Sour beers are trendy, of course, but they’ve been around forever.
Before humans figured out how to industrialize the process and produce “clean” beer, it was all but inevitable that batches would become contaminated with lactobacillus, a bacteria that produces lactic acid and results in a sour taste. And if one barrel became infected, those nearby would sour, too.
So hundreds of years ago, pretty much all beer was sour.
In recent years, craft brewers started experimenting with souring beer intentionally, producing interesting and often unusual results.
“We went through the last century trying to process and sterilize, and now we’re reaching back into those leather-bound books, back into history for some of those more traditional styles,” says Les Stewart, the head brewer at Trophy Brewing Company. (Disclosure: David Meeker, a co-owner of Trophy Brewing, is the nephew of Richard Meeker, who owns the INDY.)
Leaning into this idea, Trophy Pizza + Brewing opened its long-awaited expansion at 827 Morgan Street last month with a new taproom highlighting its sour collection. There’s more seating, more pizza ovens, and an expanded menu with newly added Detroit-style pizza, wings, and arancini.
The sour beers are stored in seven massive wooden barrels called foeders that can hold nearly seven hundred gallons. Production of wort, the base beer, starts at Trophy’s Maywood location and is trucked over to Morgan Street, where fresh local fruits and spices are added to create unique lines. Then it sits around in the foeders for anywhere from two months to two years as it ferments.
The process bears more resemblance to natural wine than most beers, and includes the use of terroir—the natural elements that can influence a beverage’s flavor, such as soil, minerality, and other environmental factors.
“It’s the new old way,” says Cory McGuinness, who heads Trophy’s sour and wild beer lines. “Taking those parts that worked, but being able to sour beers in a more modern way.”
The mainstay of the collection is the Golden Sour, a no-frills sour fermented in a sauvignon blanc wine barrel. It’s light, carbonated, and very drinkable. It’s also just the beginning—Trophy plans to add different fruits and spices to create more sours from this base.
Another staple is Loner, a blush-colored pomegranate kettle sour that’s produced using a more contemporary method. It’s a Berliner Weisse with a higher alcoholic content than usual (6.4 percent) with tart, bright, citrus notes.
From there, the beer journey gets weirder.
There’s a Kvass called Shot Through the Heart that smells exactly like freshly baked bread. And indeed, it is bread.
Boulted Bread created a special rye loaf as the base grain for this line, a technique that originated in Eastern Europe around World War II, when resources were low and bread was just about the only thing to make beer with. It’s a cloudy golden concoction that tastes mostly like beer, but with a bready aftertaste.
And then there’s When the Smoke Clears, a Grätzer, which almost overpowers the nose with the scent of herbal smoke, like burning smudge. They don’t just put wood pellets in the beer, but they smoke the wheat used to ferment the sour to infuse the smoky flavor.
Smoke and sour beers make a strange marriage, but it would probably pair well with a gouda pizza.
It’s not their most popular line, the guys admit, but that’s the beauty of their sour expansion. They can make whatever weird stuff they want.
Contact Raleigh news editor Leigh Tauss at email@example.com.
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