Sour ales—the lemonade of beers some might say—are the ultimate summer sippers. They’re refreshing and generally low in alcohol (great for poolside imbibing), but offer enough flavor intrigue to keep serious beer drinkers happy. Once the norm in leading beer nations like Germany and Belgium, sour brews have a rich and lengthy history dating back to 15th century and culminating in a recent resurgence in popularity—especially in the United States. While the tart and tangy beers available to us today are largely modern interpretations of antique brewing methods and parameters, plenty remain deliciously authentic to traditional flavor profiles in the final brew. Below is an introduction to the sour beers you need to try now—say “hello” to your new must-have quencher.
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Berliner WeisseArea of Origin: BerlinABV: 3-4%Flavor Highlights: Berliner Weisse is bright, crisply tart, and distinct in its signature clear and clean flavor profile. This brew’s zippy effervescence makes it especially ideal for summer. BW’s sour flavor is defined by lactic acid. Brewers following more traditional methods will brew with a bacterium called lactobacillus, which eats sugar and produces lactic acid (along with a number of other compounds) during fermentation. Alternatively, food-grade lactic acid can be added later in the process. This gives a brewer greater control over the acidity, but will not yield the same depth of flavor.Grade-A Domestic Pick: Dogfish Head Festina Peche (ABV: 4.5%)
GoseArea of Origin: GoslarABV: 4-6%Flavor Highlights: The gose is a complex brew with numerous flavor layers at work: sour, salty, spicy, and delicious. Slightly less tart than a Berliner Weisse, more of the beer’s malted wheat comes through on the tongue. Brewed with lightly salted water, a curious—yet addictive--salinity is this sour ale’s defining personality trait. The beer finishes gently with a delicate hint of coriander. Dynamic and clean, the gose is a must-try for all adventurous beer drinkers.Grade-A Domestic Pick: Westbrook Brewing Co. Gose (ABV:4%)
LambicArea of Origin: BrusselsABV: 3.5-5%Flavor Highlights: One of the only beers traditionally made through spontaneous fermentation (rather than add yeast to the wort, brewers allow wild yeast into the beer during early stages of fermentation), lambics are highly complex and and vary in taste from bottle to bottle. Lambics are aged for 1 to 3 years to develop character, and most of the final bottled products are a blend of multiple batches, masterfully combined to create balance. To take the complexity a step further and soften the sharp acidity, some lambics are brewed with fruits like cherries (called kriek) and raspberries (called framboise).Grade-A Domestic Pick: Allgash Brewing Company Coolship Red (ABV: 5.7%)
Wild AlesWild Ale is a category that entails most modern experimentations with tart ales—they include all beers characterized by fermentation with wild yeast and bacteria. They range from light to dark, high alcohol to low, bright and fruity to complex and funky. That said, these brews are a great place to start a love affair with sour sips given their diversity and accessibility. Here are a few of our favorite:
*Note: Historically, these are very light and drinkable wheat beers. However, most modern U.S. interpretations have boosted the alcohol by volume (ABV) a bit.
Sour beers were almost unheard of (by most people) 5 years ago. But today, styles like Gose (pronounced "go-zah") have made their way into mainstream markets. The Gose style, a sour wheat beer with added salt and corriander, originated in Gose, Germany, and is one of two popular German sour beer styles. What's the other, style, you ask? Why, it's the Berliner Weisse, and that's what we'll be brewing today.
The Berliner Weisse style originated in Berlin, Germany. It's essentially a Gose without the coriander and salt. It's speculated that the Berliner Weisse evolved from Broyhan beer, a pale, low ABV, and slightly sour beer that became the most popular style of beer in Northern Germany when it was first brewed in 1526. Over time, Broyhan became Berliner Weisse.
After our experience brewing an Oktoberfest style beer, we thought it was a good idea to try our luck with another German beer. So we decided to brew a 5 gallon batch of Berliner Weisse using our brew in a bag (BIAB) electric homebrewing system.
This particular recipe is light, refreshing, and perfect for summer.
