The Art Of Sours

Can You Handle This Dare?

Updated: April 2018

If Beer Geeks go to Arbor Brewing Co, you know the Beach Shack is always talked about as a brilliant Session IPA and the die-hard hop heads always rave about the Raging Elephant.

However, Arbor has always been known for off beat styles like the new Mauj Cucumber Lime Gose and Barrel Aged Sours.

Before we jump into these Beers head first (of course) let’s do a quick Sour 101 session!


What are Sours?

Sour beers today are tart beers that are intentionally or unintentionally soured using bacteria or made funky using wild yeast. By unintentional I’m referring to wild yeast used in open fermentation in countries such as Belgium. The other sours are made in controlled environments using different types of bacteria.

bacteria culture free image.jpg
Image Source: Stock Image
  • Brettanomyces (Brett) – Wild Yeast – gives Beer a funky profile.
  • Pediococcus– Bacteria – produces acidity in beers. Produces a rougher or harsher type of sourness and some “funk”. Works very well with Brett and is often used together.
  • Lactobacillus -Bacteria- converts sugar into lactic acid making the beer sour. Commonly found in yogurt, for example. This bacteria results in a “clean” type of sourness.

How are Sours Made & What type of Sours are There?

There are several different methods of actually brewing Sours but they all involve inoculation of bacteria or wild yeast at some point in the process.

Belgian Lambics are open fermented with wild yeast and then barrel aged where bacteria in the barrels helps sour the beers. They are aged for a year to three years. If they are blended (young and old), you get a Gueze. If cherries or fruit are added during, you get a Kreik.

Flanders Red and Brown Ales follow a similar regime but are different in the sense that there is a normal primary fermentation (not open) followed by secondary fermentation in the barrels they are aged in that are also inoculated with lactobacillus.

Sours like a Gose have salt & coriander added to the wort, as well as lactobacillus introduced pre-boil (kettle souring), which is left to sit and then killed off during the boil. Berliner Weiss – a tart Wheat Beer is made in a similar fashion.

American Style Sours have the bacteria introduced post fermentation after the beers are transferred to barrels for conditioning.

What’s with the Barrels you ask? Well, Barrel aging adds layers of flavor/complexity to the finished product. Brewers can use plain oak, ex-bourbon, whiskey, rum, tequila or even wine barrels for this purpose.

Arbor Barrels.jpg

Ex-whiskey Barrels at Arbor Brewing Co


 


Arbor’s Barrel Aging Program

Arbor Brewing Co were the first Brewpub in India to launch barrel aged Beers – if memory servers me right, November 2015 is when the first barrel aged batches were released.

Arbor has a set of whiskey barrels and a few wine barrels, as well. Let’s quickly look at their barrel ageing timeline and highlight some neat specials along the way before we look at the Apex Dubbel.

Please remember that specials like these are expensive to make – barrels don’t come cheap and the time and labour spent on making these beers adds to production costs. The next time you try one of these, please appreciate the effort that has gone into make one of these magical sours.

November 2015 – First Release

The first releases were a 9 month old barrel aged Foothills Blonde (6% ABV) and a 6 month old barrel aged Apex Dubbel (8%ABV)

Arbor Sour First Release 2015

Arbor Sours First Rlease 2015 2
Foothills Blonde & Apex Dark

The Foothills Blonde was aged for nine months in a wine barrel. The result – complex fruity, spicy, sweet-tart and earthy flavors with a dry finish.

The Apex Dubbel aged for six months in an oak barrel (ex-whiskey).

Arbor quickly followed this up with more unique Sour Beer releases in 2016 and 2017. Interestingly, The Foothills Blonde has been released quite frequently since then.

October 2016 – 200 Day IPA & FootHills Blonde

barrel-aged-sours

The IPA isn’t hop forward on the nose or palate but you can clearly detect that fruity, funky aroma similar to a Lambic or Guezes or a Trappist Ale/Saison. Malty, Dry with a nice puckering finish which is pleasant.

The Foothills Blonde has been aged for 6 months and the result is brilliant. Not as sour as the IPA but equally dry and there are hints of fruitiness and sweetness. .

