At some point over the last few years the use of the word “sour” in beer circles has shifted from being an adjective to a noun. From gose to gueuze, sours are more popular than ever, with more and more breweries trying their hand at producing them deliberately than ever before. We’re even seeing new breweries opening that are dedicated to producing nothing but sour and bretted beers, such as Crooked Stave in the US.
But to use the word “sour” as a catch-all term for any beer that’s a little bit funky feels a little bit lazy, to me at least. Many of the world’s best sour beers such as lambic, gueuze, gose and Berliner weisse have a name that not only begins to describe the beer but also conveys a sense of place. I also feel that it’s lazy to borrow these terms that indicate a beer's provenance. If a brewer is making a spontaneously fermented, oak aged beer in California do they have the right to call his or her beer a lambic? Legally yes, but does that mean they should? I don’t believe so. The brewing industry needs to find a better way of describing the myriad genres of sour beer now in existence.
The good thing about the prevalence of sour beers however, is the increased availability of really tasty ones. Brouwerij Alvinne, out of Moen, Belgium produce some absolute corkers. In fact I was surprised when Hop Burns & Black took a generous delivery that they didn’t sell out immediately, because beer this good deserves the hype.
Wild West is as close to a core beer as Alvinne produces. It’s a subtle, nuanced tartness as opposed to a sharp and intense sour note. The low carbonation seems to allow the oak and vanilla notes imbued by the barrel to shine through, but there’s still enough carbonation to make it prickle on your tongue. When it comes to sours I prefer them straight up, as opposed to fruited variants, but the plum version of Wild West also deserves a shout out because it’s equally as superb as the “normal” version. If you like Belgian sours, then this beer will be in tune with your chakras.
Music Pairing - Run DMC, It’s Tricky
It’s tricky to get your head around sours when you first taste them. It’s even trickier for the beer industry as we attempt to define such a broad scope of flavours with a single term. What isn’t tricky is enjoying this banger from Run DMC. Ideally paired during a lively bottle share when you start bringing your lambic collection up from the cellar.
You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis at his excellent beer blog, Total Ales, and Good Beer Hunting, and on Twitter @totalcurtis. And you can get Alvinne Wild West delivered to your door via our online shop.