Sours might just be the new IPA.
Just a few years ago, India Pale Ales were everywhere in the craft beer industry. You had your Pliny, your Hopslam, your Heady Topper, and you had hype behind all those.
Now, everybody wants a sour; if you are a craft brewer and don’t have one and don’t have the barrels or foudre, you are at a loss. It’s not that sours are new. Russian River Brewing’s Supplication, New Belgium’s La Folie and even The Bruery have been making sours for years. But it seems sour has finally come into its own, no longer the illegitimate stepchild in the brewhouse. You need to be careful with that yeast, though.
The first weekend of February, same weekend as the Super Bowl, Carrboro’s Steel String Brewery hosted a Sour Barn Bash just outside of town at Rock Quarry Farms. And I went.
Yes, I went because I am a beer guy but also because I needed a hug—specifically from Fonta Flora, Morganton’s agriculturally rooted, Appalachian-inspired brewery. I got the hug—the Need a Hug, a tarty sour beer made with blackberries and elderberries. It was quite delicious, well balanced, and worth the hype.
There were others, of course. The Saxapahaw neighbors of Haw River had a spectacular blonde made with ground cherries—nutty, earthy, satisfying. I had a super tarty, heady Shady Grove from hosts Steel String and the bourbon-barrel aged Grateful from Charlotte’s Free Range Brewing, plus others from Richmond and beyond. Those Wicked Weed folks from Asheville even brought the Oaxacan—a wild sour ale aged in tequila with grapefruit and lime zest?
Now, that’s a hug. —Greg Barbera
That same weekend, New Belgium hosted its own sour shindig at the new Mash & Lauter (formerly The Hive) in Raleigh. Before its main Sour Soiree, the brewery—which is opening an Asheville hub in late August—hosted a handful of guests at Busy Bee for food pairings, too.
New Belgium’s La Folie is a good, moderate introduction to sours. It’s definitely got a distinct kick, but it comes accompanied by an even-tempered smoothness that makes it easy to drink. If you’re a fan of brown ales but are still unsure of sours, La Folie should be your first step. The salty-sweet pork tenderloin and apple compote complemented the beer’s tart notes well.
On its own, the Transatlantique Kriek offered a more intense sour buzz. Fermented with cherries, this one was a sweet and tasty treat with a beautiful reddish hue. A hybrid of three beers, this might be more in line with what most folks think of as a sour standard—a strong, punchy flavor and something to sip on and savor rather than guzzle. Smoky, earthy venison countered the tartness of the kriek, making for a fantastic push and pull between flavors.
New Belgium’s best sour offering, however, was on tap upstairs at Mash & Lauter. The Felix was a beautiful golden beverage that honed in on what La Folie and Transatlantique did best: It offered a satisfying sourness but was still delightfully smooth and pleasant to drink. And with only about a seven percent ABV, you can drink a fair bit of it before it’ll get you in too much trouble. —Allison Hussey