The popularity of sour beer. Here’s a brief delicious history
on 22/08/13 at 12:12 pmBeer
On a quiet June afternoon at Philadelphia’s Monk’s Cafe, William Reed, a former Boston Beer Company brewer, popped the top on part of an experimental batch that he’d brewed in 1996. Originally made at the request of Tom Peters, the happy pasha of Monk’s, it was a Flanders red ale called Brewhouse Tart, fermented with a mixture of conventional and wild yeasts, which can wreak sensory havoc. That year, Reed, still green, lucked out, presenting a taste to the late, influential British beer writer Michael Jackson—a frequent guest lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archeology and Anthropology—who loved it, immortalizing it in one of his sixteen books. “He was blown away,” Peters said. Reed set aside a single keg, which remained, more or less forgotten, in a cellar for seventeen years, until he opened it last month. The beer, improbably, was in terrific shape, with a brick-like color and tannic, woody, cherry- and port-like flavors. But what was notable was its acidity. Brewhouse Tart tasted like a liquid Sour Patch Kid.
Before the advent of refrigeration and advances in the science of fermentation in the mid-nineteenth century, almost all beer was, to varying degrees, sour. The culprits were pre-modern sanitation and poorly understood, often naturally occurring bacteria including Lactobacillus and Pediococcus, as well as Brettanomyces yeasts, which can contribute a hint of tartness and characteristic “funky” flavors and aromas, sometimes compared to leather, smoke, and “horse blanket.” In a development that would make Pasteur, the father of biogenesis (as well as his method for halting it, pasteurization) roll in his grave, brewers, especially in the United States, have embraced the time-honored Belgian art of deliberately infecting beer with the same “wild” bugs that generations of their predecessors so painstakingly eradicated. The result: pleasingly sour, food-friendly beer, mysteriously complex and engaging.