Sour beer? What even is that?
I asked myself the same question a while back, and my boyfriend quick to make sure I knew the answer.
This is what I learnt:
Before brewers of the modern age figured out how to properly sterilise their equipment and cultivate pure yeast cultures, wild yeasts and bacteria would make their way into the beers during the brewing process and sour them, explains Devil’s Peak Brewing Company.
But that was then and this is now, and Belgium is one of the few countries that still continues the tradition by allowing wild yeast to enter their brews, both through the barrels they use as well as coolships.
Mmmm. “Coolships?” you might ask. Me too:
Picture a large, flat, open air fermentation like tank that allows wild yeast easy access to wort. The process of making sours today is similar in many aspects, and we owe a lot of our rich brewing history to the Belgian Monks who pioneered many of the sour styles we now enjoy.
Okay, let’s rein it in and bring it back to the localised craft beer era: what role do sour beers play?
We often hear of the IPAs and lagers, but a sour beer hardly ever makes its way into those inescapable craft beer discussions (unless it’s a case for those weak Berline Weisse).
To change that, head brewer of Devil’s Peak, JC Steyn, has decided to use their lekker new brewery to introduce sour beers to the South African market.
And who better than them?
Devil’s Peak’s mission has long been to show us what it is that is happening beyond our borders, and beyond what we think we know about beer.
JC answered a few questions that we thought you should know the answers to.
Have a look:
Why is Devil’s Peak brewing sour beers?
At Devils Peak, we have an all-encompassing love for beer styles – we don’t discriminate or polarize our love for beer. Sour beers are a fantastic beer category as well as being one of the oldest. The notion of aging a beer and allowing various yeasts and bacteria to transform it into something truly amazing is what inspires us to produce sours. Beer is made up of malt, hops, and yeast – we all know this. But there’s a bit of magic, a transformation, that occurs with barrel aged beers that you just don’t get with any other style.
Let’s get down to brass tax. What’s going down inside that barrel?
As with any beer, there are so many permutations that one is able to delve in to – be it hops, malt or yeast. When one takes the plunge to explore the realm of barrel and sour beers, you instantly open your brewing privilege to a whole host of additional options.
For the most part, we have always taken the route of initially creating a “clean” traditionally fermented base beer and only introduced the bacteria and yeast into the beer once transferred to barrel. With the creation of our dedicated barrel aging space at our new brewery, the Afrofunk sour facility, we are able to significantly expand our pre-barrel aging and primary fermentation options.
We will also now be looking at fully mixed fermentations with Lactobacillus, Pediococcus and Brettanomyces yeasts incorporated into the primary ferment, or even 100% primary fermentation from Brettanomyces! Typically, these beers would age anywhere from 5 months up to 18 months – perhaps even longer. We have dabbled with various fruits in beer but this is where fruit additions really begin to shine. Cherry, Raspberry, grape . . . the list goes on.
A picture of their new brewery. So shiny:
What makes a good sour beer and what are some of your favourite?
For me it’s all about balance and finesse coupled with drinkability. While these beers aren’t necessarily always for everyone, there is a certain level of an acquired taste that comes with appreciating a great sour or barrel aged beer. Some notable examples include Hill Farmstead Anna, Cantillon 100% Lambic Kriek, Mikkeller Spontan Sour Cherry, Trillium Red Broken Angel and Goose Island Gillian. There are so many great breweries producing amazing examples.
Why do you think the style is taking off internationally?
I think the appeal of these styles of beers has to be the complexity and nuances along with an appreciation for the skill and time required to produce a beautiful beer.
From raspberries to coffee, you might just like what you see.
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