If I had to choose one category of beer that might challenge the current IPA craze in the U.S., I would have to go with barrel-aged sour beers. Like the bitterness of IPAs, sour/wild beers pack a punch with, well, their sourness, but it may be the complementary flavors—from wooden barrels or additions of fruit—that keep beer fans wanting more of these exciting beers. That said, truly complex sours take care and patience throughout the entire production process to ensure that the final product is an experience for the consumer, rather than just an experiment for the brewer.
One of the authorities on these types of beers is The Bruery, who takes barrel-aged sour production very seriously. Recently, the Southern California craft brewer put out a series of informational blog posts on the subject to, “to quell your awesome curiosity.” The three parts of the series are below and are great primers for anyone looking to learn more about what producing sour beers is all about.
Brewing & Yeasts
Sour beers are great, when you set out to make a sour beer. The yeasts and bacteria that produce these tart beers are stealthy, opportunistic and can easily spoil a batch of beer not intended to be soured. Tremendous care must be taken to keep these ingredients from contaminating other beers.
Cellaring & Aging
Producing sour beers takes time, and time is money. While most beer is best served fresh, The Bruery’s sours can sit in barrels for many months or even years to develop. This makes sour beers an expensive and risky investment as many pitfalls can compromise the beer. Everything from bad barrels to simple evaporation can spoil a beer.
Quality control and assurance is as crucial in packaging as it is in the previous stages. Avoiding cross-contamination remains paramount when extraordinary craft beer is at stake.
Thanks to The Bruery’s Cambria Griffith for sharing a behind the scenes look at their barrel-aged sour beer production. Crafting beers with the complexity and character like those from The Bruery is not done haphazardly. The very nature of the organisms that go into creating these beers makes them a risk to breweries who also produce other non-sour beers. Great care and expense is taken to ensure the quality of all of The Bruery’s beers.