Sour beers are for hipsters, geeks, and overcompensating oafs*
I love beer, and I love the Internet, but wherever the two intersect -- be it on reddit, BeerAdvocate, or some backwater brew message board -- you're sure to find mouthy pedants who pound keyboards, put down pilsners, and generally give a bad name to the glorious pursuit of drinking beer. Worse than his snobbery, though, is the Internet beer geek's insistent quest for "the next big thing": that new-new brew, the stuff no one's drinking yet.
For a solid few years, sour beer has been a growing fixation amongst early-adopting, post-hipster Cicerone types here in the US. Obviously, this sort of Emperor's New Clothes beer-fetishism is insufferable, and I've intentionally avoided the category like the plague. But ever since you suds-soused losers freaked out at my hatred for IPAs, my editor has been trying to get me to take down sour beers similarly, and I've finally relented.
For more on why sour beers suck, I emailed a DC consultant named Thomas Haydon, a beer geek and occasional trader (more on that in a second). He loves sour beers, so I lied and told him I was writing a piece about how terrific they were. Screw journalism ethics -- this is a diatribe, kids. (Disclosure: Thomas is a friend of a friend, and we've drunk together a dozen times before so it's cool I sorta played him. I think? Sorry Thomas.)
And now, without further ado, here are all the reasons sour beers suck:
It draws the worst fanboys
"The sour/wild/funky style is typically the last frontier for beer snobs," Haydon says. "[It's] definitely the 'buzz brewing' niche these days." With its technical, obscure-in-this-country origins, the sour category is a no-brainer for anyone who picks his beer based on perception rather than taste. A little bit of research, and a sour nerd could blather on about the beer's unique production methods, the historic due it owes to Belgian lambic brewers of centuries past, and... and... oh my god, this is so boring. But that's the point; the fewer people who commit this nonsense to memory, the more elite and validated the sour-sultans feel.
Case in point: on this very website, there's a downright passionate comment conversation about whether Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus, or Pediococcus is the souring agent responsible for the hallmark pucker-inducing taste. There's also an entire BA thread dedicated to identifying exactly what "Brett" tastes like. Brett. Sour aficionados affectionately refer to Brettanomyces as Brett. I'll move on, but I want you to think about that, you guys.
There's no way around the sour beer sticker-shock. It is downright pricey, due to factors including (but not limited to!): the imprecise, small-batch mode of brewing & blending; the fact that it's often bottled in a big ol' magnum with a Champagne cork instead of a cap; and the reality that the beer -- in the US, at least -- is weird, and therefore harder to get. Haydon explained that the prices can climb pretty damn high "since [sours are often] brewed in small batches and only released at breweries."
To research this piece, for example, I drank eight sours. They cost me a bit North of $100. That's a ridiculous price per beer. Say what you want about frats, but I was in one, and for a C-note, we could've thrown a party with ALL OF THE BEER EVER. I know this is different, but... is it, really?
It gave rise to beer trading, which is basically the downfall of society
Ever since Al Gore invented the Internet for the Illuminati, people have been bartering on message boards for rare beers to hoard to themselves. Beer trading definitely started before sours got popular in the US, but their rise has stirred swapping to a fever pitch.
"The hype game gets real and quick around new sours," wrote Haydon. "[Sour] dropping next month? The message boards will be blowing up with ISO ["in-search-of"] requests offering to trade their entire stash for the rarest blah blah..." Basically, people amass treasure troves of beer, then use it for collateral in future trades, instead of drinking it. "There's a bit of dick-measuring around what beers everyone has tried," a show-me-yours mentality that exists on subreddits like /r/beertradecirclejerk regardless of the brew in question. But "sours have gone a long way to cultivate... the ultimate 'beer-nerds-only program'," he concedes.
Again: Downfall. Of. Society.
So, there you have it: all the reasons I hate sour beers. The beer-materialism (mabeerialism?) is insufferable, the bottles are a pain to obtain for both your patience and your wallet, and they've hastened the mainstream acceptability of collecting beer like it's wine, which is a travesty.
This is the piece I had planned to write, but before I did, I figured I should drink a few sour beer exemplars before I put the evil on the whole style. (Ethics in journalism: much more fun when they enable you to expense beer.) So over Labor Day, I went down to Charleston, set up a tasting gauntlet, and got ready to spit out some sours.
The sour truth
In my first sip of Westbrook's Gose, I knew I was in trouble. As it turns out, sour beers are downright delicious. They're everything I've been told -- earthy, funky, crisp, uncanny, available in cans, etc. What started as a formality turned into a weekend-long hunt for more sours. All-in, I drank:
- Westbrook Brewing Co. Gose
- Brouwerij Boon Oude Geuze Boon
- Brasserie des Franches-Montagnes Abbaye De Saint Bon-Chien
- Westbrook Brewing Co. Gozu
- Gueuzerie Tilquin Oude Gueuze Tilquin à L'Ancienne
- Rodenbach Grand Cru
- De Brabandere Petrus Aged Pale
- Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales Weizen Bam
Some of these aren't technically sours, and I'm sure I'll get some grief in the comments for it. Fine. But they all tasted sour, and right down to the last drop from the last large-format bottle, they were all exceptionally delicious.
Turns out, spending $100 on good sours is different than spending it on cheap frat swill. Go figure. But seriously -- I was wrong. You, Internet beer geeks? You were right about the sours. They're excellent, and I see now why you spend your free time swapping bottles of the stuff across the Internet (not really). For anyone reading this who hates IPAs, and beer geeks, and hyped-up prestige bottles, I implore you: don't let your prejudice keep you from trying sour beer.
It actually is the next big thing in American bars, and if you adopt it now, there's still time to condescend to average drinkers before sours go mainstream. (But don't actually do that, because then you're the worst.)
Big thanks to Thomas for being a good sport. Follow him on Twitter at @rarityinform and trade him delicious beers.