Generally a beer is considered sour if the pH is at or below 3.8. The lower the number the more acidic or sour it will taste. There are plenty of sour and acidic foods in this range at your local grocery store that most people don’t even realize are sour. Lemonade has a pH of 3.8. Cola has a pH of 2.5. Orange juice is 3.6, apples are less than 4.0, cherries are 3.3, hot sauce is 3.0, flavored Jell-O is around 2.6, ketchup is 3.9, and the list goes on and on. Acidic food and drinks, such as ketchup, cola and lemonade, have so much sugar added to them, that you either cant taste anything else or are likely to contract an insulin related disease by the time you finish a glass. While these drinks certainly are delicious, acidity in general is not tied to food culture in America outside of sour candy marketed towards children. Acidity is a wonderful flavor that brings brightness, crispness and balance to beers, among other foods, in a way that bitterness cannot and it does not need masking with loads of sugar.
For some, there can be a learning curve to enjoying sour beer. We understand, we have all been there, and have some helpful tips for those of you just starting out on your sour beer journey. First, if you can, check what the pH is. At the Urban Artifact taproom, we list the pH of all our beers on our tap list. The lower the number the more noticeably tart it will taste. The second thing is remember the three sip rule. Don’t give up on a sour beer after the first sip, try your best to get through the first three tastes. That first sip is going to taste the most sour as your glossopharyngeal nerve (also known as cranial nerve IX) adjusts to this awesome wave of tart refreshment. The second sip you have will see that tartness start to mellow and new flavors in the beer will come to life. By the time you swallow the third sip, the beer will fully open to you, showcasing a truly unique array of flavors as the brewer intended. It is no different than when we all first started drinking beer and again when we had our first IPA, overwhelming bitterness and flavors that were more difficult to appreciate. But with time and persistence, we all see the light.
There is a sea change coming in craft beer, as more approachable and affordable sour beers reach the market, our perception of sours beers will start to shift as well. Much like the infamous lupulin threshold shift in a hop heads drinking habit, I have been bit by the sour bug long ago. Gone are the days of the sour fish face (for you hop heads, that bitter beer face) as I have since fully embraced my cranial nerve. Sour and tart beer is the epitome of refreshment, slaking one’s thirst with all the mouthwatering glory only beer can muster.
Tune in next week for part 2 on this topic, where we take you on an in-depth step-by-step visual picture journey of our tips for enjoying sour beer.
Bret Kollmann Baker
Chief of Brewing Operations