What Is A Whiskey Sour
A traditional whiskey sour is made with whiskey, citrus juice (lemon juice) and sugar. Sometimes the cocktail is finished off with frothy egg whites and sometimes bitters are added in for a Boston Sour. Add a few drops of red wine and you have a New York Sour.
The ingredients are placed in a cocktail shaker shake vigorously and then poured into a rocks glass filled with ice.
The cocktail is simple and classic.
11 summer beers to try
Looking for the best summer beers to drink in the park or at home? Check out our options below for the best Designated driver? You can still enjoy beers this summer with our round-up of non-alcoholic beers.
London’s Eko Brewery makes beer inspired by African traditions and ingredients, and their latest release, a hazy NEIPA, is a homage to a classic African drink, palm wine. Brewed with coconut palm sugar, this is a winningly juicy, fruity affair with tart citrus notes and a rounded sweetness from the palm sugar. At 6.5% ABV it’s quite boozy, but the 440ml can means you can easily split between two people.
A classic American pale ale with a piney, citrus kick, this is great served with spicy summery food like tacos or kebabs. A percentage of each beer sold also goes to the People’s Captain Foundation to support mental health initiatives.
Lower-calorie beers are often bland lager-type affairs so this juicy, fruit-packed hazy is a welcome lighter addition to summertime drinking. A perfect BBQ partner.
Fourpure’s whole range has undergone a summer makeover. This crisp, refeshing IPA (previously known as Easy Peeler) packs in the citrus fruit for a light and lovely thirst-quencher.
Sometimes simplicity is best – such as with this likeable, straightforward lager from new Manchester brewery Grey Skies. Clean and crisp, with an appealing soft maltiness, it’s a great everyday beer. We also liked their Studio Session pale ale, with its perky, piney hoppiness and peachy stone fruit notes.
Tropical and topical, this latest beer from Huddersfield cult brewers Magic Rock is a cheeky nod to the unofficial catchphrase of the past year. The DIPA (double India pale ale – a beer style where the hops are increased along with the malts for a deeper, richer, stronger beer) is intensely fruity with complex tropical notes – think juicy, sun-ripened mango with a little sharp citrus edge. It comes in at a hefty 8% but it’s a lovely balanced beer – serve chilled and sip slowly for the ultimate wind-down.
A slightly hazy, beautifully crisp sour that doesn’t tip over into mouth-puckering, C-Sharp Sicilian Lemon & Citra Sour balances the lower acidity and perfume of Sicilian lemons with crisp Citra hops. A perfect intro to the sour style, this is a tart summer refresher.
Brewed with dragon fruit and curaçao orange, this easy-drinking, low-ABV beer (3.8%) has an aromatic citrus and tropical character. Ideal for session drinking.
All summery tropical hoppiness, this winningly accessible IPA has a beautifully soft mouthfeel thanks to the addition of oats in the beer.
This crisp bottle, cut with gently sweet (not cloying) elderflower, has delicate floral notes that make it surprisingly complex.
This Danish brewery has revamped its popular sour and the end result is deliciously refreshing, with that lip-smacking saltiness characteristic of gose, as well as summery orange notes.
How to Cook with Beer This Summer
On the continuum of cooking difficulty, steaming mussels is about half a notch harder than boiling a pot of water. Easy. Instead of going the traditional route by using white wine as your base liquid, try substituting a Belgian-style white ale, or witbier, which is spiced with orange peel and coriander. Because the cooking time is so short (mussels will open in about 4 minutes), the beer will retain lots of its original flavors, creating a heady broth that begs to be sopped up with a piece of crusty bread.
Try: Hoegaarden Original, Ommegang Witte, Allagash White
Chicago mega-chef Rick Bayless likes to spike his guacamole with beer-soaked tomatoes. The basics remain the same: mash the flesh of two avocados, and add some cilantro, salt, and lime juice. Here's what's different: In a bowl, mix a few sun-dried tomatoes with half a bottle of beer, and microwave for 1-2 minutes. Drain off the beer, chop up the tomatoes, and add them to your guacamole. Indulge.
