Untamed Beer: A Quick Guide To Sours

Is there a “new” style of beer in town? At the pub, on the shelf, even here at Craft Cartel, sour beers seem to be showing up everywhere. And you might be wondering what this style is all about.

We put together this short writeup on sours to get you familiar with this intriguing beer. And while it’s temperamental, wild, and delicious — it’s anything but new.

What is a sour?

When man first added water to grain and let it sit until it became a proto-beer, he was using the basic principles of a sour. What turned that grain into beer were the wild yeasts and bacteria in the air and on the surfaces of vessels and grains.

As brewing science advanced, yeasts known to predictably make beer were domesticated and cultivated, leaving those wild beasties meticulously uninvited to everyone’s brewing operation — save for a few regions that kept wild fermentation alive.

Now breweries are looking back on that natural style of beer-making and playing with it in interesting and novel ways. They are producing sour beers with depths of flavour and complexities that make them some of the more exciting beers available.

What do sour beers taste like?

Wild organisms are what designate a sour as such. The yeast Brettanomyces gives sours funky, earthy notes. Lactobacillus (the bacteria that turns milk into yoghurt) lends dry, tangy/sour flavours, and the bacteria Pediococcus adds refreshing acidity.

Some sour beers play up the acidity, some balance and complement the tang with fruit. Some sours have a mild effervescence, some are puckeringly tart, and some carry notes of leather, lemons and even barnyard earthiness. They are funky, fruity, and most of all complex. Often those poor souls who say they “don’t like beer” will enjoy a good sour.

What are the different types of sours?

Defining sour beer is hard — like the wild microorganisms that create it, sour beer itself is a wild and unpredictable style. There are few rules and as many different interpretations as there are brewers. Here are a few of the original styles:

These are the ancient sours. Brewed for centuries near Brussels, they are a hundred percent spontaneously fermented, and spend long years in wooden barrels. Usually older and younger lambics are blended and often fruit makes its way into the fermentation barrels.

Berliner Weisse
This is a German wheat beer fermented with Lactobacillus making for a tart, lemony and refreshing beer. Historically they were served with fruit syrups to balance the tartness and many who brew the style today incorporate fruit for a similar effect.

Another sour German wheat beer, gose went nearly extinct in the middle of the last century. Now making a comeback, the style is known for being bright and tart, with an edge lent by the salt and coriander used in the brewing process.

Tangy, acidic, sour, and layered with complexity, these beers, also known as wild ales, come in all manners of flavours — from suck-on-a-lemon sour to mildly acidic, from fruity to funky, and from earthy to lush.

Sours are a rewarding choice if you like your beer unpredictable, surprising, and totally enjoyable.

Our five favourite sours right now

3 Fonteinen Oude Gueze
A true Geuze – this is a blend of 1, 2, and 3 year-old lambic beers, unfiltered and unpasteurised, and aged in the bottle for at least a year after blending. Re-fermentation in the bottle gives this Geuze its famous champagne-like spritziness.

Stomping Ground Watermelon Smash
A sour and salty Gose made with Australian watermelons from Collingwood brewery, Stomping Ground. You can really taste the watermelon in this refreshing fruity sour.

Wayward Sour Puss Raspberry Berliner Weisse
A traditional Berlin sour wheat beer style that is both sweet and tart with a great fresh raspberry aroma. An ultra-refreshing beer that is summer in a glass. Appeals to both beer lovers and cider lovers.

Garage Project White Mischief Peach Sour
Kettle soured wheat, lightly salted and infused with white peaches – a delicate three way salty, sweet and sour balancing act.

Brekeriet Pink Passion
A fruity, refreshing oat berliner fermented with passionfruit and hibiscus flowers. The brewer, Andre, made it especially for his wife who is a coeliac.

Please note this beer is “gluten free” by international standards (below 20ppm or 20 milligrams of gluten per kilogram). However it is not gluten free by Australian standards which state “gluten free” products must contain no detectable levels of gluten.

Keen to try more beer styles?

Why not join the Craft Cartel Beer Club from just $59 a month or quarter. Your club case includes 8 unique beers, a beer glass guide and tasting notes, so you’ll pick up interesting knowledge along the way. If you like the sound of learning more about the beers you drink, check out the club.