The Current State of [American] Sours

When thinking about what the modern era has brought to the wild and sour beer space, time isn’t the factor that it used to be, and there's hope the momentum that is gaining with local microflora won’t become stalled or merely a passing fad.

Mitch Ermatinger, Speciation Artisan Ales Jul 12, 2019 - 4 min read

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“What we do here at Speciation Artisan Ales is make mixed-culture and sour beers, and for a lot of people that means doing things one way. But the old-school mentality of aging sour beers has changed a lot even in the past 1 or 2 years. You can do things with sour beers in a month that used to take a year.

“We had a homebrew club here recently, and we were talking with them about the solera method, where we take a beer that’s been aging in a barrel for a long while, remove a lot of it, and blend in fresh wort. So yes, people are drinking aged beer, but the majority of what they are drinking is only 3 months old, so it has both liveliness and depth.

“A lot of progress has come from Milk The Funk and Milk The Funk Wiki. Over the years, we’ve all worked together to develop a new method of sour beers. Having the information compiled in one place has been a tremendous resource.

“Another thing we’ve come to do recently is to use Lactobacillus plantarum in our quick kettle-sour beers. It acidifies wort super quickly and is super hops-intolerant. So we can do a Berliner style and just dry hop it when it reaches the acidity that we want; the hops just stop the Lacto from working. It’s transformed the way we do beers. Now we can turn beers around in a month, which is something that is really recent, and homebrewers can achieve the same thing, of course.


“We still make aged beer. Spontaneous beer that takes 1 to 3 years to develop is a super-important part of the beer we care about, and I hope it remains that way for a long time. But, with these techniques, we can broaden out, cast a wider net, and get more people involved in beer in general.

“Pricing them accordingly is also important. I don’t necessarily think it’s fair to have 1-month-turnaround sours and sell them for $20 a bottle. I don’t think that’s being honest about the process with everyone. For these beers, what I think surprises people most is the depth of character that we can get out of younger beer without sacrificing anything else.

“Looking forward, I’m excited by the exploration that is happening with aged hops. A lot of people thought the earthy character in lambic beers came from Brettanomyces, but it’s actually the aged hops that add those layers of complexity. We’re learning more about that, and it’s bringing new dimensions to the beers we’re making.

“But what is most important in my mind is the house cultures being used in these types of beers. I have a romantic view of beers, and when I travel, I really like tasting beers with local ingredients and made with local microbes. It’s a way to really taste a beer from that area. The local microflora help a beer stand out, and I hope that breweries continue to follow this path and keep going deeper.

My fear is that this will stall or become homogenized, and that’d be devastating. What makes this style of beer so interesting is the connection to place and how what’s in the air and cultivated can vary so greatly and really imprint a memorable signature on a beer or brewery. Ten years from now, I hope we’re all still doing this and unlocking new microbes and flavors.”