You may have noticed that there’s always a trend or hot-ticket beer in the craft brew scene. One month, it’s adding hot sauce to the brewing process. The next, it’s crafting a beer in such limited batches that people are selling it on the black market.
It’s fun to see what the breweries have in store next, but there’s one style gaining lots of new fans: sours.
Sour beers get their tartness from certain bacteria, yeast strains and aging techniques, most commonly by barrel-aging for years at a time. If you’re a newbie, you might want to start with Lindemans Framboise, a raspberry lambic that’s sweet as well as sour. It’s very sippable on its own, but is even easier to drink when mixed with a wheat beer.
New Belgium’s La Folie, a sour brown ale, might be an alternative gateway to sour love. Rich and malty like your typical brown ale, the additional oak barrel aging is where the acidic and fruity sourness emerge.
A few of the leading American-made sours are by California-based brewer Russian River, but they’re difficult to come by on the East Coast. Russian River is still a privately owned brewery. It uses only a handful of distributors, and the demand exceeds supply.
With monikers such as Supplication, Temptation and Consecration, these sours have lived up to their names and have become top-rated on beer fan sites. If you’re curious but don’t plan to visit the Philadelphia distribution area or don’t have a source on the West Coast, here’s a home brew recipe to try (see sidebar).
Get ’em while they’re hot, beer lovers. Discover (or further explore) the complex world of sours, and unearth those acidic brews that perfectly pucker your palate.
Isley Brewing Co. Sour Relations
Strangeways Brewing Uberlin Berliner Weis
Strangeways Brewing That’s My Jam Berry Sour
Strangeways Brewing Oscillate Wildly Blueberry Wild Sour Ale
Strangeways Brewing Portia Raspberry Wild Sour Ale
Strangeways Brewing Beatrice Mixed Berry Wild Sour Ale
Strangeways Brewing Olivia Blackberry Wild Sour Ale
Russian River Consecration clone
Beer Style: American wild ale/sour ale
Recipe Type: All-grain
Batch Size: 5 gallons
Mash Type: Single infusion
(60 minutes) 158 degrees Fahrenheit saccharification rest
(10 minutes) 168 degrees Fahrenheit mash out
Grain Bill: 11 pounds Rahr 2-Row
1/2 pounds acid malt
1/4 pounds Carafa I
1/4 pounds Special B malt
Hops: 1/2 ounce Styrian Goldings (90 minutes)
1 ounce Sterling (30 minutes)
1 ounce Sterling (1 minute)
Other: 2 pounds dark Belgian candi sugar syrup (15 minutes)
Whirlfloc tablet (5 minutes)
1/2 pounds dextrose (1 minute)
Yeast: Abbey Ale liquid yeast
Fermentation: For 3 weeks primary at 65 degrees Fahrenheit, then add Wyeast Roselare Belgian Blend for 4 months primary at 65 degrees.
Notes: At secondary fermentation when you add in the Wyeast Roselare Belgian Blend, you will also want to add 2 pounds of fresh or dried currants. Do your best not to let your temperature go above 65 degrees. Taste the beer at about 3 months to gauge the sourness. If it’s just about right, then soak 4 ounces of either oak cubes or oak chips in Cabernet Sauvignon (Vinnie Cilurzo from Russian River recommends using a Kenwood Cabernet Sauvignon because it’s widely available and of good quality), place those in the fermenter and let the beer finish up to a month or two. As a last step, prior to bottling, add some Rockpile RP-15 dry wine yeast to allow the beer to bottle condition.
Brecker in the Rye
by Kyle Stinson at Tarrant’s West
2 1/2 ounces of Bulleit rye
1/4 ounce toasted fennel syrup
2 dashes of Bittermens Xocolatl Mole bitters
1/4 ounce Branca Menta
2 ounces Breckenridge Brewery Nitro Vanilla porter
Stir all of the ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Strain over ice in a rocks glass and float the beer on top. Garnish with an orange twist.
Although the explosion of microbreweries across town seems like a recent phenomenon, Richmond has always had a strong brewing tradition. After the Civil War, the city directory listed 16 different businesses brewing or bottling beer.
In 1868, D.G Yuengling Jr., the oldest son of the owner of Pennsylvania’s D.G. Yuengling and Son — now owned and operated by the family’s fifth generation — built a five-story brewery, the James River Steam Brewery, at Rocketts Landing. Unfortunately, its success was short-lived, and it closed in 1878. But while the German community in Richmond swelled, so did the business of beer.
Author Lee Graves, former beer columnist at The Richmond Times-Dispatch, explores the ins and outs of this city’s love of beer in his book, “Richmond Beer: A History of Brewing in the River City.” In a modified excerpt he shares with RVA Growler, Graves details just how heated the competition could get at the end of the 19th century. — Brandon Fox
Breweries like to experiment, and new offerings can be found on shelves and taps almost before you had a chance to sample the ones that preceded them. To narrow the field a little, we asked a few local beer experts what they’re drinking right now.
Page Miller Hayes
River City Beer Betties
I’m a big fan of IPAs, and Triple Crossing’s Nectar and Knife (pictured) is a delicious double IPA. Ardent is also brewing some great beers. I’m a big fan of their saison, and when it’s available, their honey ginger is delightful. The small breweries swap out stuff all the time, so you have to be flexible.
RVA Rural Beer Brigade
The trio of Strangeways Wyld Sisters [Beatrice, Olivia and Portia], and its Oscillate Wildly, have been a great foray into wild ales for the local beer scene. I’m really looking forward to more. With stouts being popular this time of year, I’ve really enjoyed the rye stout from Ardent Craft Ales (pictured) and the Black Bear series from Lickinghole Creek.
Michael Brandt has a vintner’s eye and research scientist’s sense of precision. He’s been both.
Garden Grove Brewery’s co-owner and brewer trained at Naked Mountain Winery & Vineyards, and then at Linden Vineyards under legendary winemaker Jim Law. He has a graduate degree in environmental studies and worked as an agricultural research scientist at Virginia State University.
That background gives Brandt a very different perspective on brewing beer — and you’ll hear some fairly radical things come out of his mouth.
“I don’t see why there has to be a separation of anything,” he says. “Why do we have [beer] styles? Why do I have to make these things that were predetermined in the past?”
Case in point: Brandt hands me a foaming, pale yellow glass of what might almost be wine, but certainly isn’t beer. Honey Sparkler is made from sorghum, honey and hops, and although it has a sweetness that echoes mead, there’s an acidity and bitterness from the hops, plus a thick effervescence and a good kick from its 8-percent alcohol that resembles beer. It’s also gluten-free — Garden Grove plans to always have a gluten-free option available — and it’s unquestionably its own beverage.
The next gluten-free batch will be made with juice from Petit Manseng and Vidal Blanc grapes. “We’re going to make a Belgian quadruple with red wine grapes like merlot,” Brandt says. “I have lots of wineries that are itching to give me grapes and have us do collaborations.”
How do these kinds of experiments differ from winemaking? For one, the brewery doesn’t press grapes or do extensive barrel aging. Brandt starts with juice and processes it like beer. For him, creating a perfect balance among flavors is the biggest lesson he learned from winemaking.
“It’s very tricky to add things so that everything gets to talk,” he says.