Try: Bohemia, Stoudts Pils, North Coast Scrimshaw Pilsner
Coconut milk provides the sweetness, while a bit of lemon juice and India pale ale bring the bite, creating an altogether addictive summer slaw. Mix about a cup each of shredded carrots, cabbage, and broccoli slaw with a handful of golden raisins. Gently warm about half a bottle of IPA with a 1/3 cup of sweetened coconut milk, tossing in dashes of salt, cayenne, and lemon juice to taste. Pour the mixture over the slaw, and let the flavors marinate in the fridge for about 30 minutes or until ready to serve. (Recipe adapted from beercook.com.)
Try: Bear Republic Racer 5, Odell IPA, Great Divide Titan IPA
From hot dogs and burgers to a nice steak, it's almost impossible to find a food at a backyard cookout that wouldn't be improved with a slathering of this tangy, mouthwatering sauce. A recipe from Sean Z. Paxton of homebrewchef.com, this one combines a 1/2 cup of your favorite Dijon mustard with a 1/4 cup of your favorite hoppy ale. Add a spoonful of sugar and a pinch of salt, more or less, until you find the flavor you're looking for.
Try: Founders Centennial IPA, Russian River Pliny the Elder, Sixpoint Bengali Tiger
This is an exception to my cook-with-what-you-drink rule. I use this dish as a chance to empty out whatever undesirable bottles I find in my fridge (like that Bud Light Golden Wheat left by a house guest). The beer works here by tenderizing the meat and adding a caramelized nuttiness to the flavor. But the long cooking time basically breaks down any of the beer's original flavors, so you're safe using just about anything you've got on hand. Get a slab of brisket from your butcher, set it in a roasting pan nestled with sliced onions, pour in a bottle or more of beer (the liquid should cover about 3/4 of the meat), cover it, and let it hang out in a 325-degree oven for 3-4 hours.
Try: New Belgium Fat Tire, Budweiser, Anchor Steam
Okay, so if you're going to join in on the quintessential summertime kid snack, homebrewchef.com does them with beer. They're incredibly easy to make, and on a hot day, endlessly refreshing. Take a bottle of your favorite beer, whisk in 2 ounces of simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water), pour the mixture into popsicle molds, ice-cube trays, or Dixie cups, and freeze until solid. Just don't give 'em to the kids.
Try: Left Hand Milk Stout, Abita Purple Haze, Lindemans Framboise
Esquire drinks correspondent David Wondrich can tell you how to make a fail-safe Michelada, that unlikely but delicious Mexican combination of beer, hot sauce, and lime juice. In the new Sriracha Cookbook, author Randy Clemens takes the drink one step further by dosing it with the spicy Thai red-pepper sauce. The heat of the Sriracha plays off the coolness of lime and ice-cold beer, resulting in a drink you won't want to put down. Ever.
Try: Schlafly Summer Lager, Brooklyn Lager, Avery Joe's Premium American Pilsner
Simple Sour: Easy Summer Drinking
Almost by accident I discovered a perfect summer beer, light and refreshing yet packed with tangy flavor. Nursing a thirst on one of the first hot days of the season, I had stepped into the Pony Bar, which always has a great selection of American craft beers on tap at its two Manhattan locations. Examining the list, I was intrigued by Peekskill Brewery’s Simple Sour.
In the blessed way of so many beer bars, Pony Bar courteously lists the alcoholic content of each brew, presumably so those planning to down a few pints don’t mistakenly order the 12 percent bruisers. Simple Sour was listed at a mere 4.5 percent, more typical of an ordinary English bitter than a sour beer, which is generally 6 to 10 percent alcohol. This one was downright “sessionable,” as the beer geeks say, a grating term to describe brews that can be consumed in refreshing quantity over the course of a long drinking session.
