This past weekend I was on FOX46 in Charlotte for Good Day Charlotte. I proposed the idea to talk about Sours – Kettle Sours and Traditional/Wild Ales – the beers that are actually unbeers (I’ll explain in a bit). I already know about both and wanted to make sure I get everything aligned for what I was going to say. The previous day I went all around Charlotte to the different breweries to get visual samples because seeing a bright colored sour is visually beautiful. I had the right glasses, all the products all set up on the counter and then it was time – “So Dave, what are we going to talk about?”.
It’s funny how the camera can wipe your mind’s slate clean. If you walked up to me and asked about sours, I’d ramble without issue and almost sound like a glossary. Once that red light goes on and you’re live – all of a sudden, you’re second guessing not the content but how you want to say it. I had Brettanomyces, Saccharomyces, Pediococcus and Lactobacillus on my tongue, ready to go but then thought that those words don’t really SELL sours. The average person doesn’t need to know them and it’s scary to think that something that sounds like a disease is used to make incredible beer. All that preparation out the window and I’m trying to explain sours but not in such technical terms. I think about it now and it’s simple – why didn’t I think of it before but now it’s too late.
On the set, I had NoDa Brewing’s Boba Brett Blackberry and Lenny Boy Brewing’s Plumonary Groove on one side to display Traditional/Wild Ales. A tulip glass was filled with Plumonary Groove which is a muted purple color. On the other side, I had the Kettle Sours – Birdsong’s Pink Robot, which was also in a tulip glass and bright pink. Next to that was Unknown Brewing’s can of Featherlight – a Berliner Weiss that is officially a light beer coming in at 123 calories and 7 carbs.
Now about the “unbeer” label I put on them. When you think of beer, it’s either going to be malty, hoppy, roasty, have a Belgian “banana and clove” flavor, among other things, and the colors range from straw to dark brown. With Sours, you’re getting tart, funky, a lot of times juicy and colors that break the beer spectrum with bright reds, pinks and purples. One thing they aren’t is “beery” as I’ve heard so often. Sours are not new at all, they have been around for centuries. Berliner Weisses and Goses are more widely known but are just the tip of the iceberg. For awhile we would say that Ciders are an alternative to beer if you unfortunately feel you do not prefer beer – which is a whole other discussion. Now we recommend ciders AND sours.
Traditional/Mixed Fermentation Sours/Wild Ales are a commitment. Mixed Fermentation means there could be multiple bacteria cultures and multiple yeast strains used during fermentation. Fermentation and can take months or even years to finish. The beer sits in barrels or foeders and those containers are committed to being “sour” from that point on. The bacteria used to sour the beer cannot come in contact with anything that has a destination to be a standard/clean beer. Barrels and foeders are porous and will always have those souring agents in them no matter how much they’re cleaned. Some breweries have complete brew houses away from their normal brewery in order to keep the bacteria separate but there are others that just keep the barrels far enough away from the “clean beer” area. The sour beers are checked after a period of time to see if it has reached the sought-after flavor. They may be blended with other versions, have fruit added and let it sit longer but it’s definitely not rushed. These beers are more complex in flavor.
NoDa Brewing has their Sour Program dedicated to Brett which is the short, easy way to say Brettanomyces. Brett is a wild yeast strain that can work alone or in tandem with another yeast. It converts the sugars and a lot more. Brett is better known to add the “funk” to beer – the horse blanket, dry and some fruity acidic character. That description makes it sound horrible and why would anybody want to drink something that uniqueness is what makes it so good. As we’ve always stated – beer is a journey and everyone’s journey has a different path. Some people love the flavors produced by Brett and others may hate it – only YOUR palate is the judge. The key thing to remember is that not all sours have Brett. Lenny Boy’s Plumonary Groove is an American Wild Ale aged in Rose barrels while sitting on plums for eight months. It was blended with an eight week kettle sour and then plum puree added to that. It’s nice and tart with a beautiful plum flavor.
That’s the easy, quick and simple version of traditional sours. Kettle sours are the new quick way to produce a sour that a lot of breweries are starting to incorporate. Kettle sours are “soured” in the mash or kettle (hence the title). The bacteria to make it drop in pH is added to the mash/kettle and held at a specific warm temperature for 24-48 hours – depending on how tart the brewer wants it. It then goes through the standard fermentation process – no special equipment needed. This makes it appealing to a lot of breweries that want to produce sours with a quick turnaround. The flavors aren’t as complex as traditional sours but that doesn’t make them any less appealing. I’ve seen online that bloggers write that they are cheap, dumpy sour derivatives with aromas of vomit and garbage. Really? Those types of descriptions scream beer snob (who no one likes anyway) and their opinion is that it’s not a true sour and therefore not acceptable. Believe me I’ve had PLENTY of kettle sours and really enjoyed them!
The two other beers I showed on the counter – Pink Robots and Featherlight – are great examples that prove that kettle sours are fantastic. Birdsong’s Pink Robots is loaded with blackberries and raspberries, has a nice tangy tartness PLUS has a great fruity aroma. I’m not going to stick my nose up to it because it’s only a kettle sour! Unknown’s Featherlight is a kettle soured Berliner Weiss. The style itself used to be done as a traditional sour but now breweries can quickly and easily produce them as a kettle sours. This beer is a great gateway if you’re looking for something easy to drink AND looking for a light beer other than the national brands.
So this is what I wanted to say in the three minutes I was one the air. I know I talk fast but I don’t think I could have said all of it and had anybody understand me. In my head now I know how I would have made it work in three minutes but I can’t go back and fix it. Life is learning and I need to make myself better and more articulate in front of live TV. I’ll make this work!