By Jeremy Dugan
The Wine Country Staff
From my earliest memory, I always liked sour things. As a kid I used to bite into pieces of lemon and make a sour face to entertain my family. So is there any surprise that when I was introduced to sour beers I became a fan?
Now using the word "Sours" can be tricky because there are different levels of sourness in beers. And that's what I'm here to do, to introduce people to those sour beers that are great introduction beers and those that are not made for the weak of tongue.
If you are just getting interested to sour beers, allow me to introduce you to Telegraph Brewing Company's Reserve Wheat Ale ($11.99 750ml).
Unlike many of the West Coast breweries that we find here in our great state, Telegraph Brewing Company likes to brew their beers in a more old fashion (Old World) way while using ingredients local to them in their Santa Barbara location. Their Reserve Wheat Ale is a shining example of that; this golden yellow beer has a nose that lets you know what is in the beer. With a citrus-lemon start, it finishes with a nice light wheat scent that warms the nose a bit. The taste, is much like the nose as well, more citrus based; like many sour beers, the Reserve Wheat Ale also has an earthy aftertaste given to it by the wheat used. At 5% ABV this "Wild Ale" (beers that are introduced to "wild" yeast or bacteria, such as: Brettanomyces, Pediococcus or Lactobacillus) is like many traditional European Ales in that it is light in color but has a great taste that can sometimes be deceived by the color.
So now that you’ve gotten your first ride in on the sour bike, let’s move onto the next step up.
Now it's time to take the training wheels off (keep the helmet on) and enter the next level of sour beer. After such a great start, let me introduce you to Strubbe's Grand Cru, a Flemish Red Ale (known to those in West Flanders as just "red" ale).
Like many other Red Ales, the Strubbe's Grand Cru has a reddish color with the smell of citrus and little sting to the nostrils that will remind you of vinegar. To the taste, the Grand Cru is like licking a variety of sour blow pops, with hints of sour apple, cherries, berries and lemon. The tartness of the beer isn't as strong as one would led by the nose, which leaves many newcomers to the sour beer world pleasantly surprised. When tasting the Stubbe's Grand Cru it is easy to see how the Strubbe family has been able to be the only surviving brewery (founded in 1830) in their small town of Ichtegem in West Flanders. At 6.5% ABV this is another beer that won’t hurt you after one, so if you like it you can drink another one without getting blasted!
Time to put on the grown up face and meet the big sour beer, or should I say put on the sour face?
O.K., time to take off the helmet now. Introducing The Bruery's Oude Tart ($20.99 per 750ml), done in the style of Flemish Red Ales.
While it is made in somewhat of a similar way as the Stubbe's Grand Cru, Oude Tart makes Stubbe's taste like a hefeweizen. This dark brown sour from Placentia, California, shows you just how different most West Coast breweries are from the traditional brewing styles of Europe (or like Telegraph who is brewing in the traditional style). The Bruery is well known for making their beers full of flavor and Oude Tart is no different in that idea. On the nose, this beer is full of sour smells: sour apple, dark cherries, cider vinegar and a hint of oak due to the barrels it is aged in. The taste, very similar to the nose but with an intensity that will make you look like the iconic Warheads caricature. Very sour to start out, but once it mellows out it becomes a great combination of dark cherries, sour apples, hints of dark fruits, citrus, and finishes with a hint of caramel, again due to the oak. At just 7.5% ABV, it is the strongest on this list of sours but still on the easy side of drinking.
Please folks, don't be afraid of sours. Yes, they are weird; yes, it may take you a couple to figure out if you’re having difficulty with a particular beer, or if you don't like them, period. But how are you going to know if you don't try?
After my first sour, I wasn't a huge fan of the style, but that's because it was a softer sour (not the Reserve Wheat, but something similar). Then I tried my second sour (just so happened to be Stubbe's) and I fell in love with the stuff. We truly only know if we don't like something unless we've tried it, so why not give a sour face a try?