On first sip, the Simple Sour, pale and hazy in its pint glass, was absolutely delicious, a little like the best possible tart lemonade, yet deeper and more resonant. Before I knew it, I had drained my glass and was ordering another. I couldn’t help thinking how great this beer would taste while lazing in a park, relaxing on a roof deck or cheering at the ballgame. In short, it was exactly the sort of beer that I yearn for once the Memorial Day relaxation impulse kicks in.
This brew won’t be available for any such respites. Peekskill, a Hudson Valley brewpub, makes dozens of beers, but it doesn’t bottle any of them. You can find Simple Sour and other Peekskill brews only on tap at great beer destinations.
Short of scouring the lists of local beer bars, which you can do fairly easily at the Beer Menus website, I wondered what I could drink instead.
Simple Sour is an odd hodgepodge of genres. It is brewed partly with wheat, following the style of the classic Berliner Weisses. Nowadays, Berliner Weisses are thought to require the addition of sweet fruit syrups to offset their profoundly tart flavors. But beer scholars consider these a corruption of the style. Instead, said Michael Benz, a Peekskill representative, Simple Sour was inspired by beers like the 1809 Berliner Weisse, a wonderful version based on 19th-century recipes for the style, with a soft, complex, mildly tart flavor.
In a departure from the Berliner Weisse model, Simple Sour is also brewed with brettanomyces, a type of yeast often considered a scourge in wine circles because of the funky, unwanted aromas and flavors it can produce. Yet among brewers, brettanomyces is prized for its contribution to the pungent, powerfully tart flavors of Belgian lambic ales. It has become an object of fascination among American craft brewers in their experiments with sour beers.
But sour beers, which are often aged in barrels, can take a long time (sometimes years) to produce. Peekskill brews Simple Sour twice a month, in tanks, in 15-barrel quantities.
“It’s our way of bringing sour beer to the masses,” Mr. Benz said.
Beyond wheat and oddball yeasts in Simple Sour, Jeff O’Neil, the Peekskill brewmaster, also employs corn, which is most often used as a cheap adjunct to barley malt in making mass-market lagers. For Simple Sour, he said, the corn produces a light sweetness that counters the beer’s lively acidity.
All told, this beautifully balanced beer offers exhilarating testimony to the creative power of American craft brewers. But what to drink instead when Simple Sour is not available?
I immediately thought of lambic, the wild child of Belgian brewing, a product of spontaneous fermentation in the manner of ancient brewing. I love the tart funkiness of lambics, especially the genre known as gueuze (pronounced GER-zuh), a blend of young and old lambics. Gueuzes from producers like Cantillon, Drie Fonteinen and Boon can be wonderful and quaffable, even if, at 5 to 7 percent alcohol, they rise above the accepted limit of session beers.
American brewers, not unexpectedly, have had their own go at the gueuze style. The Bruery, in Placentia, Calif, makes Rueuze, a very good sour ale full of funky, woolly, fruity flavors. I would be happy to drink this beer all summer, too, though, like gueuze beers it takes time to brew and, at $24 for a 750-milliliter bottle, it’s beyond most beer budgets. Sadly, American society has not yet reached the level of enlightenment where vendors can hawk gueuzes at the ballpark.
I have my summer beer standbys, though, of which I will never tire. Kölsch, a bright, subtle, lightly malty, lightly bitter ale, is an ideal summer brew. But Kölsch is not easy to find, either. Imports like Sünner, Reissdorf and Gaffel are excellent, except when they are stored badly. But I’ve yet to have an American version of Kölsch that wasn’t heavy-handed. The temptation to make it hoppy seems too great.
I also love true pilsners, which have a snappy, bracing bitterness that can’t help but suggest another round. Porters are liquid testimony that dark beers do not have to be heavy they are light and full of flavor, but you don’t want to serve a porter too cold, which is a summer deal-breaker to some, though not to me.
I will rely on these, as Simple Sour, the lawn mower beer of my dreams, will be available only occasionally, when my pub-going happens to coincide with the arrival of a keg. Perhaps that’s as it should be. With mass marketing comes compromise, and before you know it, that beautifully pungent, unpasteurized cheese you’ve remembered since trying it years ago on a trip to Normandy becomes the plastic-wrapped Camembert found in every supermarket.
