How Sweet It Isn’t: Pucker Up For Sour Beers

By Sid Robinson

This story also appeared in the Jan. 14 edition of the Foothills Reader, a weekly Sunday section in the Los Angeles Times.

 

Just as IPAs captured the taste buds of craft beer drinkers looking for something other than “yellow fizzy beer” just a couple short decades ago, sour beers have recently emerged as one of the craft beer world’s most popular and fastest growing styles.

For people who’ve never tried a sour, or have only tasted a small sample, that probably comes as a big surprise. Their reaction probably was to pucker their lips as if they’ve just swallowed lemonade without a sweetener. It can come as a shock, and it’s far from a traditional beer.

In a world filled with obscure and complex offerings, how did sour beers become so popular? Because they’re good. It may take a bit to develop a taste for these styles that are intentionally acidic or tart, but then they can be light, refreshing and uniquely flavorful.

According to the Brewers Association, sour beer sales increased five-fold in 2016 over the previous year to more than 245,000 cases. The Brewers Association expects that figure to grow another 9 percent in 2017.

Sour beers are actually not new at all, but rather a take on traditional European styles such as Belgian Lambic, Queuze and Flanders Red Ale. American wild ales and mixed-fermentation beers are common at breweries producing sour beers.

The problem, of course, is that most breweries simply can’t mass-produce sours. That’s because sours use a variety of bacteria and wild yeast – rather than a single strain of yeast. Beer is typically brewed in completely sterile environments, and any stray or remaining bacteria could infect other beers, causing them to ferment longer and severely altering their flavor and consistency.

That’s why breweries such as The Bruery in Placentia (Bruery Terreux) and Firestone-Walker (Barrelworks) have opened separate breweries in remote locations for their sour beer programs.

It’s still rare to find smaller craft breweries offering only sour beers; Tool Box in Vista and the relatively new Sour Cellars in Rancho Cucamonga are exceptions. However, sours, including those from Sour Cellars, are readily available at most stores carrying craft beer.

As is advisable with any visit to a new craft brewery for the first time, a flight of sample tasters is the best way to get a feel for the beer maker’s offerings. Sour Cellars, a cool, funky tasting room with an eerie aura reminiscent of the 1990s “Twin Peaks” television drama, offers two separate flights of five beers each, plus two extra brews not on the flight list. They also had the “give me everything” option featuring tasters of all 12.

What separates sours from other styles of craft beer is that most are comparatively lower in alcohol. They also have distinct flavors of berries, peaches, cherries or other fruit. Others simulate wine styles. And, naturally, they are indeed tart.

Even with all of the great fruit-based offerings, my favorite from Sour Cellars was a golden sour ale dry-hopped with Azacca, Idaho 7 and Amarillo hops and boasting a distinct hoppy – but not bitter – flavor.

If you’re not ready for a full sour beer, start with a Gose style. Claremont Craft Ales offers a raspberry Gose on tap and in cans. CCA brews a number of other variations, and there at least six different Gose varieties on tap at Claremont’s annual anniversary event this past summer. Those hit the spot on one the 100-degree days that filled much of our 2017 calendar.

Here’s a tip for easing into an appreciation for sours. Start with a more traditional beer of your preference, and then move to a bigger beer like a stout or a porter (barrel aged is best). Then come back with a sour to cleanse your palate and alternate between heavy beers and lighter sours, which instantly become more refreshing and not-so-sour.

It’s the easiest way I know of turning lemons into lemonade.

 

This column is meant for entertainment and educational purposes and does not condone drinking alcoholic beverages. If you do, please drink responsibly.

Sid Robinson authors a blog, “Sips, Suds and Spirits” (www.sipssudsspirits.com) and is managing partner of the strategic communications and public relations firm Robinson and Associates, LLC. (www.robinsonandassociates.us)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Spirits of Maui

Hidden away from Maui’s endless beaches, hiking trails, waterfalls, tourist attractions, restaurants, golf courses and storefronts is a unique area of the island known as “upcountry,” where livestock and agriculture take top billing over surfing and snorkeling.

Just off the Kula Highway and just minutes from the Surfing Goat Dairy – also another worthwhile and delicious stop – is a somewhat unknown Hawaiian destination worth a visit.

