An introduction to the world of sour beers with Upland Brewing
Sour beers are hot right now in the US, but they are anything but a new concept. In fact, sour beer goes back to ancient brewing styles, and have been popular especially in Belgium for hundreds of years.
Quick sour beer 101: You probably know that yeast is added to the beer to ferment sugar and convert it to alcohol. The yeast has a HUGE influence on the taste of the beer. To make sour beers, a specific type of yeast Brettanomyces is used for the “funk”, but a couple of types of bacteria(Lactobacillus and Pediococcus )are also used. These bacteria eat sugar, just like yeast, but also produce lactic acid and acetic acid that give the sour beers their typical tartness.
Indiana’s Upland Brewing Company just launched a series of beers in the DC market recently, and I had a chance to try some of them a few days back, and honestly, get my first proper introduction to sour beers! The brewery, established in 1998 is well known for their sours which they started experimenting with in 2006, which will be at the forefront of their local market launch.
We started with the Iridescent, a light blonde sour ale, which was an easy introduction to the world of tart beers. This was mildly tart, but refreshing enough that I wasn’t cringing. In fact, after a few sips, I started to really enjoy it and I had finished it before I knew it.
The next, Hopsynth, was just a step above the first one – a hoppier blonde sour ale, which surprisingly, was one of my favorites of the night. The hops are not as forward as they are in IPA’s or anything, but I found that I enjoyed the hoppy-ness with the tartness of the beer.
As we were talking with the folks from Upland, we also learned that sour beers can also be much like wine, in that they pair well with food. The Hopsynth paired superbly with the straciatella and toast that we were enjoying at All Purpose. (As an aside – this was our first time to All Purpose and can I just say it was delicious!)
Our next 2 beers were much more intense sours – the Cursed Kettles is aged in oak barrels on figs and black cherries, and was a bit too much for my immature sour palate. Likewise with the Black Prairie, which ages the Cursed Kettles with blackberries – this was a bit too fruity and sour for my taste at this time. Both of these beers are definitely more for the sour beer veterans, or if you have a high tolerance for tart and funk. I will say though, the first sip always elicited the strongest reaction probably because I had no idea what to expect. I will say though, as I sipped more of these, they started to grow on me.
Sours will probably not be a session beer for me anytime soon, but I did find the acidic qualities interesting and a refreshing change of pace. I know that I am now more likely to give them a chance when I see them on menus.
If you have any interest in trying a variety of flavors and tastes or even understanding the complexity and tradition of sour brewing, these beers are absolutely worth exploring. Whether you are a sour newbie like me, or a seasoned sour drinker, you can probably find something to enjoy with Upland’s selection. They are also expanding all over the East Coast, but you can find them at the following bars and stores in DC.
A1 wine and Liquor
Bloomingdale Wine and Spirits
A huge thank you to Upland for opening me up to the world of sour beers!