Or to put it another way, great pilsner becomes Budweiser. Stay scarce, Simple Sour, and stay beautiful.
Categories of Sour Beer
The real question is: How do you know you're picking up a sour beer? Typically, only U.S. craft breweries will actually place the word "sour" on a label. Some use "wild ale" in the brew's name, and you may also see the term "Brett beer," which indicates it uses that wild strain of yeast.
For other beers, you'll need to commit a few names to memory. These categories are produced in their countries of origin and replicated in other locales throughout the world.
- Berliner Weisse: This German wheat beer is known as a low ABV (typically 3 percent) beer that's pale, cloudy, highly carbonated, and refreshingly tart.
- Flanders: Also called Flemish Ale, this Belgian beer is fruity and sour with a signature red color. It's a blend of young and old beers fermented in open oak vats that add to its complex taste.
- Gose: A cloudy, top-fermented German beer, this style is known for its salty, herbaceous tones, often with hints of coriander, along with a snap of lemon. It's both sharp and thirst-quenching and must be made from at least 50 percent malted wheat.
- Lambic: The Belgian ale is typically spontaneously fermented and includes a high concentration of wheat for a crisp tartness. The color can vary, from pale to dark gold, depending on the age (often a blend of young and old beer). It's also common to find fruit lambics. Cassis, cherry (kriek), and raspberry (framboise) are popular, though a variety of fruits (e.g., blackberry, peach, strawberry) are used as well.
- Oud Bruin: Another beer traditionally from the Belgian province of Flanders, this is darker than its sour counterpart, almost a dark copper or brown. With it vinegar-like acidity, it concentrates on a fruity tartness with rich malt and typically has no distinguishable hoppiness.
Best Sour IPA: New Belgium Sour IPA
Novel use of blending sour beer
Perhaps the buzziest new IPA subcategory is the sour IPA, which merges sweetness and huge fruity aromatics with grounding acidity—high-grade orange juice by way of the beer aisle. A favorite of the widely available releases is New Belgium’s plainly named sour IPA. It begins life as a standard-issue hazy IPA, full of the tropical Citra and orangey Amarillo hops. New Belgium then blends in its wood-aged golden sour ale, a 20 percent addition that adds just the right twinge of balancing tartness. Better still, the beer is a screaming bargain: It’s sold nationwide in canned six-packs for around $12.
Location: Fort Collins, Colorado | ABV: 7% | Tasting Notes: Orange juice, tropical, brightly acidic
Bel Air Sour Is Your Cocktail Companion
Bel Air Sour Is Your Cocktail Companion
Thanks to its tropical aromas and tart edge, our Bel Air Sour is a tasty and versatile candidate for making beer cocktails. At first, Bel Air Spritzes were something of a brewery secret, but as more recipes came to us we decided we had to share the fun. Check out our recipes below and try them at home or at your next party. And don’t forget the secret ingredient: another Bel Air Sour for yourself.