Photo by Jessica Pearl courtesy of Ocean Vodka

Ocean Vodka Farm is an organic farm and liquor distillery that perched high enough to offer an elevated panoramic view of the Pacific on both the west and east sides of the island, high above the isthmus that separates the two volcanic masses that form Maui. It’s also the home of Ocean Organic Vodka and Deep Island Hawaiian Rum.

After many trips to Maui, I finally took the distillery tour last summer. Known for its unique artistic spherical bottle, Ocean Vodka is the only vodka made from organic sugar cane grown in the farms that surround the small distillery. The sugar cane-based mash is blended with deep ocean mineral water sourced 3,000 feet deep off the Kona coast of the island of Hawaii.

Photo by Jessica Pearl courtesy of Ocean Vodka

While sugar cane farms are disappearing on Maui the same way that citrus groves vanished throughout the Inland Empire, the 80-acre organic farm still offers one of the largest selections of sugar cane varieties in the world. There is plenty to support international distribution of Ocean Vodka, as well as Deep Island Hawaiian Rum. Also blended with deep ocean mineral water, the rum is enjoyable by itself or in any number of tropical cocktails.

Between shopping and sight seeing, an escape to upcountry is no more than an hour’s drive from most of the island’s beach resorts. It’s also a convenient detour on the way back from sunrise at the Haleakalā volcano, and likely one of our destinations when this blog posts.

If a road trip isn’t in your plans next time you’re on Maui, then fear not. Ocean Vodka and Deep Island Hawaiian Rum are both available at stores around the Hawaiian Islands and at many locations on the mainland.

Helping the World With Good Beer

The growth and popularity of craft beer today overshadows the fact that the industry is still in its early years. New beer releases are often met with fanfare among “beer geeks” anxious to try something new, but rarely do they rate a media unveiling or a community event.

That is, unless, you have a seasoned public relations and marketing professional – a rarity in the craft beer world.

Rolling out a special new beer should be much like introducing any new product, but most breweries don’t have specialists to adequately tell their story. Most rely on staff members that are multi-tasked to handle everything from booking food trucks and organizing game nights to promoting special events on Facebook and Twitter. Most don’t have a clue about how to communicate effectively or create community relationship that are mutually beneficial.

Having an experienced pro makes a difference in generating positive publicity, gaining community acceptance, cultivating goodwill and doing good.

Christine Canepa Beggs went to work at Hangar 24 in Redlands last fall, and before long the brewery hosted media and community leaders for the launch of the brewery’s new Chocolate Bomber chocolate porter. As any good PR person would do, she left the spotlight for Hangar 24 owner Ben Cook, who introduced the full-bodied porter as it was served with vanilla ice cream and chocolate bars.

Cook explained that the Chocolate Bomber name is in honor of American pilots that airdropped packages into Berlin after World War II. The story tied perfectly for the true reason for the unveiling event, and that was to showcase Hangar 24’s partnership with Food For The Hungry, an organization that delivers food rations and non-food items to people struggling with lives of poverty in South Sudan.

For every purchase of a six-pack, 22 oz. bottle or two draft pints of Chocolate Bomber since last November, the brewery is providing a meal for someone in South Sudan.

For more information about the program, visit the Hangar 24 website.

Cheers to Cook, Beggs and all of Hangar 24 for a really good beer and even better commitment to making the world a better place.

January Beer and Wine Events

It’s a new year with plenty of great places to visit for wine tasting, beer festivals, tap takeovers and more. Check out some of the activities taking place around the Inland Empire on my monthly listing of beer and wine events on IEShineOn.com.

The Father of Our Country was a Mixologist

Egg Nog has always been a holiday tradition, but it’s always been the store-bought variety that makes its way to most homes. A couple of years ago my friends Dana and James Pike mentioned a special home-made version that most definitely packs a wallop. The recipe comes from none other than our first president, George Washington himself. The Father of Our Country was indeed a mixologist. While you can easily find the recipe online, we’ve posted it at IEShineOn.com as our Cocktail of the Month for December
, along with a few other holiday delights. Cheers!

 

December Beer and Wine Events

ieshineon-inland-empire-december-beer-and-wine-events-guide-673The holidays bring plenty of opportunities to sample adult beverages. We’ve got your guide to the Inland Empire’s beer and wine events during December at IEShineOn.com. We’ll cover New Year’s Eve in an upcoming post. Cheers!