Most folks will shoot you a funny look if you were to ask if they’d like to try a sour beer. There is a groundswell of loyal followers, however, and their numbers are growing.
Sour is a word that carries a negative connotation. For most people, it’s something unpleasant, acidic or ill-tempered. In fact, I’d bet that when the word sour is mentioned, the first thought that jumps into one’s head is that of biting into a fresh, raw lemon. So why in the world would anyone want their beer to be sour?
Even making sour beer is an endeavor. Due to the vagaries of the microscopic bacteria and yeast essential to sour beer, it can take months instead of weeks to ferment and up to three or five years to mature and perfect. That’s a long time to wait for a beer! So again, why would anyone want their beer to be sour?
My Uncle John used to eat almost nothing but brown rice when he was early in his college studies; starving student and all. Imagine if you ate nothing but brown rice for a week. Now imagine how freaking fantastic a cheeseburger would taste after that.
Sour beer is a palate-awakening refresher of a style. It jolts your taste buds back into existence, reminds your tongue that it’s alive! It exercises taste sensations you forgot you even had. Not quite licking a 9-volt battery, but you get the picture.
Brouwerij De Brabandere was founded in 1894 with the sole purpose of providing traditional beers to Belgium’s cafes. By the late 1980s, they introduced Wittekerke Witbier as one of their styles now that Pierre Celis’ Hoegaarden had single-handedly revived witbier’s place in the beer pantheon.
Very recently they embarked upon an experiment. For decades they’d been fermenting sour beers like Petrus Oud Bruin in open-top oak vats called foeders. The wild strains of yeast and micro flora that contribute to their sour beers’ qualities permeate and flourish in the wood’s pores.
Now, if the signatures of a witbier are citrus and spice with a creamy body, what would happen if they dosed Wittekerke with the same little critters that make their sour beers so popular?
Gone are all the soft, cute, round edges from the witbier. Wittekerke Wild makes your mouth sit up and pay attention. Hazy straw yellow with a bright, white, quickly-dissipating head, Wild’s scents immediately inform you that this blows a boring, pale lager off its barstool. A laser-like zap of lemon hits you first followed by OJ and Flintstone’s Vitamins plus a touch of horse blanket. While not totally mouth-puckering, the sourness really gets you up front with lemon rind, lemon Pez, coriander and wet stone. The pillow-like body has been supplanted for a crisp one with sharp, compact carbonation and a dry finish.
Let’s rephrase the question. Why would anyone not want a sour beer?