Brooklyn Bel Air Punch
From Brewmaster Garrett Oliver
+ 1 1/2 oz Jamaican pot still rum, such as Smith & Cross
+ 1/3 oz Demerara simple syrup
+ 4 oz Brooklyn Bel Air Sour
+ Orange wheel for garnish
1. Add rum, demerara syrup, and Bel Air Sour to mixing glass and stir lightly
2. Strain into rocks or old fashioned glass over fresh ice
3. Garnish with an orange wheel
Bel Air Sour-air-ita
Part margarita, part blood orange, all awesome
+ 3 oz blood orange juice
+ 2 oz silver tequila
+ 1 oz triple sec
+ 6 oz Bel Air Sour
+ Blood orange slice for garnish
1. Combine blood orange juice, tequila, and triple sec in a shaker with ice and shake to chill
2. Strain into an iced highball glass
3. Top with Bel Air Sour
4. Garnish with a blood orange slice
Bel Air Sour Breeze
Pro tip: invest in the good cherries
+ 2 oz Four Roses Bourbon
+ 3/4 oz honey syrup
+ 1 oz iced green tea
+ 4 oz Brooklyn Bel Air Sour
+ Maraschino cherries for garnish
1. Combine bourbon, syrup, and tea in a shaker with ice and stir to chill
2. Strain into an iced highball glass
3. Garnish with Maraschino cherries on a pick
Brooklyn BKB 79
From Maxine LaFond, Saxon & Parole
+ 1 oz gin
+ 3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
+ 3/4 oz buckwheat honey syrup
+ 1/4 oz Green Chartreuse
+ 4 oz Brooklyn Bel Air Sour
+ Lemon twist for garnish
1. Combine gin, juice, syrup, and Chartreuse in a shaker with ice and shake to chill
2. Strain into a chilled footed highball glass
3. Top with Brooklyn Bel Air Sour
4. Garnish with a lemon twist
Brooklyn Bel Air Spritz
Or skip the mix and go straight for Brooklyn Spritz, available now in six packs.
+ 10 oz Bel Air Sour
+ 2 oz citrus-forward aperitif (such as Aperol or Pampelle)
+ Orange or grapefruit slice for garnish
7 Sour Beers to Drink All Summer Long
Sours were made for summer drinking. Bright, often low in alcohol, and fruity, they&rsquore perfect for hot days and casual drinking. Here are seven to pucker up with all season long.
1. Off Color Fierce Berliner Weisse
&ldquoA delicately tart wheat beer that scores ten out of ten on the drinkability scale. Soured overnight with their house lactobacillus culture, this quencher has a bright, lemony acidity reminiscent of the beverages from your neighborhood lemonade stand.&rdquo &mdashBrendan Carroll, Beer Noggin, Bronxville
2. Bockor Cuvee Des Jacobins Rouge
&ldquoAnyone who is getting into the style should consider starting here. A Flemish red from Belgium (the country where sour beer originated), this is the most classic representation of a traditional sour. It pours a deep, dark amber, and the flavors are of dark fruits such as cherry, plum, and fig.&rdquo &mdashAdam Wolloch, Half Time, Mamaroneck
3. Victory Kirsch Gose
&ldquoWith tasteful salinity, bright, tarty cherry flavor and a wheaty, cracker-malt finish this well-rounded Gose is perfect as a summer crusher. It&rsquos widely available, low in alcohol, and supremely balanced &ndash a puckering quencher made for hot summer days.&rdquo &mdashMikey Fishbone, Brew & Co., Bedford Hills
4. Rogue Paradise Pucker
&ldquoA passion fruit, guava and orange sour from the famed Oregon brewery, this beer was brewed with the intent to be consumed on a sandy beach in Hawaii.&rdquo &mdashAdam Wolloch, Half Time, Mamaroneck
5. Mikkeller Hallo Ich Bin Berliner Weisse
&ldquoIf you&rsquore a fan of raspberries, this beer is for you. Super fresh raspberries jump right out of the glass and linger throughout. We sell a ton of this at the shop because it&rsquos so darn delicious. Drink this with your friends who love rose and raspberry everything.&rdquo &mdashBrendan Carroll, Beer Noggin, Bronxville
6. Bruery Terreux Frucht: Passion Fruit
&ldquoA German-style Berliner weisse, this lightly tart passion fruit sour is the perfect summer sour with low-alcohol content and sessionable tartness.&rdquo &mdashAdam Wolloch, Half Time, Mamaroneck
7. Graft Farm Flor
&ldquoA wild-yeast-fermented sour cider, Graft is taking a totally unique approach when it comes to cider. New York State apple cider is fermented in large oak foeders traditionally made to age wine. The cask imparts a characteristic dryness to the finished product, but also a wonderful sour punch. Drink this with your friends who don&rsquot drink beer but don&rsquot want to miss out on all the sour beer fun.&rdquo &mdashBrendan Carroll, Beer Noggin, Bronxville