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Lauren Limbach, New Belgium Brewing’s wood cellar director and blender Photo courtesy of New Belgium Brewing Company

The 5280 Guide to Sour Beer

If you haven’t tried sour beer, you’re missing out on a world of funky flavor.

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Sour milk, sour grapes, sour stomach—the word “sour” isn’t always appealing. So if you’re new to the tart, sometimes fruity, always boundary-pushing universe of sour beer, you should know: These brews, inspired by the lambics and gueuzes (pronounced “goozes”) of Belgium and the Berliner weisses and goses (pronounced “go-zas”) of Germany, aren’t rotten. But they are often filled with live “bugs,” or bacteria—not unlike those in your Noosa yogurt—that help develop complex aromas and flavors, ranging from mildly tangy to barnyard bold. Whether you choose an easy-drinking kettle sour or a barrel-aged Brettanomyces monster, though, it’s bound to be thirst-quenching. “We want people to drink sour beer while mowing the lawn,” says Chad Yakobson, owner-brewer at Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project. Here, our guide to embracing sour, Colorado-style.

Kettle (Or Quick) Sours

These refreshing, straightforward beers are soured in stainless-steel kettles using one type of bacteria—usually Lactobacillus—to achieve their acidic edge. They can go from kettle to shop shelf or taproom in three weeks or less, a relatively quick turnaround that results in a price tag of $10 to $15 for a six-pack.
CO Pros: Great Divide Brewing Co., Ska Brewing

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Mixed-Culture Sours

Fermentation via multiple bacteria and yeast strains, such as Pediococcus, Lactobacillus, and Brettanomyces, give these brews more complex acidity and layered flavors. If Brett yeast strains are involved, the beers will sport tropical fruit notes and earthy aromas. Varied microflora mean a longer barrel-aging time of up to three years and, usually, the talent of a master beer blender, so prices run from $12 to $25 each for 12- to 22-ounce bottles.
CO Pros: Avery Brewing Co., Baere Brewing, Call to Arms Brewing Co., Casey Brewing and Blending, Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project, New Belgium Brewing Co., Odell Brewing Co., Trve Brewing Co.

Spontaneously Fermented Sours

This process, which was perfected in Belgium centuries ago, involves no yeast or bacteria additions. Instead, the hot wort (unfermented beer) is left to cool in an open container—like a shallow swimming pool—called a “coolship” (from the Dutch/Flemish “koelschip”). Airborne bacteria and yeasts fall into the wort, and two-stage fermentation takes place slowly—sometimes for as long as four years—as the organisms live, reproduce, and die inside the aging barrel and even the bottle. These are nuanced, elegant beers that many liken to fine Champagne; prices, from $20 to $40 per 12-ounce to 750-milliliter bottle, reflect the time and skill that go into each brew.
CO Pros: Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales, Primitive Beers, Purpose Brewing & Cellars

Tasting Notes

This summer’s don’t-miss sour brews.

Great Divide Brewing Co.’s Cucumberliner Weisse

What: Light, citrusy, wheat-centric kettle sour cut with fresh cucumbers
Where: Taproom only
Specs: July release; $7 for 16 ounces; 4.7% ABV

Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project’s Sour Rosé

What: The only canned mixed-culture, barrel-aged sour on the market; lightly tart with bright berry notes
Where: Taproom and Colorado liquor stores
Specs: $15 per six-pack; 4.5% ABV

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Casey Brewing and Blending’s Blackberry Funky Blender Preserves

What: Juicy, rich, barrel-aged, mixed-culture sour; six pounds of Colorado blackberries go into every gallon
Where: Taproom only
Specs: July 4 release at Casey’s ticketed fourth-anniversary party; $30 for 750 milliliters; 8% ABV

Avery Brewing Co.’s Raspberry Sour

What: Refreshing, mixed-culture sour with tropical Brett notes, made with lots of raspberry purée
Where: Taproom and Colorado liquor stores
Specs: $12 for a 22-ounce bottle; 6% ABV

Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales’ Roswell Series

What: Super fruity, lightly sour spontaneous ales in five or six (secret as of press time) flavors
Where: Taproom only
Specs: Early July online lottery entry for late-July pickup; go to Black Project Beer’s website for more info and pricing

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