beer column

my notes from yesterday's beer column on cbc radio one's on the coast with laura lynch
aka "the sour hour"

While it may not have had an official designation, 2015 really was the year of the sour in Vancouver.  2015 saw so many local breweries embrace the sour, and the brewer’s challenge at the BC Beer Awards saw 26 breweries enter a sour for judging.  If you haven’t yet tried sour beers, I strongly suggest that you do.  Especially if you don’t think you’re a beer fan.  The number of people I hear about who never liked beer before but are loving sour beers is astronomical!

There is a bit of experimentation with wild yeasts going on (aka spontaneous fermentation, the way beers are soured in Belgium by leaving the beer out in the elements to allow natural yeasts to infect it), but most local brewers are using other methods to sour their beers.  Classic sour styles like the lambics made in Belgium take a year or more to develop their sour characteristics.  Local brewers don’t really have the time or space to capture spontaneous yeast and then allow the beer to sit in barrels for a year or more and still keep up with the demands for their regular beers.  There is also the worry that by allowing any infected beer into the brewhouse, all the beer could get infected.  Not that some brewers aren’t still taking on that challenge – like Storm Brewing, Parallel 49 and StrangeFellows.

But you can make sour beers without the major time and space commitment and without the risks.  These methods are referred to as “quick souring”.

One method of quick-souring is using a sour mash.  This method relies on the natural amount of lactobacillus found on malted grains.  You add warm water to the grains and leave them to steep overnight to activate the lactobacillus.  This way it develops the acidity and tartness in a sour.  It is easy in that you just take those steeped grains the next day and continue to make the beer as usual.  Unfortunately, it is an unreliable method as many other things grow on the malt as well as the lactobacillus!

What has become more popular lately is the kettle sour.  This is a safe and reliable quick-souring method, which means that making sour beers has become very affordable – a win for the breweries and sour fans like you and me!

In a nutshell, after the grains are boiled to extract their sugars, but before fermentation and the addition of hops, lactobacillus is added.  It does its work for about 48 hours, lowering the ph of the wort, and then the brewers continue brewing as usual.  Brewers can then add fruit or other ingredients to the beer to add different flavours, or they can blend the sour beer with non-sour beer to get a more interesting final product.

Fun fact:  While most breweries use lactobacillus that they buy from a yeast broker, some are using greek yoghurt in their kettle sours!

But what's a new innovation without some controversy?  Some beer purists are worried that brewers without souring experience are now jumping into the ring and producing inferior product.  They worry that this will ruin the reputation of sour beers in the public eye.  Definitely anyone putting out inferior beer brings does no one in the industry any good.  But, for me - and I think the Vancouver beer community as a whole judging by how many breweries are brewing kettle sours and how they’re being embraced by drinkers - so long as the product is good, I’m not going to discriminate based on method.  I do think it is important for breweries to make the distinction though in marketing their sours, whether they are kettle sours or traditional aged sours.  From a consumer standpoint, it’s also important that quick-soured beers are priced accordingly.

Some sour styles lend themselves better to kettle souring than others.  Berliner Weisse and Gose for example, are perfect for kettle souring.  The more complex Flanders Reds and Browns cannot be achieved by kettle souring.  They require inoculations with different bacteria over time.


The very popular Breakside Brewing La Tormenta is a dry-hopped sour ale.  This is a kettle soured beer blended with a non-sour beer, and dry-hopped.

Breakside Brewery is located in Milwaukie, Oregon, just outside of Portland.  Breakside is one of the forefront kettle souring breweries.  Its head brewer, Ben Edmunds, along with 2 other Portland brewers (Ben Love and Sean Burke) presented the method to the 2015 Craft Brewers Conference, so these guys really know what they’re doing!

La Tormenta is dry-hopped with Citra, Mosaic and Equinox hops.  Tropical and citrusy hops join the sweet tartness of the soured beer.

La Tormenta is available in bottles at Firefly, Brewery Creek and Denman Liquor, and on tap at Alibi Room and St. Augustines.

Beer Picks:

Local examples of kettle-soured beers:

Cantus Fermus – Main Street Brewing’s winning BC Beer Awards sour, Checkpoint Charlie Berliner weisse, and Red Reifel Rye Saison are all kettle sours.  Available in rotation at the tasting room and in bottles.

Powell Street Brewing’s Dark Sour with cherries, and currently on tap at the tasting room, the Amarillo Sour.  Also available in 650ml bombers.

R&B Brewing’s Kettle Sour Export Stout has just been released.  Look for that at your private liquor store in 650ml bombers.  This is a limited release, so if you see it, get it!

Tofino Hunt & Gather kettle sour with salal berries and blackberries – this was a fall seasonal.  You may still find a 650ml bomber in a private liquor store.

Four Winds Nectarous – BC Beer Awards people’s choice award winner – is a limited release dry-hopped kettle sour.  If you missed it this time around, fear not, it will be back around again.  Corked 750ml bottles.

More reading on sour beers:


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