As a beer reviewer, I often get asked if I have a favorite type or style of beer. I often hesitate before answering, not because I can’t decide (although it is difficult sometimes), but because my favorite style is somewhat obscure. My favorite beers are sour beers. Many have never heard of sour beer, and many wonder why you would drink something sour on purpose.
In fact, I have occasionally, jokingly described sour beers as being “made wrong on purpose.” In the early days of brewing, beers could go bad and become sour. Louis Pasteur discovered that microbes can cause beer to become sour. He developed pasteurization to combat bad beer – it had nothing to do with milk. Homebrewers know to keep their equipment clean to avoid these problems. Some brewers, though, intentionally ferment beer with wild yeast and bacteria to produce complex, sour beers.
It’s possible to end up with a beer so sour that it’s unpalatable. Batches like that would have to be dumped out. Due to the risk for the brewer, sour beers tend to be hard to find and expensive. That’s why I was pleasantly surprised to find a number of examples at Nashua, New Hampshire’s The Beer Store. I left with a bottle of Oude Geuze Boon, an aged sour from Belgium.
The cork came off the Oude Gueze bottle with a loud pop. Fizzy champagne-like bubbles rushed to escape the bottle’s neck. It poured a cloudy golden color with a big fizzy white head. There’s a strong white-grape smell on the nose. The first sip has a puckering effect, like biting into a lemon. That sourness is the dominant flavor of the beer. Once you become accustomed to the sourness, other flavors start to come through. There’s actually a sweet creaminess, and a hint of vanilla, that are probably imparted by the oak barrels that the beer is aged in. The oak also shows up as a woody, earthy taste in the finish. All the typical Belgian flavors of banana sweetness and spices like clove and black pepper are also present. The malt provides a bit of cakey sweetness, but it’s hard to find unless you’re looking for it. Hops are barely noticeable, and are mostly leafy and a little minty. You probably wouldn’t want strong bitterness competing with the sourness anyway.
There’s a lot on offer here, perhaps, even, too much. The oak and the sourness do seem like an odd match at times. Still, this is a great example of a style that might provide something new even for experienced beer-lovers.