The first time I heard about sour beer, I thought the same thing you’re probably thinking right now: “Yuck! Why in the world would anyone want to drink sour beer?” I chatted with Uinta Brewing Company’s Steve Kuftinec, who is a bit of a sour-beer junkie. Still not convinced, I picked up a bottle of Uinta’s Sour Farmhouse Ale (more about that in a bit) and entered the sour-beer universe.
Sour beers are aptly named: They’re sour, mouth-puckering brews. I’d assumed they were the new kid on the beer block, but it turns out that sour beer has been around for centuries, dating back to a time when beer was aged and stored in wood barrels contaminated with bacteria and wild yeasts that gave the beer a (not surprisingly) sour taste. Today, brewers, in the United States, Belgium and elsewhere are intentionally using wild yeasts and live bacteria such as Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus and Pediococcus to create tart, sour-tasting beers.
This, of course, is in direct opposition to the way most brewing is done: in sterile environments and using steel brewing gear and vessels to guard against wild yeasts and other bacteria. Doesn’t sound too appealing, right? But if you’ve ever drank Gueuze, Lambic, Oud Bruin, Berliner Weisse or Kriek—to name a few—you’ve had sour beer.
Making sour beer is risky and costly. Wild yeasts and bacteria are difficult to control, and sour beer takes a long time to make. Most are aged in barrels for years, then continue to develop flavor in bottles. This makes sour beers relatively expensive as well.
For the adventurous, however, sour beer is an interesting alternative to the plethora of overly hopped beers that dominate the American brewing landscape. They are less bitter and more complex than their hophead cousins. In that regard, they are somewhat more akin to wine than their sudsy brethren. Sour beer also ages in the bottle, developing and maturing in complexity and flavor with age.
I asked Kuftinec what food he’d suggest to pair with Uinta’s sour beer, and he suggested a big pot of steamed mussels. Bingo! I took his advice and found that the mussels helped bring out the varying levels of flavor and aroma complexities in the beer.
Rich Noel, co-owner of the just-opened Beer Bar, is also a sour-beer supporter, and says he plans to offer some sours there as well as a selection of ciders. I suspect you’d also find sour beers at The Beerhive and The Bayou.
Or, you could visit your local DABC store here in Utah and pick up a bottle of Uinta Brewing Company’s Birthday Suit Sour Farmhouse Ale, brewed in celebration of Uinta’s 21st year. Yes, Uinta Brewing is finally legal. The Birthday Suit beers are a brand developed to rotate in style, released annually to commemorate another year of Uinta. As with all of the beers in Uinta’s Crooked Line, the 21st Birthday Suit Sour Farmhouse Ale features groovy label art produced by print artist Travis Bone of Furturtle Show Prints.
When all is said and done, Uinta Sour Farmhouse Ale isn’t really as sour as I’d expected; it’s crisp and zesty, a refreshing unfiltered brew that weighs in at 6.3 percent alcohol by volume. It’s only moderately tart, with citrusy undercurrents and hints of spice from Saison yeast. The flavors aren’t too far from a Berliner Weisse. Open a bottle and join me in a happy birthday toast to Uinta Brewing Company: Cheers!