"Sour Beer Brewing: The Art of Creating Tart and Tangy Ales"

Monday, January 16, 2023
Sour beers are a unique and delicious addition to any home brewer's repertoire. 

These beers are characterized by their tart and tangy flavors, often with a hint of fruitiness. 

While traditional brewing methods focus on keeping beers as clean and stable as possible, sour beers rely on the use of wild yeast and bacteria to create their distinct flavor profile. 

They should not be confused with the sour infected beers I occasionally make :)

how to brew sour beers

Guide to help you brew your own sour beer at home

Sour beers are created by fermenting the beer with wild yeast and bacteria, such as Lactobacillus and Pediococcus. These microorganisms consume the sugars in the beer, creating lactic acid and other acids that give sour beers their distinct taste. Sour beers also have a unique aroma and mouthfeel, thanks to the presence of these microorganisms.

Choose your base beer: Sour beers can be made from any type of beer, but they are most commonly made from wheat beers, such as Belgian wits, or pale ales. The base beer should be light in color and low in bitterness to allow the sourness to shine through.

Choose your yeast and bacteria: There are many different types of yeast and bacteria that can be used to create sour beers. Lactobacillus and Pediococcus are the most common, but Brettanomyces and other wild yeasts can also be used. Each yeast and bacteria will produce a different flavor profile, so it's essential to do your research and choose the right one for your brew.

Create a sour mash: To create a sour mash, you will need to add the chosen yeast and bacteria to your base beer. This can be done by adding the microorganisms to the wort before fermentation, or by adding them to the finished beer. 

The sour mash should be kept at a warm temperature, around 85-95 degrees Fahrenheit, for several days to allow the microorganisms to consume the sugars and produce lactic acid.

The next step is to ferment and age the beer: Once the sour mash is ready, it should be transferred to a fermenting vessel and allowed to ferment for several weeks. During this time, the yeast and bacteria will continue to consume the sugars and produce acids, creating the sour flavor. After fermentation, the beer should be aged for several months to allow the flavors to develop and mature.

When fermentation is complete -it's time to bottle condition or keg the beer: Sour beers should be carbonated to a low level, around 2-3 volumes of CO2, to allow the sourness to shine through.

Once your beer is ready, it's time to enjoy it! Sour beers are best served chilled and can be paired with a variety of foods, such as cheese, seafood, and fruits.

What kind of hops compliments a sour beer?

hops for sour beers

Hops are used to add bitterness and aroma to beer, and the type of hops used can play a significant role in the overall flavor profile of a beer. 

When brewing a sour beer, the hops used should complement the acidity and tanginess of the beer, rather than overpower it. 

Here are some hops that are commonly used in sour beer brewing and the characteristics they bring to the beer:
  • Spalt: This German hop variety is known for its herbal and spicy aroma, with a subtle bitterness. It is a good complement to the acidity of sour beers and can help balance the tanginess of the beer.
  • Saaz: This Czech hop variety is known for its earthy and spicy aroma, with a low bitterness level. It can also help to balance the acidity of sour beers, and complement the spicy and herbal notes.
  • Hallertau Blanc: this German hop variety is known for its fruity and floral aroma, with a low bitterness level. It can add a nice complement of white wine-like notes to the beer, that can enhance the complexity of the brew.
  • Styrian Golding: this Slovenian hop variety is known for its earthy and spicy aroma, with a low bitterness level. It can help to balance the acidity of sour beers, and complement the spicy and herbal notes.
  • Tettnang: This German hop variety is known for its floral and spicy aroma, with a low bitterness level. It can also help to balance the acidity of sour beers and complement the spicy and floral notes.

Hops that are known to be fruity and citrusy like, Citra, Simcoe, or Mosaic, can clash with the acidity of the sour beer, and can make the beer overly bitter or fruity. It's best to avoid these hops when brewing a sour beer.

When using hops in a sour beer, it's important to use them sparingly and to add them later in the boil to avoid overpowering the acidity and the fruity character of the beer.  As with all brews, too much hops can overpower the flavour.

Hops flavours should be suggestive and inviting to the drinker, not bashing your tongue's tastebuds!

When brewing sour beers, there are several risks that home brewers should be aware of

Some of these risks include:
  • Contamination: Sour beers rely on wild yeast and bacteria to create their distinct flavor profile. However, these microorganisms can also lead to contamination if not handled properly. To avoid contamination, it's essential to use clean equipment and to sanitize all surfaces that come into contact with the beer.
  • Inconsistent fermentation: Sour beers rely on wild yeast and bacteria, which can lead to inconsistent fermentation. This can result in uneven acidity levels and a lack of consistency in the final product. To avoid inconsistent fermentation, it's important to maintain a consistent temperature and to monitor the beer's progress throughout the fermentation process.
  • Overly sour beer: Sour beers should have a balance of acidity, but if not monitored properly, the acidity level can become too high and make the beer undrinkable. To avoid this, it's important to taste the beer regularly during the fermentation process and to make adjustments as needed.
  • Off-flavors: Wild yeast and bacteria can produce off-flavors if not handled correctly. This can include flavors such as vinegar, band-aids, and other unpleasant notes. To avoid off-flavors, it's important to select the appropriate yeast and bacteria strains and to maintain proper fermentation temperatures.
  • Long aging time: Sour beers require a longer aging time than traditional beers, which can be a challenge for home brewers with limited storage space. To address this, it's important to plan ahead and have enough space to store the beer for several months.

Sour beer brewing is a unique and exciting way to experiment with different flavors and create unique beers. Keep in mind that the process of sour beer brewing can be unpredictable and can require patience, so it's essential to be prepared for unexpected results. Happy brewing!

Once you've successfully brewed your beer, you might want to celebrate with a meal. 

Here are some popular food and meal options that pair well with sour beers:

  • Cheese: Sour beers are a great pairing for a variety of cheeses, particularly those that are tangy or acidic in flavor. Some good options include goat cheese, blue cheese, and gouda.
  • Seafood: Sour beers are a natural pairing for seafood, particularly those that are acidic or have a high oil content. Some good options include raw oysters, sushi, and ceviche.
  • Fruits: Sour beers pair well with a variety of fruits, particularly those that are acidic or have a high sugar content. Some good options include lemons, limes, raspberries, and cherries.
  • Salads: Sour beers are a great pairing for salads that have a tangy or acidic dressing, particularly those with vinaigrettes, or citrus-based dressings.
  • Spicy Foods: Sour beers can balance out the heat from spicy foods, making them a great pairing for dishes like Thai, Indian and Mexican cuisine.
  • Pickles: The acidity in pickles can complement the acidity in sour beers, making them a great pairing.
  • Sour candies: Sour candies can also complement the acidity in sour beers, making them a great pairing.
  • Barbecue: Sour beers can be a great pairing for barbecue, particularly for acidic sauces like vinegar-based sauces.
When pairing food with sour beers, it's important to keep in mind that the goal is to complement, not overpower, the flavors of the beer.


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