Beer & Wine Beer

The 12 Best Sour Beers to Drink in 2023

The Crooked Stave Sour Rosé comes out on top.

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The IPA may be trendy, but the sour is timeless. These beers make for great gateway beers for wine drinkers, pair beautifully with food, and help break up a fridge full of hop bombs. While sour beers only became popular in the last decade in the US, they provide the foundation of beer’s history. “There is nothing new about sour beer,” says Shanna Greenleaf, bar manager of Goed Zuur, a sour-focused beer bar in Denver. “Civilizations have been making beer since long before Louis Pasteur discovered the role of yeast in fermentation. Some breweries older than that discovery are still producing beer today.”

When talking about sour, there are two distinct schools. There are the Old World sours, which are usually spontaneously fermented with wild yeast and spend time ading in barrels. “I find these Old World sours to be largely overlooked these days, with the craze of American fruited kettle sours,” says Suzanne Schalow, the co-founder and CEO of Craft Beer Cellar. “But these are some of the true gems of the beer world, with precise brewing techniques, some near-perfect fermentations, bacteria from the night air, or from those living in old wooden vessels, only to be awakened by the liquid that finds a resting place for months or years.” One of the reasons that these sours have lost their shine is because of the type of sour flavor they possess: an acidic and almost verging on vinegary flavor.

The sour beer most likely to appear on your grocery store shelf is a new school kettle sour. These sours don’t require as much time and attention as a spontaneously fermented sour, but are no less delicate. Here, the sourness of the beer comes from bacteria—likely lactobacillus—that is added by the brewer. Fruit is also a common addition in these beers. Schalow prefers to call these beers “tart” rather than sour, reserving the latter term for the more traditional brews. However, that doesn’t mean there’s not enough room for both at the bar, which is why this collection of some of the best sours contains bottles, and cans, from both the traditional and contemporary sour brewing experts.

Best Overall

Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project Sour Rosé

Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project Sour Rosé

Drizly

Region: Colorado | ABV: 4.0% | Tasting Notes: Raspberry, blueberry, oak

Picking the “best” sour beer is kinda like picking the best beer in general. Due to the breadth of the category, the right sour beer for one person might be off-putting for another. When looking for said sour, look no further than Colorado. According to Greenleaf, there are two breweries that helped turn Colorado into the epicenter for all things sour in the US: Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project and Casey Brewing and Blending. Both started out brewing exclusively small-batch sours, while the former has made a few of its beers available to the masses. Sour Rosé, a wild ale with raspberries and blueberries, is one of these beers.

Best Sour IPA

New Belgium Sour IPA

New Belgium Sour IPA

Courtesy of Drizly

Region: Colorado | ABV: 7% ABV | Tasting Notes: Hops, tropical fruit, citrus

It seems like every year a new IPA varietal pops onto thes scene in an attempt to dethrone the hazy IPA. While the sour IPA remains one of the lesser-known riffs on the style. New Belgium has made their take on the trend a regular offering among its selection of notable sours. The beer was first released in 2020 and quickly became one of the most widely available and highly regarded interpretations of the style. “[It’s] a perfect balance of hops and acidity,” Greenleaf says.

Best Fruited Sour

Revolution Freedom of Expression Variety Pack

Revolution Freedom of Expression Variety Pack

Drizly

Region: Illinois | ABV: 4.5% ABV | Tasting Notes: Strawberry, rhubarb, citrus

“Freedom of Expression is an awesome example of a classic pie filling (strawberry-rhubarb) becoming a great sour beer,” says Glenn Allen, head brewer at Pilot Project Brewing in Chicago. “Brewmaster, Jim Cibak, and team add a carefully measured fruit addition to create an extremely balanced sour with a clean finish that will leave you reaching for another one during a hot summer day.” Freedom of Expression is one of four beers in the Chicago brewery’s session sour series. The first in the series, Freedom of Speach is a refreshing, peachy beer.

Related: Best Beer Fridges

Best Gose

Two Roads Persian Lime Gose

Two Roads Persian Lime Gose

Courtesy of Drizly

Region: Connecticut | ABV: 4.5% | Tasting Notes: Lime, salt, coriander

The Gose is a wheat beer made with coriander and salt. Although American drinkers only came wise to its intriguing mix of sour and salt, it’s been part of the German beer canon for centuries. Two Road’s gose uses Persian limes for some extra acid with each sip. “[It’s] such a delicious twist on this traditional style,” Greenleaf says. “Light bodied and dry, with just the right amount of pucker.”

Best Berliner Weisse

Firestone Walker Bretta Rosé

Firestone Walker Bretta Rosé

 Courtesy of Drizly

Region: California | ABV: 5.3% | Tasting Notes: Raspberry, citrus, oak

A few trademarks of the Berliner Weisse are its lower ABV and refreshing tartness. If you’re drinking one of these in Berlin, it will likely be served with flavored syrup. Contemporary Berliners skip this step by adding fruit to the brew. “Master Blender, Jim Crooks, and the Firestone Walker team are consistently putting out some of the best wild ales around,” Allen says. “Their ethos puts an emphasis on sourcing local ingredients so naturally, Bretta Rose undergoes a secondary fermentation with thousands of pounds of local raspberries. This beer has a beautiful rosé color, bright and crisp acidity, and is bursting with raspberry character and plenty of barrel nuance.”

