5280: The 5280 Guide to Sour Beer

“Sour milk, sour grapes, sour stomach—the word “sour” isn’t always appealing. So if you’re new to the tart, sometimes fruity, always boundary-pushing universe of sour beer, you should know: These brews, inspired by the lambics and gueuzes (pronounced “goozes”) of Belgium and the Berliner weisses and goses (pronounced “go-zas”) of Germany, aren’t rotten. But they are often filled with live “bugs,” or bacteria—not unlike those in your Noosa yogurt—that help develop complex aromas and flavors, ranging from mildly tangy to barnyard bold. Whether you choose an easy-drinking kettle sour or a barrel-aged Brettanomyces monster, though, it’s bound to be thirst-quenching. “We want people to drink sour beer while mowing the lawn,” says Chad Yakobson, owner-brewer at Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project. Here, our guide to embracing sour, Colorado-style.

Kettle (Or Quick) Sours

These refreshing, straightforward beers are soured in stainless-steel kettles using one type of bacteria—usually Lactobacillus—to achieve their acidic edge. They can go from kettle to shop shelf or taproom in three weeks or less, a relatively quick turnaround that results in a price tag of $10 to $15 for a six-pack.
CO Pros: Great Divide Brewing Co.Ska Brewing

Mixed-Culture Sours

Fermentation via multiple bacteria and yeast strains, such as Pediococcus, Lactobacillus, and Brettanomyces, give these brews more complex acidity and layered flavors. If Brett yeast strains are involved, the beers will sport tropical fruit notes and earthy aromas. Varied microflora mean a longer barrel-aging time of up to three years and, usually, the talent of a master beer blender, so prices run from $12 to $25 each for 12- to 22-ounce bottles.
CO Pros: Avery Brewing Co.Baere BrewingCall to Arms Brewing Co.Casey Brewing and BlendingCrooked Stave Artisan Beer ProjectNew Belgium Brewing Co.Odell Brewing Co.Trve Brewing Co.

Spontaneously Fermented Sours

This process, which was perfected in Belgium centuries ago, involves no yeast or bacteria additions. Instead, the hot wort (unfermented beer) is left to cool in an open container—like a shallow swimming pool—called a “coolship” (from the Dutch/Flemish “koelschip”). Airborne bacteria and yeasts fall into the wort, and two-stage fermentation takes place slowly—sometimes for as long as four years—as the organisms live, reproduce, and die inside the aging barrel and even the bottle. These are nuanced, elegant beers that many liken to fine Champagne; prices, from $20 to $40 per 12-ounce to 750-milliliter bottle, reflect the time and skill that go into each brew.
CO Pros: Black Project Spontaneous & Wild AlesPrimitive BeersPurpose Brewing & Cellars

Tasting Notes

This summer’s don’t-miss sour brews.

Great Divide Brewing Co.’s Cucumberliner Weisse

What: Light, citrusy, wheat-centric kettle sour cut with fresh cucumbers
Where: Taproom only
Specs: July release; $7 for 16 ounces; 4.7% ABV”


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