Sunday, 6 September 2015

We Need to Talk About Sours

Sours, arguably the latest craze in the beer world that has become more than that. It has become an obsession. Obsession is not healthy, in any scenario, and it can often lead to the demise of something good.

I like sour beers but these days I can't move for them... they're everywhere, whether they're on keg, in bottle, in can or on cask. The latter format is the one that makes me laugh most considering sour cask ale has always been attributed to the beer being off, unintentionally, whether it's the brewer's fault the beer got an infection or poor cellarmanship. Admittedly, you don't see too many sour beers on cask, because if I'm going to generalise, the vast majority of people who drink almost exclusively cask beers are the type who wouldn't like sour beer.

I recently did the Bermondsey Beer Mile and literally everywhere I went had some form of sour beer... Brew by Numbers, Kernel (arguably the first in the UK to make them), Partizan, Anspach and Hobday, Fourpure (usually a fairly "safe" brewery that has now decided to dabble) and then Bottle Shop where they only had one keg beer that wasn't some form of sour (out of about 10 taps).

You've got breweries taking their most popular beers, or styles and turning them sour or funky with Brettanomyces or whatever the hell else and I think it's getting a bit out of hand. If I want an IPA I want those big, juicy hops without the funk. If I want an English Bitter... actually don't get me started on that one.

Oh go on then... someone brewed a brett fermented English Bitter and it made me laugh, hard. I've gone into pubs in the past, back when I wasn't a hophead and used to drink a lot of English bitters and had bitters that were off, they were sour, or funky and not once did I think "Shit me, someone's missing a trick here, this is delicious". For me, that particular beer is a pointless endeavour. Yes I have tried it, and those were my thoughts. I couldn't get on with it... it tasted like I had literally been poured a pint of bitter that was off and that doesn't make me happy. I'm not going to say it's a bad beer, because this particular brewery have amazing brewers who make amazing beers but it hit my threshold for how far you can push the category of the sour style of beer.

Of course, this is not an attack on breweries brewing sour beers... it's just that personally I'm a bit sick of them being so commonplace now. They're no longer special because you don't have to look for them. Hell, I've felt the same about IPAs before, back when the boom happened, moaning to myself about insanely hopped beers, or the difficulty of finding a beer under 5% in craft beer bars but y'know, that happens.

At this point I'm just wondering... what's the next thing that's going to become so popular that it gets out of control? Distilling beers? Gruit beers? Blending different beers in the same keg?

I'm rambling and I'm totally not against innovation but I'm hoping for a resurgence of English Bitters.

Just so I can get sick of them again.

10 comments:

  1. I had that bretted bitter and it just tasted like a slightly funky bitter to me, rather than the terrible off notes you get from a ruined cask beer. Thought it was pretty good myself! Maybe I got lucky :)

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  2. I think this is a slightly selfish attitude towards the increase in popularity of a beer style - it doesn't mean that you can't get what you want, there are plenty of pale ales, IPAs and bitters out there and importantly its a style that's helping more people get in to beer.

    'Sours' are hardly a new thing, Geuze, Flanders Red, Berliner Weisse and Gose have been around for decades and they're deservedly having a little time in the limelight thanks to the increase in the prevalence of the style.

    Whenever I take Dianne to the pub now the first thing she asks for is 'something sour' which thankfully now I can often return to the bar from and its no longer always an overly sweet Kriek. She loved the Fourpure Hoptart and gleefully sank pints of it while I tucked into a pale ale - that's the kicker here, just because its something you don't appreciate doesn't mean its not a good thing, it's about beer becoming something bigger and for more people to enjoy.

    That said, I agree that in some cases breweries are trying to produce sour beer when they shouldn't, trying to walk before they can run. I've had some awful, cheesy, butyric acid laden efforts recently but then, these breweries will find these beers particularly difficult to sell and hopefully will give it a bit more thought before trying again.

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    1. Misinterpretation if ever there was. I'm not saying there aren't other beers out there, I'm just saying that we've lost that niche and its now become boring to the point that some brewers have to do ridiculous things like a bretted bitter to try keep it interesting.

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    2. Lost that niche? Just because Cannonball, Halcyon and the rest have been around for a few years no makes them no less exciting. I still think there is plenty of examples of people getting excited over Pale Ale and IPA happening all the time!

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    3. But you can't say those beers haven't become mainstays in craft beer bars around the country, can you?

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  3. I think all of your wahts next scenarios have happened already ;)

    I was just writing a post earlier on sours, contrary to you I think UK sours still have plenty of mileage left and I'd like to see more breweries developing a sour range...not all of them should be sold however and I think that is the issue. It is of course important to have choice for the customer too though!

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  4. Personally I welcome our sour overlords.

    However, I think Lovibonds might have been the first brewery to intentionally sour beer for sale (and jolly good they are at it too).

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  5. Hmm... I like sours, and I'd like them to become part of the 'accepted drinks choice in a mainsteam pub', which they still very much are not.

    The BBM is more representative of 'what trendy cunts are drinking in tiny quantities this week and then instagramming' rather than broader drinks industry trends. Pick a random pub in a random town and the chances of any sour beer being available (apart from that which is inadvertently so!) are pretty small.

    Within the far more narrowly defined crafterati community, it is an issue, but we saw it happen with other beer styles, and indeed with 'craft' beer in general. The very nature of any trend is that it takes the form of a bell curve and becomes exponentially more widespread as more people jump on the bandwagon. Until drinkers and brewers start behaving less faddily, this will always be the case.

    For me an issue is that the style is already being dumbed down. Brewers want to be on trend, but are a bit cautious so they make an unsatisfying beer with a bit of Brett that is sort of sour, but not massively so.

    Last year the Tap East proved that you can go really, properly sour and it works spectacularly well in cask too. But they've not brewed it again since, so maybe it was too extreme for the normals...

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  6. You must be really enjoying this year's Rainbow Project

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  7. Third time I've posted this on your blog in the last 30 minutes, so I'll stop after this ... :P

    You're totally living in a beer bubble. The notion that sour beer brewing is so popular that it's out of control is mad. Walk into any bar in the country that isn't a specialist beer bar and count the number of sour beers available.

    When it comes to specialist beer bars, if the taps are indeed being dominated by sour beer then that will be because that's what the drinker is demanding. Bars are businesses and won't be filling their lines with beer that nobody wants to drink. If you find yourself walking into bar after bar and then walking straight out again, you must be the minority.

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