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Sour beer is a beer style characterized by an intentionally acidic, tart, sour taste. It is Category 17 of the Beer Judge Certification Program Style Guidelines. In theory any style of beer may be soured, but in practice the most common styles that are soured are Belgian lambics, gueuzes, and Flanders red ale.
Unlike modern brewing, which is done in a sterile environment to guard against the intrusion of wild yeast, sour beers are made by allowing wild yeast strains or bacteria into the brew. Traditionally, Belgian brewers allowed wild yeast to enter the brew naturally through the barrels – an unpredictable process that many modern brewers avoid. The most common agents used are Lactobacillus, Brettanomyces, and Pediococcus. Another method for achieving a tart flavor is adding fruit – most commonly cherries (to produce kriek) or raspberries (to produce framboise) – during the aging process, to cause a secondary fermentation.
Because of the uncertainty involved in using wild yeast, the sour beer brewing process is extremely unpredictable. The beer takes months to ferment and can take years to mature.
Making sour beer is a risky and specialized form of beer brewing, and longstanding breweries which produce it and other lambics often specialize in this and other Belgian-style beers. Established in 1836, one of the oldest breweries still in operation that produces sour beer is the Rodenbach Brewery of Roeselare, Belgium. Today sour beer has spread outside Belgium to include other European breweries and some in the United States.
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