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5 Things You Should Know About Sour Beer

Every few years a different style of beer becomes the new darling of home brewers and takes over the discussion of the craft beer world.

For a while it was the IPA, and there was a time that everybody was talking about and brewing Russian Imperial Stouts. There was even a period of Belgian beers.

Lately the trend has been sour beers.

Sour beer historically has been difficult to find and expensive to buy in the United States, so many craft beer lovers are unfamiliar with it.

1. What Is Sour Beer?

Sour beer is specifically brewed and fermented to have a sour taste, which can range from the slightly tart to the very sour. Some varieties even described as having qualities similar to the face-puckering candy “Warheads”.

These beers have a high acidity and improve with age over the course of several years.

2. What Are the Characteristics of Sour Beers?

The color of sour beers ranges from a pale golden color to brown. The hop flavor in these beers is usually subdued, coming in at only 20-40 IBUs. The carbonation is usually very noticeable, and the mouthfeel of the beer is light to medium.

There is a large range of alcohol contents between sour beers, but they usually fall between four and nine percent alcohol by volume. The beer styles most often associated with sour beers are the Flanders red ale and the Belgian lambic.

3. How Are Sour Beers Made?

There is a heftier price tag for sour beers because they are very difficult to make well, almost impossible to reproduce consistently, and take a long time to brew and ferment.

Sour beers are brewed like a normal beer but they are typically aged in a wood barrel, often a wine barrel. A strain of yeast called Brettanomyces is most often used to give the beer a unique flavor, and a couple of specific strains of bacteria are added to help the beer acquire the sour flavor.

Some brewers will even expose their beer to the outdoors to allow wild strains of yeast to work on the beer. The beer takes a long time to ferment and pick up the sour taste – at least six months, but more often between one and three years. The brewmaster will taste the beer periodically during that time and can make adjustments to the flavor by adding different strains of bacteria.

4. Why Are Wood Barrels Used to Make Sour Beers?

The wood barrels are important to the sour beer making process. The barrels contain bacteria from the wine that they had previously held, and this bacteria aids in the aging and souring of the beer.

The wood allows some air to permeate and diffuse into the barrel, which feeds the Brettanomyces yeast and helps it to do its work on the beer.

5. Why is There Inconsistency In Sour Beers from One Batch to the Next?

There are so many variables at play in sour beers – the beer ingredients, the bacteria that are added, and the bacteria in the barrels, among others – that it is tough to reproduce a sour beer consistently. Even within the same batch different fermenting barrels will produce different flavors.

The brewmaster can make adjustments with bacteria, but even then some barrels from every batch have to be dumped because they simply do not turn out well. This is what drives up the price of sour beers and makes them discouraging for breweries to produce.

Even with all of the difficulties in producing sour beers, and the long wait from brew date to enjoyment date, we are seeing and increasing demand for this style and an increased supply from breweries as a result.

Have you tried a sour beer? Which is your favorite?

A Look at Home Brewing Stores in California

California has the most home brewing supply stores of any state in the U.S. This makes sense since California has the largest population of any state in the country, although the number of home brewing stores per capita in California is one of the lowest. There is one home brewing supply store for every 660,905 residents in the state, which is 38th best in the country. For reference, Alaska has the most home brewing stores per capita with one for every 66,830 residents.

Of the 58 home brewing stores in California, 31 offer supplies for making wine and 8 provide supplies for making cheese. If you are looking to make mead, only 6 stores regularly offer supplies for this, and 5 stores provide supplies for making soda.

Not surprisingly most of the home brewing stores in California are concentrated in the major population centers of San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, and San Diego. For a map of where every home brewing store in the state is located see below.

For more information about each store, including its location and contact information and which supplies the store offers, see our page Home Brewing Supply Stores in California.

Do you have a favorite home brewing store in California? Which one is it and why is it your favorite?

Is Frozen Beer Still Good To Drink?

This winter we had a party at my house and we set the beer outside on the porch to keep it cold. We forgot to bring it in overnight, and when I went out the next morning I found that some of the beer had frozen.

What do you do when beer freezes? Is it still good to drink?

The truth is that after freezing beer may or may not be the same. It is up to a couple of variables:

What Changes in Beer When it Freezes?

If the beer freezes all the way through (mine did) it is likely to lose some carbonation and taste flat, but it still retains its beer characteristics as long as the seal is not broken on the cap. The alcohol is retained, though it may separate from the water, and the hop and malt flavors remain. If there were live yeast in the bottle they will not survive the freezing, as their cell walls will burst.

How is the Beer Affected After Freezing and Thawing?

The freeze-thaw cycle will actually accelerate the aging of the beer. Even if the carbonation is not lost you might see haze or flakes in the beer after it thaws (especially if it goes through multiple freeze-thaw cycles). These flakes are caused by the proteins in the beer ripping apart and settling out. They are mostly a cosmetic issue, but I have found it mentally difficult to drink beer that has floating flakes in it.

How to Defrost a Frozen Beer

There are several recommendations for how to defrost a frozen beer, but it seems the most effective method is to place the beer in a refrigerator to warm up slowly, rotating the bottle a half-turn every twelve hours or so. This helps to thaw the beer evenly and prevent the proteins from settling out, preserving your beer a little longer.

The Bottom Line on Frozen Beer

When all is said and done, the only way to tell if your beer has been ruined by freezing is to try it. Sometimes the carbonation and flavor are preserved, sometimes they are not. In my case I was pleasantly surprised to find that the beer actually tasted normal and had its normal carbonation after thawing back out.

What has your experience been with beer after it freezes?