Fan of farmhouse scrumpy? Love the tart shriek of vinegar in salad dressing? Set sail for sour beer! ‘Sours’ for me are the flavour frontier, where beer and wine make peace, but with the kinky sherbet frisson that only sleeping with the enemy can bring. From the lambics of Belgium to craft beers of Colorado, these darts of deliciousness can be costly, but for their fans are as electrifying and memorable as lemon peel pylons.
My friend Jamie works in Manchester’s splendidly named Beermoth and Café Beermoth, where he got me into Crooked Stave’s sours from Denver Colorado. The first sip of ‘St Bretta Pomelo’ pierced my palate like a javelin of frozen grapefruit. I’ve since been lucky enough to visit Crooked Stave while filming my Ale Trails series, along with Arizona Wilderness, which forages local ingredients for its sours, and Lost Abbey in San Diego to dip myself in its legendary Duck Duck Gooze.
Cascade Brewing in Portland Oregon is the lair of trailblazer Art Larrance, whose team lives by the motto ‘Pucker Up & Join The Sour Revolution’. Sours are soaring in the USA and indeed are going global, but a recent visit to the source of the older European sorcerers of sours such as Cantillon in Belgium reminded me how important place is to flavour. Such beers only exist due to the spontaneous fermentation thanks to the bugs and yeast that lurk in the brewery’s crevices – like wine, they simply couldn’t be made in any other place.
Cantillon can be hard to find, but I warmly recommend 3 Fonteinen’s sparkling sour gueuze beers for razory pleasures. Even rarer are the super sours of Bokkereyder, with enthralling intensity and characterful complexity – I’ve made three journeys to Restaurant Barr in Copenhagen to tap into its rare supply. Here in Britain, Burning Sky from Sussex creates my favourites – its Cherry Monolith Sour aged in Chianti foudres is an emblematic example of the eccentric tension and grip as beer and wine finally make peace.