A few centuries ago, sour beer was just called beer. In those days, all beers were inherently sour due to the lack of proper sanitation practices that were eventually developed to keep extra yeast and bacteria out. That yeasty bacteria was and still is the very essence of what gives sour beer their characteristic tart flavor. Remember that Miller Light you found that had been left chilling in your fridge well beyond its expiration date? Remember how it tasted sour? This is why.
In recent years, there has been an unlikely paradigm shift as to where sour beer fits into our cultural hierarchy, once considered a soiled product, now hailed as an artisan achievement. Many contemporary brewers would still serve beer that had mistakenly gone sour as a happy accident, as long as it still tasted good, typically adding fruit during fermentation to compliment the acidic flavor. These unintended successes have created a movement of sour beer lovers, inspiring many brewers to start making sour beers on purpose.
“There has been this weird cultural shift because fruity beer used to have a negative connotation. When you had a beer that was bad, you added fruit to it to cover that up. For me, I take the best beers that I have and add fruit to them.”
Meet Joshua Martinez, a thirsty young brewer from San Diego. With a bag full of brewing knowledge gained from Ethereal Brewing operating out of Lexington, he decided to start a business in Columbus dedicated to sour beers, Pretentious Barrel House.
“It was more of an exploration than anything else. There are not a lot of ‘experts’ on sour beer. There are a lot of people that are really good at it, but no one has been doing it for very long in America,” he said. “I always tell everyone that I just kind of make it up as I go. Fortunately, everything is going well, but I know as much about what I am doing as much as any other brewer will tell you—that you are learning as you go, everyday.”
The good news for sourheads is that any beer can be sour, leaving room for myriad variety of varieties and flavor profiles. In homage to his grand opening just November, the city, highlighting an array of Columbus brewers who are playing around with the sour beer concept.
Sybarite W/ Spice
Pretentious Barrel House • 745 Taylor Ave.
Literally meaning a person who is self-indulgent in their fondness for sensuous luxury, the Sybarite w/ Spice is the perfect example of how rich and sumptuous sours can be, as well as showing off the broad range of flavors you can achieve when brewing sour beer. Starting with their base sour red ale, Martinez adds an array of holiday spices like nutmeg and cinnamon to create a complex yet balanced holiday spiced beer. It’s not overwhelmingly sweet, rather the notes of nutmeg resonate gently on the palate, pairing well with the citrusy bite of flavor. The beer is light and airy, making for a crisp, refreshing, and accessible foray into the world of sours.
Wolf’s Ridge • 215 N Fourth St.
Originating from Goslar, Germany, a Gose style beer is brewed with at least half of the grain bill being malted wheat, providing a cloudy yellow color, a refreshing twang, and a salty finish. Wolf Ridge’s take on the classic sour has a citrusy nose with a touch of rose petals, a foggy straw color, and a lemony bite. The beer is crisp and live-bodied, the tartness evened out by the saltiness of the malted wheat, making for a refreshingly balanced sour beer. Unfortunately, Wolf’s Ridge only has done.
Lineage Brewing • 2971 N High St.
The Vintner, concocted by Lineage Brewing, the relatively new and first brewery in historically semi-dry Clintonville, serves as example for the clever chemistry at play in the world of sour beers. The Vintner, a word from old French meaning “wine merchant,” takes a traditional French style saison, brewed along with German Hallertau Blanc hops, and blends in the juice of Sauvignon Blanc grapes, achieving a winey, fruity beverage, that although is pleasantly mild, is also uniquely strange, but without offending an “unsoured” palette. It creates a different mouth feel to a beer, that dry while still being wet sensation, but possessing enough familiar fermented flavor as to never let you forget that you’re still sipping a sour beer.
Seventh Son Brewing Co. • 1101 N Fourth St.
Served up at the ever growing Seventh Son Brewery in ever changing Weinland Park, and occasionally available in bottle around Columbus, is the funky and spicy Plowshare. This Saison, a style of French beer whose name translates directly to season, tastes as it is labeled, a well seasoned beer. Brewed from an amalgam of multiple grains, and crawling with two different types of yeast, this beer packs a considerable kick of peppery and orangey spice. This beer is also further seasoned, like all sours, and has that saccharine stench, off-putting at first, but delightfully enveloping after a few sips. If you’re lucky enough to drink a few glasses, don’t be surprised to find yourself fondly licking the final remnants of flavor from your lips.