citrus notes from the hops. Lemon rind and earthy notes began to creep into the sweet, clean finish. Again, the staff laughed, but it was a friendly laugh, welcoming and knowing. They all could tell that that first sip had hooked me and gueuze had just shot to the top of my list of favorite beers.

Anais, the waitress, informed me that most Americans do not react as I did. Most take a sip of a gueuze and immediately ask for something else. After a brief burst of French conversation with the rest of the staff that had gathered around (it was a very slow night in the bar), she announced that my first few beers, including the gueuze were on the house if I agreed to allow them to suggest my next few choices. I readily agreed and, for the next couple of hours, had a delightful evening tasting new beers and making new friends.

Some gueuze to look for and try:

Cantillon Gueuze 100% Lambic, Brasserie Cantillon
Aromas of the barn with pleasant funk and lemon. Flavor of lime with an acidic, tart finish.

Oude Gueuze, Hanssens Artisanaal
Citrus, oak, and florals on the nose. Big wood and earth on first sip with a sour apple, dry finish.

St. Louis Gueuze Fond Tradition, Brouwerij Van Honesebrouck
This golden amber brew smells of tart lemon and green apple. The flavor is sour, fruity, and funky.

At the end of the evening I understood why many people fall in love with the country of Belgium. It certainly isn’t for the weather; it’s for the people and their passionate love of beer. These people were friendly beyond anything I had experienced before. They embraced a fellow beer lover and ushered me into their world of extraordinary beers with a fervor that was astounding. They were remarkable in every way and I can’t wait to go back again.

Until next time,

Long Live the Brewers!


Marc Wisdom

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Posted by on October 7, 2011 in Beer, Beer Styles, Belgian


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