Some Ways To Experience Local Sour Beer Culture

Sour beers from Placentia's Breury Terreux line. Photo credit: Charlie Perez

We’ve seen the “bitter-beer face.” What about a sour-beer face? There are a few sour houses in Orange County that can let you experience that tingling sensation along the side of your mouth, puckering your lips, and even make you feel like your face is imploding. Yes, it’s a wonderful experience. For many, it’s an acquired taste, and some will never get used to it. There’s nothing wrong with that. But for those who love sour candy or astringent wines, a tart and tangy beer might be right up your alley.

 

First, let’s dive into what causes the sourness in a beer. The first thought for some may be the beer has spoiled. And you may not be too far off. In some styles, a tart note indicates a bacterial infection in a tainted beer.

However, when intentionally soured, some of the same bacteria that tart up some foods (sauerkraut, yogurt) are used to add a lactic note to a beer. In other cases, some wild yeasts are used to create a complex sharpness, along with other unique characters. Commonly referred to as “bugs” by brewers, these critters can be intentionally introduced (inoculated, usually into a barrel and takes the longest to produce), naturally introduced (wild, from ambient air, also usually in a barrel and takes a long time), or naturally soured in the brew kettle (kettle soured, takes the least amount of time, but lacks complexity). Without getting too far into them, here are the main souring organisms used in beer.

Lactobacillus (Lacto)

Produces lactic acid, usually found in kettle sours. This acid can be borderline extreme, but it’s usually a refreshing tanginess similar to unsweetened lemonade. Common styles with lacto are Berliner Weisse, Gose, and Oud Bruins.

Pediococcus (Pedio)

Also produces lactic acid and some butter notes. In most cases, the presence of pedio is a cause for concern in most styles but is pleasurable in lambics and Flanders Red.

Acetobacter

Produces acetic acid (not acidic acid). Imparts a harsh, vinegar sourness that is normally not found in beers. Usually only present in a Flanders Red but only in small quantities to add complexity.

Brettanomyces (Brett)

Technically a type of yeast that produces ethanol, acetic acid, and carbon dioxide in the right conditions. These yeasts also produce a medley of complex aromas and flavors usually described as rustic or funky, along with a bit of a sour note. Brett works extremely slowly and can work its magic for years if allowed to. Found in lambics, sometimes in Flanders Red, and specialized beers fermented with brett.

Now for the good stuff! Here’s a short list of some must-try local sour houses:

Bruery Terreux
1174 N. Grove St., Anaheim
The Bruery’s second location houses all the barrels used to blend their specialized sours. Most have fruit added, but the occasional “clean” sours are where I’d put my money. Gypsy Tart, Oude Tart, Sour in the Rye, Frederick H., Rueuze, Train to Beersel, and Tart of Darkness are some of my favorites.

Sour beer from Gunwhale in Costa Mesa. Photo credit: Charlie Perez

Gunwhale Ales
2960 Randolph Ave., Unit A, Costa Mesa
Focusing on rustic saisons and sours, Gunwhale ensures you’ll find some great-tasting beers. Hayshaker is a staple for the traditional farmhouse ale and a recent bronze medal winner at this year’s Great American Beer Festival. Pit Stop, however, is a refreshing example of how stone fruit and wild fermentation can work in harmony — not necessarily sour or tart but clearly some outside influence is detected.

The Good Beer Co. Photo credit: Charlie Perez

The Good Beer Co.
309 W. Fourth St., Santa Ana
Here is a gem of a brewery! Brett is the star here, as well as some other mixed cultures. Complexity and tartness shine in nearly all the offerings. The Oro series is most readily available and highly recommended.

Honorable Mention: Hoparazzi Brewing Co.
2910 E. La Palma Ave., Suite D, Anaheim
Small in stature, but big on heart and intention. It focuses exclusively on inoculation in stainless-steel barrels and will not do kettle sours. La Tarte Melina and La Tarte Cerise are pleasant examples of its fruited sours.

Of course, sour beer is not exclusive to these breweries. There is a possibility a sour (usually a kettle sour) will appear at any brewery at any time. Keep an eye out for your local brewery to offer one. Until then, visit the listed breweries and pucker up!

Editor’s note: Charlie Perez is an Advanced Cicerone® who covers the Orange County beer scene for the Booze Blog.

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