April 2017 – Flower Power

Honey, Hibiscus, Rose Hips infused into this American style barrel aged sour.
The rose like appearance is clearly from the Hibiscus flowers used. Flower Power has plenty of fruity/floral/wine like aromas and on the palate besides being sour or rather tart mixed with hints of Woody oak notes that is extremely dry. .

Not too tart, this is a great sour for those new to this style. The lower level of tartness is possibly on account of the honey used here.

June 2017 – The Aging Elephant

Barrel Aged for 2 months in a Whiskey Cask, this Sour still has some hop character on the aroma and palate with some fruity esters and a hoppy dry finish. Extremely enjoyable.


August 2017

Special Number 1 – Mauj Cucumber Lime Gose

4.6% ABV | 5 IBU | Rs. 250 for 330ml | Glassware: Tulip

Mauj Cucumber Lime Gose.jpeg

Mauj is apparently Hindi for Cheers – didn’t know that! You learn something new everyday.

The Gose ( pronounced Gose-Uh) originated in Goslar, Germany. Coriander and salt are added to the beer along with a dose of lactobacillus bacteria. The result is a tart sourness with no bitterness. (This bacteria isn’t harmful to humans FYI)

Arbor’s Gose is tart and they’ve used cucumber, coriander & pink Himalayan Sea Salt. The bacteria used produces the tartness, the coriander subtly contributes to the aromatics and flavor.

Your cheeks will pucker and you’ll wince on the first sip but once you settle in this is extremely refreshing. It’s sour and dry with next to no bitterness. To cut the tartness, pair this with the Chilli Cheese Bacon Fries. The rich sour cream and fat from the dish helps cut down the tartness and the salt from the Gose goes well with the fries.

Chilli Cheese Bacon Fries

Served in Tulip glasses – these help you appreciate the aromatics better.

Special Number 2 – Apex Dubbel Sour

8% ABV | Rs. 400 for 330ml | Glassware: Tulip

On to the current special on tap – The Apex Dubbel.

Belgian Dubbels are heavily malt forward beers that have added candi sugar (made from Beet) to add caramel like flavors to the Beer.

What happens when you throw a Belgian style Dubbel into a wine barrel and inoculate it with bacteria and age it?

You get a complex sour. Complex in terms of the flavors and aromas.

Apex Dubbel Sour

On first whiff, the Apex Dubbel smells like a wine and has christmas cake like aromatics – raisins and plums. On warming, I was looking for the oak and vanilla/caramel but couldn’t pick it out. I probably need to have this again to pick those out.

On the palate, tart (of course but not as tart as the Gose) and the finish is extremely interesting – malty chocolate like with the fruits mixed in – think of a Cadbury’s Fruit n Nut Bar. It’s extremely dry. Wine aficionados – you may actually dig this Beer style.

I did not have to pair this with anything to cut down the tartness but if you wanted to, pick something with a lot of cheese, or even a steak.

Arbor Steak
Beef Tenderloin at Arbor

These Beers take some adjusting to but well worth a try.

The Dubbel is priced at Rs 400 (on account of the time and labor to produce it and it is a limited edition special)

Served in Tulip glasses – these help you appreciate the aromatics better.


March 2018

Special  – Foothills Blonde

6% ABV | Rs. 400 for 330ml | Glassware: Tulip

Just two weeks ago,  Arbor’s head brewer Hollis, had returned from a short trip to Belgium and brought back a fantastic Belgian Quadruple (13% ABV) aged in Red Wine barrels.

The Bush de Nuits from Brasserie Dubuisson is an amber ale aged in red wine oak barrels. The result was incredibly complex with layers of flavor that blew our minds and the alcohol took us to a whole different level with despite the fact that we shared this bottle amongst 3 people.

It’s  aromas and flavor profile remind you of wine and fruit and the overall feeling is this beer is well-balanced but extremely complex at the same time.

 

It’s amazing how Beers can be barrel aged in so many different types of barrels that are made from different types of wood and also ones that have had other types of spirits matured in them.

