Irish Summers are notoriously fickle, so when the sun does show itself you want to have the right beer for the occasion . Right now Irish beer lovers are spoiled for choice. With the rapid growth of Irish craft beer there has never been more beers available to help you cool off, but there is one issue,a lot of these beers are Ales, stouts or IPAs which don’t always have the best thirst quenching qualities needed on a hot Summer’s day. However, there is a beer style that works a treat at this time if year. SOUR!
With the race to explore beer styles and flavours it was only a matter of time before Irish brewers followed the trend of sour beers which have been flowing out of U.S. and U.K. breweries for some time now, and they are chasing hard. On a recent visit to Galway Bay’s Oslo bar I counted five sour beers on tap and almost as many available in bottles. Of course every modern craft beer brewery is only playing Catch-up compared to Belgium where the art of brewing and blending sours has stood the test of time, with many brewing sour styles using techniques and equipment that have been in use for generations.
In some ways sour beer is the original style of beer.
Somewhere way back in the mist of time somebody made a porridge like brew, forgot about it, and when they returned the sugars in their brew had been converted to alcohol. The mystical power that made this possible is the wild yeast that are all around us, floating in air, waiting for somewhere nice to land and get to work on any sugars they can find. This spontaneous fermentation method has been perfected in Pajottenland near Brussels where the famous sour Lambic style is produced. After brewing, the beer is left to air cool in long shallow pools know as Koelschip. This gives the wild yeasts the opportunity to land and get to work . The beer is then transferred to wooden barrels where it can be left to mature for up to three years. Young and older beers can then be blended to produce the required flavour and tartness required.
Blending is a massively important skill in its own right. Some producers don’t actually brew beer themselves but acquire different beers from various breweries and blend them into their own range of beers. Along with the Lambic breweries sour beers are made throughout Belgium, to the north it’s Flanders Red, a malty ale left to mature in oak barrels, and again blended to achieve balance. The styles probably most familiar to Irish beer drinkers are the fruit sours Kriek, flavoured with cherries and Framboise, with raspberries. The fruit ramps up the flavour and helps smooth out some of the tartness.
Belgium doesn’t hold all the cards on traditional sour beer, Germany too has a fondness for the tartness. The most popular styles been Gose and Berliner Weisse, both styles were massively popular across North Germany but fell out favour during the 20th century, resulting in the disappearance of almost all traditional producers. Visitors to Berlin might be familiar with the bright green or red beers being sipped outside cafés and bars on sunny days. This sour beer is Berliner Kindl, is still quite popular but is no longer brewed by spontaneous fermentation but has sour yeast cultures added.
Irish breweries are now catching up fast with the sour trends. Everything from barrel aged wild beers to kettle sours are now to be found around the country, and many could easily hold their own against their European cousins.
I’ve picked 3 of my favourite Irish sours, each one takes their own take on this brilliant style of beer.
Whitehag right now can do no wrong. It’s been rolling out great beers in it’s short two year existence. The Púca, a dry hopped lemon sour. It takes it’s name from the Irish for a spirit, or ghost. In this case the wild yeasts are the spirits that are possessing this brew, and performing the magic. It’s sharp and tart, with a fruity back note that leaves you wanting more.
Yellowbelly have taken the fruity hit to another level with Castaway, a passionfruit sour. It’s a very well balanced sour that is almost too easy to drink. The passionfruit adds a brilliant twist to the sour beer style.
Kinnagar have taken a different route to their sour range by using the kettle sour method. The grains, themselves acidulated malt, have high levels of lactic acid present. This gives the beer it’s sour character. Sour Grapes is a great summer beer with hints of apple and citrus fruit combined with a fresh hit of tartness, a great alternative to cider.