It was just over a year ago that I purchased Ojos Negros from Rivertown Brewery and Barrel House. It was a desire of mine to try more sour beers and Ojos Negros was going to be my next attempt to like this style. There were quite a few people telling me that sour beers were good but I was having a hard time believing. Learning to like sour beers seemed like a crazy thing to do.
Shouldn’t I just drink the styles that I already enjoy?
I was compelled to try new styles but I didn’t realize it would require me to train my brain to appreciate sour beers.
My Experience With Ojos Negros
Sour is a flavor that I typically enjoy; especially in candy and other sweets. So I thought it was odd when at first I didn’t like sour beers. But the level and type of sourness is different than anything else I had ever tried. That didn’t deter me from learning to like sour beers.
Ojos Negros seemed like a safe bet. I knew the brewery quite well and liked their non-sour beers. And in my area they were well known for making sours. This one specifically sounded good because it features blackberries.
The beer had a light body, was very sour, the blackberries added some sweetness and it had a near vinegar characteristic to it. It was really strong so I took my time, well over an hour, to drink the entire bottle.
Overall, I was really impressed but it was still a little bit of a struggle at moments. After having some success with this sour, I knew that over time I would learn to like this style.
As usual, I posted a picture of the Ojos Negros on Instagram. I commented “still getting used to sours”. Rivertown replied and let me know that it is very natural to not like sours initially.
Our brains do not like sour flavors and assume we are eating something that is not good. In nature, sour is normally a sign of something that is hazardous. Our brains are trying to protect us. Over time; the brain learns that these sour beers won’t cause harm but instead are quite delicious in their own unique way.
So it’s not your fault if you do not like them. It will take time and exposure to learn to enjoy their unique flavors. We must literally train our brains to like this style.
Learning To Like Sour Beers
Regardless of whether you have tried sours and didn’t like them or have yet to try them, I believe there is a way to work your way into sour beers. Minimally, the goal is to understand their flavor profiles, recognize them and give the opportunity to win you over.
Gose & Berliner Weisse
Jumping right into a extremely sour beer is probably not the right approach. So instead; I recommend trying Gose and Berliner Weisse beers first.
These beer are often described as tart rather than sour. They also frequently feature fruit flavors which help provide sweetness to balance the beer out. Gose, which are actually a type of wheat beer, are most commonly made with salt and coriander. While these are not the standard ingredients for craft beer, they help provide depth and detract for the punch of the tartness.
Gose and Berliner Weisse are styles that are often called “kettle” or “quick” sours. They get this name because they are not made like traditional sours which are made through open fermentation and aging in barrels. Kettle sours are made like most other beers but the wort is soured before it is brewed. It only takes a few days which allows for quick turn over and lower costs as well.
Wild Ale & Traditional Sours
If you enjoy these two styles then wild ales are the next progression of beers to try. Wild ales simply means they are using a non-standard form of yeast. There are wild ales of just about every type of beer.
For example, a brown ale becomes a wild brown ale. The specialty yeast exhibit flavors that are not in a standard craft beer. It is a little funky and interesting. Brettanomyces is a very common yeast that is used to make these and other sour beers.
From there, you can dive into the traditional sour beers. These are made through open fermentation (learn more about how sours are made) and are typically aged in barrels for at least one year.
Lambic is a style of traditional sour that has a strong, pronounced sour flavor. The flavor is directly impacted by geographic location of fermentation because airborne cultures enter the beer.
Lambics can have fruit added to them as well. For example, it becomes a Kriek when cherries are added.
Many sour beer producers also blend different years of their Lambic to make a Gueuze.
These and other traditionally brewed sours are deep, rich and have a lasting sour flavor that goes beyond the first sip. For many, they are overwhelming so I recommend sharing a bottle with someone while you learn to like and appreciate them.
The most important thing to remember is that every sour beer is going to taste slightly different. So do not give up if you do not like the first ones you try. You may find that the light, tart berliners are ideal or that something with a funky brettanomyces note to it is even better.
Don’t Be Sour
There are some people that like sour beers immediately. Others will find that learning to like sour beers is a useless process.
It’s just a reality that a flavor this strong and unique won’t be for everyone.
I believe that most people can learn to like sour beers by trying enough different ones. It might be slow and it may take finding one that has a lot of fruit added to it but there will be something out there for you.
Just start with tart beers and move forward towards the bigger, sour, funky beers.
If not, don’t worry, the craft beer world is huge and there are tons of other great styles to enjoy. One of my favorite parts of beer is getting to try something new and that includes new styles.
You don’t have to order an entire glass either. Try one as part of a flight or ask the bartender for a small sample.
So be adventurous and try a sour beer next time you get a chance.
Do You Like Sour Beers? If So, Which Has Been Your Favorite?