P: Beer alert. Come on, like 'missing pen alert' or 'the-stove-is-on-fire alert.' Anyhow, I'd like your expertise on a matter. I've just had a very confusing beer experience and I'm not sure if I liked it, with a Belgian Sour.
B: Really? Which one?
B: Was this your first sour beer?
P: Yes, I was trying to be risque at the bottle shop by picking something with a completely ambiguous label. Since the label had no information on what I was about to drink, I looked up the history of the beer since Mikkeller does some great brewing collabs. I don't think I've even heard of sour beer before this but I have a feeling the reviews influenced my opinion before I tried it for myself.
B: Not a good idea usually, you should form your own opinion first.
P: Agreed. There were of course positive reviews about it's light, crisp, sour cherry taste. But to be honest one review I read really summed it up for me: "imagine eating a grapefruit in a musty old barnyard." Having been my first sour Belgian, I was not prepared for the taste of old socks.
B: [Takes foot out of mouth] What's wrong with old socks?... Really, it's like blue cheese, the funkiness of the cheese is what makes it so great! Likewise with sour and wild beers. So I'm assuming there were quite a few funky flavours and aromas in there?
P: Just a few!
B: Most people find that to be rather off-putting with their first sour beer, they weren't quiet ready or knew what to expect or look for in the beer. You need to give it another try and I'll walk you through it so that you can better understand what makes a Belgain Sour Ale special.
P: Like the way you love kittens makes you special?
P: It's times like these when I keep meaning to ask you if it was a woman who drove you to drink.
B: If it was, I forgot to thank her.
P: Ok, here goes with a second bottle and a second chance at understanding a Sour Belgian. The glass is coming closer to my lips and a smell of sweet citrus is wafting up my nose.
B: Good, good... keep talking dirty.
P: Stop scaring me.
B: It's totally going to be worth it. So what type of citrus are you getting from the it? Grapefruit? Lime? Orange? You'll find those fruits are often present in sours. Or is it a totally different fruit?
P: Grapefruit for sure. And then afterwards I can taste lemon.
B: How about spice? Is it smelling Peppery? Or like Corriander/Chives? Grassy? Is it hoppy? Or is there a lack of hops? A lot of sour beers actually use the sourness instead of the bitterness from the hops to cut through the maltyness and give a crisp finish. The way they do this is one of their most fantastic attributes, that they can be so so sweet (that may usually be over-sweet in different styles of beer) but the sourness gives it an abrupt finish which makes you want more.
P: It seems peppery with a twinge of damp barnyard... what would create the musty aspect of a sour beer? I can't also help but notice great huge bits of things floating around in it while I'm drinking, so I'm guessing it's unfiltered.
B: It's likely bottle conditioned (yeast left in the bottle to carbonate and mature the beer)... *cough*andsomebodyisntverygoodatpouring*cough*
Sour beers are fermented with a wild yeast (brettanomyces known simply as 'Brett'... like that cousin from the other side of the family that is a little wild, outrageous and difficult to control) along with normal brewing yeasts. That's what gives the beer the funk, the barnyard, and the tartness.
P: I have to admit, I am amazed at how much I like the sour ale second time around. I'm tasting so much citrus and if I ignore the mustiness, I find it very crisp. I'm also loving the peppery-ness. I just wish I was enjoying this on a hot and sunny afternoon rather than a bone-chillingly damp day laden with heavy rain and grey skies that have been sunlight-free for some time now.
B: It makes a big difference to know what to look for when you're tasting a sour beer, especially for the first time, or second time in this case.
P: Yes, this sour ale certainly freaked me out a bit in the beginning, but now it's pretty interesting, so good thing you were here. And by here, I mean in Australia.