Beer appreciation: the spectrum of sours

Posted by on Oct 31, 2013 in Editorial | 3 Comments


Back in January, I boldly predicted 2013 would become the year of the session IPA – and although a few have been put out, it seems another trend has really taken off in the brewing world; sours. Sure, sours have been around since humans first tried to make beverages out of fermented grains, I know, I know – but here in the UK the numbers of home-seeded sours have increased steadily since mid-2012, and are now becoming fairly popular. Championed by the likes of Lovibonds, Magic Rock, Brodies et al, it’s great to see modern breweries striking out along the same lines as one of my brewing heroes, George Amsinck.

Back in the 1860’s, George built a coolship on his roof to save space, and ended up experimenting with ‘wild’ ales:- “I fitted an 18 quarter brewhouse and worked it for five years with the cooler thus placed,” he blustered, in Practical Brewings (1868). “Rapid evaporation takes place; a little rain or sunshine did no harm!” What these beers tasted like, I’ve no idea. Maybe they were slightly funky from the wild yeasts – maybe they tasted like rainwater-infused vinegar. Who can say? George was a traditionalist – ranting against ideas such as refrigeration, and another new invention, said to be able to heat the brewery: “I have heard the word ‘electricity’ mentioned. This is almost too farcical to repeat”.

So, George might not have been on the ball when it came to issues of power generation, but he was ahead of the curve when it came to British sours, and he clearly had a taste for unusually-flavoured beers. Back to the present, when about the only thing on the roof-tops of breweries is standing water, sours are having something of a renaissance. The trouble is, they can be a hard sell. We all remember our initial taste, that first experience of the cheeks being pulled inwards, and the tongue shrinking like a slug caught by a gritter. Of course, they are hugely rewarding once the tastes are acquired, but there is a very definite progression of sour appreciation…

Stage I
“Christ, what’s this? Is it supposed to taste like that? It’s like drinking pins and needles! That can’t be right, can it? You could clean shower cubicles with this. Eeurgh. No, just take it away. Get me a pint of Best, or something. Has my tongue changed colour?”

Stage II
“Well, Ok, I’ll give it another go, I suppose. You know I had one of these things before? I almost went blind, I think. But it’s been a while, so I’ll just…Oh God, yeah, that’s that taste again. Seriously, why do people drink this for pleasure? It’s like licking a cyberman’s eyeball.”

Stage III
“Hmmm…I don’t like sours, but I get the feeling I probably should. I mean, yeah, they make all the other beers on the night taste like Sprite, but, y’know, the blogs say they are good and that. Let’s give it a go. Ooh – they sell pickled eggs here!”

Stage IV
“Ah, I get it! You know what? Halfway down that schooner of Lovibonds Deep Throat I think it happened! It was, like a switch, or something. Wow. They are actually pretty refreshing, hey? That tartness works! They really cut through this cave-aged Ibex comte, as well. Oh, you know I’m on untappd, now?”

Stage V
“Yeah, so you know that new sour-only brewery that’s releasing beers according to their pH level? The Litmus series? I’ve already DM’d them to suggest an imperial brown sour aged in pickled onion barrels. Tooth enamel is so over-rated. Oh, did I tell you I’m thinking of changing my name to Brett?”

(I think I’m somewhere between IV and V…)


  1. Phil Harmonic
    October 31, 2013

    Good post. Two beers that eased me from III to IV were the Buxton/TO ØL ‘Sky Mountain Sour’ and Timmerman’s ‘Lambicus Blanche’ – the former in bottles from Thistle News in Aberdeen, and the latter on draught in SixNorth.

    Both refreshing, palate-fizzing and brain-rebooting without many of the style’s – shall we say – *robust* semi-downsides.

  2. Alex
    November 6, 2013

    I think I’m in Stage III at the moment. I generally like sour (foods, drinks) but there’s something about a sour beer that throws me off still. I think building up is probably key – the first time I had Salty Kiss I just couldn’t come to terms with it and it’s classed as ‘lightly sour’ – but now, every so often, I get that craving and am considering working up.

    Pickled onions are a must, too.

  3. Phil Harmonic
    November 7, 2013

    Oh, yeah, Salty Kiss was on in BD ABZ the other week.

    Although when I asked the guy behind the bar for one, he poured me a beer! I wasn’t expecting that at all.

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