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Arbor’s latest Sour Ale now on tap, The Foothills Blonde started off as a spiced Belgian ale that was barrel aged in a red wine barrels sourced from a local winery in Karnataka for a nine month period.  To add the sourness, they inoculated the barrels with vintage sours (over 10 years old) from Arbor’s brewpub in Michigan.

Golden with Amber hues with a fast dissipating white head (acidity from the beer doesn’t help with head retention).

Wait till this one warms up a bit because the aromas on this are super complex. The first thing you notice is a wave of maltiness followed by fruity (grape) like aromas and hints of spice. I don’t remember getting any woody notes but I’m sure a second tasting is in order to figure what else this beauty has on the nose.

On the palate, an absolute pleasure. You start of with some inherent sweetness, malty notes, hints of spice and a lovely earthy, rich flavor, followed by a puckering from the tartness this sour  resulting in a very dry wine like finish.

You’ll want to go back for another sip immediately after the first one – intensely satisfying.

The flavor profile is completely different from sours that have been barrel aged in a bourbon/whisky barrel for instance. Wine barrels add another layer of flavor that I’m certainly not used to.

A brilliant effort from the brewpub that started the first barrel aging program and seem to be taking giant steps forward in the right direction with their experimentation.


April 2018

Special  – Oude Pelikaan

6% ABV | Rs. 400 for 330ml | Glassware: Tulip

Arbor matured a Plecian Wheat Ale (American Hoppy Wheat) in Amrut Barrels for 8 months and dry hopped it as well as innoculated it, to create a new sour.

In case you’re wondering what “Oude” means. It simply means Old (as in aged).

Oude Pelikaan 2.jpg

Gold/Amber and cloudy in appearance. Pours with a short lasting, rocky head. Carbonation here is minimal as expected with this style. Acidity doesn’t help promote head retention either.

On the nose – the first whiff was of oak – a heavy dose of oak followed by dried fruits reminiscent of dried apricots and some notes of alcohol. You’ll find more pronounced aromas on warming.

On the palate, the flavor starts off with oaky notes followed by citrus/dried fruit notes and tartness/puckering ending in a dry finish. The aftertaste here is all oak.

You’ll need to try more than one glass to decipher all the aromas and flavors. There are layers of flavor waiting to be discovered.

As of April 15, 2018, both the Oude Pelikaan and Foothills Blonde are still available. Try them before they run out.


The Dare

John Eapen Hi Res Photo

As Indians, we are so used to Wheat Beers – Hefeweizens, Wits and of course Lagers – Lager, Lager, Lager, Lager – boring after you keep saying that word a thousand times. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with these styles but you know very well that variety is the spice of life.

It’s tough to get folks to appreciate hoppy beers that are bitter but listen up – If you really want to expand your beer knowledge and achieve that Beer Geek status in life, pull up your pants and try some of these hoppy beers and eventually that switch will flip in your brain and you will embrace hops. You’ll then want to try all those darker, maltier and roastier beers like brown ales, stouts, porters and dubbels.

Now imagine the next level of Beer Geekdom! You’ve conquered the mighty IPA and you’re thinking what’s next?

Sours are your next conquest. Keep an open mind and you’ll find that you’ll love them. Slowly other brewpubs/craft breweries in the country are starting to experiment with this style and start barrel aging programs.

Independence Brewing Co (IBC) & Doolally from Pune did release aging specials – Dark Saison from IBC and an Oud Bruin (Flanders Brown) From Doolally. Doolally have been doing a Gose for several years and IBC have released a few kettle sours already. Gateway Brewing Co released their own spontaneously fermented wild yeast ale early 2017 but it wasn’t sour or funky but worth mentioning because of the wild fermentation!

My challenge to you is to go try Arbor’s new Sour before it runs out and post your achievements on our Friends Of Froth group on Facebook and hashtag it #CanYouSour (kind of sounds like connoisseur eh?)

Join Friends Of FrothHERE

Don’t forget to hashtag when you post – #CanYouSour

Cheers & Stay Tarty (oops I mean Frothy!)

JJ The Keg


All Images Courtesy: Tales Of Froth Unless Otherwise Mentioned.

Reference:

Arbor Brewing Co

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Beer

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  • Beer Sampling Guide: Click HERE
  • Beer Glassware Guide: Click HERE
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