The good, the sour and the wild (beer that is)

This week, in Think Beer, Drink Beer, colum­nist Tim Pat­ton looks at some of the harder to find - but sur­pris­ingly worth the ef­fort - sour and wild beers

Sour beers are some of the most re­fresh­ing, as well as the most com­plex, types of beer out there. 

Some have mouth puck­er­ing sour­ness and oth­ers are like a fine wine.

But, the fact that they are rare and a bit ex­pens­ive makes them much harder to get ac­quain­ted with, but they are really worth the ef­fort. 

In fact, the light­er ex­amples of sour beers can also be some of the best warm weath­er beer out there.

But, what makes a beer sour, ex­actly? 

Here’s a re­fresh­er: beer is fer­men­ted primar­ily with one of two spe­cies of brew­er’s yeast - Sac­char­o­my­ces cerevisi­ae (for ales) and Sac­char­o­my­ces pas­tor­i­anus (for la­gers). 

These two spe­cies con­vert the sug­ars in the wort to al­co­hol and leave be­hind some trace fla­vors and aromas, ran­ging from fruit­i­ness, bubblegum, cloves, etc… 

There is an­oth­er spe­cies of yeast, know as Bret­tano­my­ces, or Brett, as well as sev­er­al spe­cies of bac­teria, that take what we would nor­mally think of as a beer and turn it sour.

Now, “sour” is a very broad term, and if you taste a beer ex­pect­ing just one type of fla­vor you may be sur­prised. 

The vari­ety of fla­vors they can pro­duce var­ies widely, some are de­scribed as vin­eg­ar, “barn­yard”, smoky, wooden as well as just a gen­er­al sour fla­vor like in fruit juice. 

These or­gan­isms also fer­ment dif­fer­ent sug­ars than the stand­ard brew­er’s yeast, which means the beer will end up much dry­er (i.e. lower in sug­ars and sweet­ness) than a typ­ic­al ale. 

This is one of the reas­on’s sour beers are called “wine like.”

“Bret­tano­my­ces” ac­tu­ally means “Brit­ish yeast” and was dis­covered by brew­ers try­ing to find out why their beer went bad. 

The Brit­ish have done their best to elim­in­ate this sour char­ac­ter from all of the beers they brew. Which means a Birish IPA or Stout does not taste the way it did 150 years ago.

The Bel­gians have done the op­pos­ite and kept the “off” fla­vors that come from fer­ment­ing their beer in open fer­menters and wooden bar­rels.

When the yeast and bac­teria come from the air or the wood in a bar­rel it is called a “wild” beer, when the brew­er spe­cific­ally adds them in a con­trolled fash­ion, it will be a sour.

Re­cently, I at­ten­ded the monthly “Beer School” tast­ing event at the Mem­ph­is Tap­room (at 2331 E. Cum­ber­land St.), this event takes place every first Wed­nes­day of the month at noon and lets pat­rons get an in­side look at the beer train­ing the own­ers give to the staff.

This month’s even fo­cused on sour beers made only with Brett. 

As men­tioned above, sour beers can be ex­pens­ive, so it was an eye open­er to have an in­ex­pens­ive sour beer poured. This was the Green Flash Ray­on Vert, avail­able for around $5 a bottle at the bar or $9 a 4-pack over the bridge in New Jer­sey.

The beer has a sweet but vin­eg­ary aroma, it is dry up front, but fin­ishes sweet. 

We also tried the trap­pist beer Or­val, the only trap­pist beer to be in­ten­tion­ally soured. 

Over­all, it was a per­fectly bal­anced beer, it also be­ne­fits from aging - I think our bottles were at least two years old.

We also tried Om­megangs Biere De Mars. 

I loved the aroma of this beer, but the fla­vor fell flat for me, it seemed thin and slightly sweet but without the com­plex­it­ies of the oth­er two beers.

A wild fer­men­ted beer I re­com­mend every­one try is the Roden­bach Grand Cru. 

Its fla­vor can be pretty out there, with a strong sour­ness and vin­eg­ar, but it is a beer every­one should try once (or more than once if you really take a lik­ing to it).

If you want to keep up to date on spe­cial events at Mem­ph­is Tap­room, or be no­ti­fied about the theme of the next Beer School, be sure to sign up for their mail­ing list at www.mem­phistap­

Tim Pat­ton is a Fishtown res­id­ent, beer afi­cion­ado and brew­er. His column is ded­ic­ated to show­cas­ing everything that is great about en­joy­ing beer in the river­wards. He can be con­tac­ted at tim@stben­jamin­brew­

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