Raise your glass if you prefer beer with a bit of barnyard funk.
You’ve officially boarded the sour beer train, maybe spurred by a taste of an authentic Belgian lambic. Here’s the hitch: If you don’t have a top-notch beer importer nearby, this style of beer can be hard to find in the States. True lambics can only be produced in the Pajottenland and Senne River Valley of Belgium. Why is this so important? Because the highly specific wild yeasts and bacteria of this area deliver the spontaneously fermented flavor that you’ve come to cherish.
Even though U.S. breweries can’t produce traditional lambic beers, there’s plenty of sour exploration going on domestically. They might not have the same yeast strains as Belgium, but introducing their own bacterias and yeasts can result in exciting new styles (and funky tasting notes) that haven’t been seen before.
So if you’re jonesing for a hint of old leather or sweaty horse blanket but can’t track down an authentic lambic—don’t despair. Sour sub-genres like the American wild ale, Berliner Weisse and rediscovered gose can deliver your fix without the wild goose chase. Get puckering with a handful of high-rated sour suds.
1. Serenity, Wicked Weed Brewing
Hails From: Asheville, North Carolina
Style: American wild ale
Behold the power of Brettanomyces (a yeast strain known for its inherent funk)! Wicked Weed is one of a lofty few American breweries dabbling in 100 percent Brettanomyces fermentation. Serenity is Wicked Weed’s award-winning farmhouse ale that showcases that yeast in all its glorious funk. Open-fermented like a Belgian lambic, Serenity is aged in Sauvignon Blanc barrels for three to five months and then blended and aged in the bottle before release. Thanks to its barrel-aging, it delivers tropical flavors similar to those of New Zealand white wines. Flavors like guava, mango and peach, ending in a dry, tart finish. Love a hint of barnyard funk that doesn’t leave your tastebuds tripping? Start with Serenity.
2. Athena Berliner Weisse, Creature Comforts Brewing Co.
Hails From: Athens, Georgia
Style: Berliner Weisse
A strong tribute to the classic Berliner Weisse style, Athena is refreshing and ultra-drinkable on its own. In Berlin, this style is often sour enough to warrant patrons stirring fruity syrups into the beer to temper its tartness. But Athena bears an affable blend of citric and fruit notes and barely any bitterness, at a reasonably low ABV. One of the more approachable sour styles, this Berliner Weisse has creamy wheat notes charged with flickers of tart lemon that leave you craving another sip.
3. Westbrook Gose, Westbrook Brewing Co.
Hails From: Mount Pleasant, South Carolina
Westbrook’s Gose continues to pave the way for the long overdue return of this 16th century German style. Fermented with lactic bacteria and spiced with coriander and salt (or brewed with salt water), the gose is a dry, sour and slightly saline wheat ale. Lighter and noticeably less fruity than a lambic, its subtle saltiness sets it apart. And that tart factor? High enough to stun unsuspecting sippers. Strong lactic acid steps forward with sour citrus notes that bleed into a crisp, lightly spiced and invigorating finish. In case you were wondering, you’ve just found your summer’s ideal session beer.
4. Rueuze, The Bruery
Hails From: Placentia, California
A gueuze is a blend of young and old lambics. The younger lambics contribute the sugars that lead to second fermentation in the bottle, while the older lambics lend developed flavor. The result is a balanced, well-carbonated beer with pronounced sour character. Since gueuzes are produced in a similar manner to sparkling wine, they are considered the Champagne of lambics. To emulate this style in America, The Bruery’s Rueuze combines three different vintages of barrel-aged blonde ale that are blended into the bottle. The beer’s pleasantly dry character offers fruity notes of tart cherry, apricot and citrus and a healthy dose of funk.
5. Cascade Apricot Ale 2014, Cascade Brewing Barrel House
Hails From: Portland, Oregon
Style: American wild ale – Fruit
Cascade Brewing describes itself as a “pioneer of the Northwest-style sour beer movement.” With more than 750 French oak, Kentucky bourbon and Northwest wine barrels currently aging sour beers, those brewers ain’t fibbin’. Cascade makes an excellent version of a kriek lambic—a traditional Belgian style secondarily fermented with whole cherries—but the Apricot Ale may be its best fruited style. The Apricot Ale is a blend of of blonde ales aged in oak wine barrels for up to nine months that’s then aged on ripe apricots for another six months. You might expect the fruit’s natural sweetness to dominate the flavor, but the result is a masterful demonstration of sweet-tart balance. Both acidic and juicy, the subtle funkiness of this ale means that it’s still plenty approachable for sour beer beginners.