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” ( and is managing partner of the strategic communications and public relations firm Robinson and Associates, LLC. (












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

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 We’ll cover New Year’s Eve in an upcoming post. Cheers!


Inland Empire Breweries Win Major Accolades at Great American Beer Festival

gabf-medalsWe’re a little late with this post here, but it did appear on last month. Nevertheless, this is worth including on the Sips, Suds and Spirits blog.

Four different craft brewers from the greater Inland Empire etched their names among the best in the United States by winning medals earlier this month in Denver at the Great American Beer Festival, the most prestigious and important competition in the U.S.

gabf-logo-2016The 30th edition of the competition awarded a total of 286 medals to some of the best commercial breweries in the nation. Two local breweries came away with gold medals.

Weins Brewing Co./Weins Family Cellars from Temecula captured a gold medal in the Belgian-Style Fruit Beer category for its Apricot Wheat beer.

TAPS Fish House and Brewery in Corona won gold in the Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Beer category for its Silent Warrior.

589-nocluebrewRancho Cucamonga’s No Clue Brew won a bronze medal in the Honey Beer category for hits Belgian Honey Blonde Ale, and Packinghouse Brewing Co. from Riverside won bronze in the Irish-Style Red Ale category for Riley’s Irish Red.

More than 1,750 breweries from all 50 states and the District of Columbia submitted a total of 7,227 entries covering 96 beer categories and 161 different beer styles. GABF entries increased by 9 percent over last year and easily surpassed all previous participation records.

The complete list of medal-winning beers is posted at the GABF website.

November Beer and Wine Events


ieshineon-inland-empire-november-beer-and-wine-events-guide-673With November comes the start of the holiday season, beginning with our nation’s observance of Veterans Day on Nov. 11 and the long Thanksgiving weekend on Nov. 24-27. Annual releases of big beers, along with a host of other events, fill our November calendar. Cheers!

We’ve got your November guide at And always remember to drink responsibly and designate a driver.


Inland Empire Sports Bars


Image courtesy of

Sports bars are everywhere. There’s no better time of year to do your sports viewing outside your own home, with football all day Saturday and Sunday (not to mention Thursday, Friday and Monday nights), and exciting post-season baseball pretty much every night of the week through most of October. Check out the guide to Inland Empire sports bars to find one near you.