Related: Best Craft Beers

Best Session Sour

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery SeaQuench Ale

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery SeaQuench Ale

Courtesy of Drizly

Region: Delaware | ABV: 4.9% | Tasting Notes: Lime, salt, malt

Dogfish Head debuted its session sour SeaQuench in 2016 and since then, due to popular demand, the beer has made its way into 12 and 19 oz. cans across the country. “This beer is technically a blend of three distinct styles: a kolsch, a gose, and a berliner weisse,” Greenleaf explains. “Black lime, lime juice, and sea salt are added to make this taste like a day at the beach.”

Best Gueuze

Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze

Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze

Drizly

Region: Belgium | ABV: 6.5% | Tasting Notes: Earth, citrus, oak

“The recently passed Armand Debelder was known as ‘Opa Geuze’ or ‘Grandfather Gueze’ for good reason,” Allen explains. “3 Fonteinen has roots dating back to 1887. [Oude Gauze] shows how much complexity can be built into a beer with time and blending. This beer has a little bit of everything. It’s funky, earthy, oaky, and has a bright, citrus zest-like acidity to round it out and will continue to evolve in your cellar for years.”

Best Lambic

Allagash Coolship Resurgam

Allagash Coolship Resurgam

 Courtesy of Minibar

Region: Maine | ABV: 6.4% | Tasting Notes: Apricot, lemon, earth

For a true lambic experience, look to the Belgians. However beers from these prized producers, such as 3 Fonteinen or Cantillon, can be difficult to find. Thanks to its coolship program, Allagash has become a go-to for those seeking US-made lambics using traditional fermentation techniques. “Seek out beers from Allagash Brewing,” Schalow says. “Anything in its Resurgam line, which offers one brewery’s unique perspective on using a coolship to cool its beer and introduce it to microflora from the cool Maine air.”

Related: Best Light Beers

Best American-Style Sour

Sierra Nevada Wild Little Thing

Sierra Nevada Wild Little Thing

 Courtesy of Drizly

Region: California | ABV: 5.5% ABV | Tasting Notes: Guava, hibiscus, strawberry

Sierra Nevada changed the IPA game when it released Hazy Little Thing, a hazy IPA that you can find in airport bars and taprooms alike. Recently its sister, a “slightly sour” ale hit the market with the appropriate moniker Wild Little Thing. This kettle sour ale is brewed with guava, hibiscus, and strawberry to create a beer that’s equal parts fun and refreshing.

Best Flanders Red Ale

Rodenbach Classic

Rodenbach Classic

 Courtesy of Drizly

Region: Belgium | ABV: 5.2% | Tasting Notes: Cherry, vinegar, oak

A little bit of old school meets a little bit of new school with Rodenbach Classic. The brewery, which has been specializing in sours since 1821, decided to can its flagship Flemish red ale in for the first time 2019. It’s a rare move for such a historic and traditional brewery. That means this textbook foeder-aged ale can be enjoyed via six-pack.

Best Flanders Brown

Deschutes The Dissident

Deschutes The Dissident

Drizly

Region: Oregon | ABV: 11.4% | Tasting Notes: Cherry, oak, malt

Lesser known than its rose-tinted cousin, the Flanders brown ale, or Oud Bruin, comes from the eastern side of the Flemish region of Belgium, while Flanders red ales can be traced to the west. The dark malt base of these beers leads to a softer, rounder sip. Oregon’s Deschutes Brewery pays tribute to this classic, yet under-appreciated style, with a complex beer expressing cherries and oak flavors that are matched with a bright acidity.

Best Made-in Colorado

Odell Sippin' Pretty

Odell Sippin' Pretty

Drizly

Region: Colorado | ABV: 4.5% | Tasting Notes: Guava, elderberry, salt

A little bit funky, a little bit tropical, consider Sippin’ Pretty a catch-all sour sure to please all, especially on a hot day. The success of this Odell sour ale has spurned not one, but two variations. The first, Sippin' Tropical, replaces the acai and guava with pineapple and passion fruit. While Sippin' Lemonade, as the name suggests, uses real lemons and cane sugar.

Final Verdict

The world of sours is a wide and vast one, so it’s best to enter it on level terrain. For an approachable sour that won’t punch you in the face with its pucker, opt for Crooked Stave’s Sour Rosé (view at Drizly). If you’re feeling adventurous and want a delicious beer that taps into the wilder side of sours, search out Allagash’s Coolship Resurgam (view at Drizly).

What to Look for in a Sour

Sours are the perfect beer for warmer weather, because whether you are drinking a fruity kettle sour or a funky wild ale, these defining characteristics of the category are bright acidity and a manageable ABV.

FAQs

What is considered a sour beer, is it made differently?

Lip-puckering, tongue-tingling, face-scrunching, sour beers first and foremost are known for one thing: high acidity. This acidity is a result of fermentation via bacteria, such as lactobacillus, that feed on sugars in the beer and release organic acid. How that acidity is expressed and what other flavors compliment or contrast it vary widely depending on the type of sour you’re drinking.

Does it have the same alcohol content?

Most commercially available sours, such as kettle sours—one of the more popular contemporary sours—are known for their sweetness and drinkability. They tend to have a lighter acidity and moderate ABV to match. Step into the land of traditional sours, such as the gueuze and flanders red, and you're looking at a more earthy, sometimes even vinegar-like acidity, and a slightly higher ABV.

Can a sour beer be other styles like IPA?

While most sours stay firmly in the family, some breweries are experimenting with hybrid styles, including the sour IPA and sour lager.

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Sarah Freeman is a food and beverage writer based out of Chicago. She has been writing about, as well as frequenting, restaurants and bars for the past decade—from learning about what makes a perfect piece of cocktail ice to the exploring art of beer label design. At the moment, she doesn’t have enough room for food in her refrigerator, because it’s filled with cans of beer and bottles of wine.

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