The West Gone Wild, For Sour Beers Out in beautiful British Columbia, we have amazing outdoor activities in the wild and a rocking beer culture, evident by the 30% share of awards BC took at the 2015 Canadian Brewing Awards. The craft beer industry has really taken off here, doubling the amount of breweries in the last two and a half years with no sign of slowing down. What’s most interesting about this growth is that most new places aren’t opening up with just a basic line-up, rather it’s become almost a standard to open with a barrel aging and sour program from the get go. We’ve experienced a rapid rise of sour beers in the BC craft beer market thanks to some early success and a few hard core brewers who’ve been doing it for years and of course a tight knit beer community.
Now sour beers are new to some folks, but they’ve been around forever in Europe, including some styles like a Polish Gratzer which has been recently revived in North America thanks to creativity and the need to be different. There are many ways to sour a beer, some are quicker than others, but essentially it involves introducing some form of bacteria or wild yeast into the beer and letting it go to work. It often takes many months or years before a sour beer is ready to drink. Beer can be soured during the brewing process with Lactobacillus, it can be soured in barrels by spontaneous fermentation from wild yeasts, or the brewer can add a wild yeast type like Saccharomyces or Brettanomyces to give the beer some funky notes among other unique souring methods. What likely started out as an oops, has long since become a meticulous brewing process that can produce some amazing flavours in craft beer.
Out West, we’ve been privy to a huge influx of soured beers this year. I can think of over 30 breweries that have released a sour type beer on the market in the past month or two, typically to a lot of fanfare and excitement. Some places are even releasing them within their first year or so of operation. They typically brew the beer soon after opening and let it sit for 9-12 months to let it develop in a barrel. Others are kettle souring beers and putting them out on the market regularly in limited releases or in some cases have built long term souring and blending programs to keep a consistent sour on tap and in the market. Honestly, it’s been crazy to watch as we have more sour beers on the market than double IPA’s in BC, a style ratio that’s quite rare for the rest of North America where double IPA’s are worshipped like gods and celebrities.
Sour beers aren’t new to BC brewing, Yaletown and Storm Brewing have brewed sour beers forever and Driftwood brewery, who is famous for Fat Tug IPA, has been releasing them since they opened. However, they’ve been part of a fairly niche market until 2015 where you can’t go into a liquor store now without seeing at least a solid selection of sour beer. Clearly the population out this way has adventurous palates and desire to try new things and the brewers are happy to oblige, encouraged by the evolution of the craft beer community in British Columbia.
To give a few examples, sour beers like Four Winds Nectarous (which is a dry hopped sour ale that will blow your mind) are here to stay and are actually becoming hard to get because of demand. More breweries are dreaming up new ways to entice the market into trying a sour beer, like Dageraad Brewing’s Passion Fruit De Witte Sour Ale, a citrusy sour special release that was so popular they were compelled to brew it again for a second summer release. Parallel finally released Lil Red Redemption, a third year anniversary special release as a comeback from their first sour nightmare (hey, they don’t all go so well, sours aren’t easy to make). Finally, breweries are even releasing Gose beers, one of the more ‘out there’ sour styles I can think of, often tasting like sweaty tart lemonade but pairs great with sushi just to stay relevant. I can’t recall other markets that have embraced this style of beer so quickly.
British Columbian beer drinkers have gotten a taste of the sour bugs (literally, those are bacteria after all) and we aren’t going to back away from them anytime soon. Even some of the insanely mouth furrowing sour Cascade Brewing beers are on the liquor store shelves now, each Cantillon release flies off the shelves before you can blink and the importers are clearly reacting to the market accordingly by bringing in more sour styles to choose from. Be it a mild Berliner Weise, a sour Red Lager, a Brett IPA, a Sour Wheat Ale from a Belgian trained brewer in Powell River or an Imperial Flanders Red from the weirdest brewery in town, if you’re looking for a sour beer experience there’s never been a better time out West than now to get it. We are wild for beer, and even wilder for sour ales! In British Columbia we are ready to pucker up for even more, cheers!