Sour Songs

Each day, the sun rises and brings on the heat of the summer we’ve come to know, and sometimes even love here in Phoenix. We enjoy outdoor activities, exploring the ever unique desert landscapes, forest get-a-ways up north, the lakes of the west, and the heart of each city’s downtown offers. For many of us, each activity is shared with friends, family, and very often, craft beer from our local brewery!

When I think of summertime, I find myself drinking mostly crisp, lighter beers, some fruit or citrus hop-forward, but my nostalgia for poolside chats, BBQs, and hiking always leads me to my favorite style of the summer – Sours. Varying from the lime and salty gose style to the tart and tangy fruit of kettle sours, to even the easy-going berliners that hang out in between, there’s nothing more refreshing than cracking open a flavorful sour beer and soaking up the sun!

Sour beers come with such a vibrant arrangement of style and taste all on their own, truly a style for everyone to find at least one they can enjoy! We begin with the wild yeast-forward lambics at the historical core of sour ales, crisp and well balanced in acidity, which then serve many times as the base of other sours, like the gueze (a mixture of old and new labics bottle fermented to end with a champagne-like quality, mild oak aromas, and a fruity ester). Lambics such as the Kriek and the framboise are usually fermented with cherries and raspberries but can be manipulated with all kinds of fruit. Another old soul, Flanders red ales are known for their red color from specialty malts and long maturation times in oak barrels. Gose and Berliners are both unfiltered sour wheats, one typically with sea salt and coriander, and the other more fruit-forward with use of fruit syrups – these are great beginner sour styles as well. Kettle sours are very common in American craft beer, as it appeals to a quicker fermentation and production time for the brewery, but that does not mean that the essential process or end product is less than the O.G. styles.

Sour beer – a style that has been around since the beginning of brewmasters (4000 BC all beers were inherently sour due to the naturally occurring live bacteria and wild yeast), and almost all sour styles but faded away once pasteurization and refrigeration was discovered. Luckily for you and me, they have since reappeared and been played with since the 1970/80s, bringing back the original lambic, farmhouse, and Belgium styles as well as the newer craft scene developing whole new varieties of sour-tasting beers! While all sour beers start from the concept of incorporating living bacteria, like lactobacillus and pediococcus, and using these to convert sugar into lactic acid for a lower pH (higher acidic) profile, these playful “bugs” are what create that signature tart, crisp flavor paired with unique aromas when they play along with the natural wild yeasts of sours. In a world where most beer styles are crafted with such history, precise structure and chemical equations to produce a quality masterpiece in a glass, here stand the sours, defiant and rogue in their travels to untame our taste buds and release ourselves into the desert!

As I think about my next pool day and the crushable sours of local craft beer, my mouth begins to water. Summer just isn’t complete without sours, as their crisp tartness brings to mind a nostalgia of eating bowls of fresh fruit, popsicles, and splashing in the sprinklers. In the Arizona heat, nothing is better than a refreshment for your palette, and sours are a fantastic way to break free from the normalcy of pilsners and lagers year-round and still provide a break from the temperature. As a staple here and one of my personal favorites, Helton Boysenberry Sour is a smooth drinking core beer and a great choice at a 3.2pH level, 10 IBU, and 6.7% ABV, featuring an uncommon but delicious fruit from Oregon’s farms. This American-brewed sour ale is made with the intent of tart fruit flavors, with a crisp finish that makes me think of that satisfying feeling of jumping in the pool in 110-degree weather.

Nothing speaks to the wild, untamable summers of Phoenix like a sour beer – both are living, breathing creatures of the universe that bend to their own will, can be complimented but never bridled by their creators always carry a sense of wonder that we all chase to hold. Sour beer, you are my spirit animal.

Kirby Kemp, Helton Brewing Co
“The Crushable Chronicles”

More Posts