Sour and tart beers can, especially for the uninitiated, take your palate some warming up to the nuances and bold flavors that are not normally seen in beers of this day and age. There are plenty of sour beer advocates out there that continue to extol the virtues of drinking delicious sour beer. There are some key considerations that those that sell and serve sour beer should consider, as beer drinkers new to sour beer may be lost forever should they have a bad first experience living life on the sour side. Lauren Salazar of New Belgium sums it up nice:
The thing about drinking sour beer is you just need to be open to it and you should never surprise somebody with one. I hate when I see people say “Try this” and they won’t say anything about the beer. So in the other person’s head they think “oh beer” and they are ready for one thing, but get another. So it can be really off putting to the person drinking that beer. It’s like they never really got a chance to decide if they like it.
If I came up to you and said try this beer, it’s called a Flanders Red. Its beer style from the Flanders region in Belgium and one of the oldest known beers styles that remains in production. Then I might say “Are you a fan of Granny Smith Apples? Do you like tart cherries and plums? Do you like cherry cola? Almonds?” So usually they say “Yes” and have checked all those boxes off. I hand them the glass and say “Look at it, swirl it around and smell it. What are the things you are thinking about? Now take a sip, it’s going to be really tart, but the same kind of tartness from a nice Granny Smith apple.” So when you do that, they love it. It’s a lose-lose situation when you say “Try this beer (hey watch this…it’ll be funny)” because it puts the person off and they may never like sour beers.”
This is great advice for those that are either serving a beer drinker their first sour beer, or for a friend who is sharing with another their first experience with sour beer. The last thing you want to do is surprise a person new to sour beer with the experience blindly. However, what do you do if you are feeling adventurous at home or with some friends with whom none of you have ever tried sour beer before? Well, that is where the three sip method for those new to sour beer comes into play.
This first sip is going to come as a shock to your palate. You may very well suffer from a case of temporary “fish face” or “sour beer face”. Your lips might pucker, your mouth will begin to water (usually just from smelling the beer, oh what a sensation!) and you will feel the acidity in the back of your jaw (actually your cranial nerve, which is how the sour flavor and sensations is transported to your brain). Your initial reaction at this point will either go one of two ways: “Heck yes, give me more!” or “What on Earth was that liquid I just drank!?”. After you swallow, wait five seconds and get excited, it is time for step 2.
This second sip will start to set you on the right path. You may still get a twinge of the sour beer face and your mouth may yet water, but your tongue will start to pick out some of the underlying flavors that make sour beer so great. You may be thinking to yourself at this point that there might be something to this sour beer thing. There is delicious light coming, and you feel an impending taste epiphany approaching.
This is where it all pays off, all that mouthwatering work has gotten you to this, the third sip. This is where the beer begins to unlock its flavors and you begin to realize what all these other crazy sour beer lovers rave about. You will start to notice flavors that you didn’t think were possible in a beer this refreshing. You may not even notice the acidity anymore as your mouth has adjusted to acidic bite that used to be so common in beer. New levels of flavors, not possible in other beers, will begin to open themselves up. There is a whole world of sour beer out there, waiting to be drank, if you just give it a couple sips.
Bret Kollmann Baker
Chief of Brewing Operations