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The Sour and the Glory

on 15/08/12 at 12:40 pm


An ancient Belgian beer style blooms in America.

IN CRAFT BEER, a world lit mostly by hype, sour beers burn brightest. An acquired taste for most but a life’s pursuit for a devoted few, sours command long lines and high prices when they appear at bars and shops—which they rarely do.

Behind the fans, collectors and cultish online forums are relatively simple brews that get their uniquely puckering flavors not from boutique ingredients but from humble bacteria more commonly found in pickles, vinegar and rustic sourdough bread. Brewers dose a basic beer, like saison or stout, with acid-producing microbes, then age it, often in barrels and sometimes with fruit, to produce flavors that range from balsamic-y to floral.

And then there’s lambic. Far simpler and far more rare, the king of sours is made by only a handful of traditional Belgian breweries in a centuries-old process called spontaneous fermentation. More sorcery than science, it was never practiced here—until now.