This weekend, the brewers over at Indeed will showcase their robust Wooden Soul sour program alongside New Belgium at Republic. The event, which asks $50 for a full day of beer and food tasting, is only a small part of what's been a growing trend of sour beer in Minnesota. Dozens of brewhouses in the Land of 10,000 Lakes have started sour programs, and next year, the state will welcome its first sour-only brewery.
I know it sounds like some erudite hipster bullshit, but souring is a process brewers have been using to produce beers for centuries. A sour is not a style of beer like an ale or a lager, it's more of a flavor profile. Any beer — even stouts and porters — can be turned sour.
Traditionally, the process involves allowing a wild culture of yeast to spontaneously ferment a beer while it ages in a barrel. However, that process is quite protracted, and smaller brewers now sour their beers in closed kettles using lactobacillus — the same bacteria used to make sourdough bread — to do the work in a fraction of the time. The relative ease of making a sour has created something of a renaissance in the industry. Now, sour beers stand to do for tartness what IPAs did for bitterness in the early 2010s — to totally normalize a strong, odd taste to the palate of the American beer drinker.
If you're not sitting for the whole Sour Social on Saturday, that doesn't mean you're missing out on everything the state has to offer in terms of tarty, acidic beers. Here are five other sour beers you should be sipping on this weekend.
5) Fair State Cromulence
Sour wheat beer, 4.0% ABV, Availability: On tap at the brewery and in 22 oz bottles
The ugly side of brewing a sour beer is that the process drives up the price. 22 oz and 750 ml bombers typically run $12-$20, with some getting into the signed-copy-of-Blonde on Blonde territory. Then there's the always utilitarian Fair State Co-op, whose Cromulence gives you the sour beer experience for the agreeable price of $5 per bottle.
Cromulence — taken from the Simpsons neologism "cromulent," meaning "adequate" — also has a very utilitarian taste. As far as sours go, it's pretty mild. There's not much of that lip-puckering tartness you find in an imported sour at twice the price, and that's probably thanks to the freshness of the lemon and orange. Fair State's LÄCTOBÄC series is only sold at the brewery,
4) Boom Island Oude Funk
Belgian-style sour ale, 4.8% ABV, Availability: On tap at the brewery and in 375 ml bottles
The first of the Spontaneous Series for Belgian-minded Boom Island, Oude Funk has a distinctive Flemish flavor. It's one of the most traditional beers on this list, mimicking a lambic or a gueuze, both ancient brews that the modern sour draws from. Like all of Boom Island's concoctions, Oude Funk is extremely wheaty, and there's an apparent chew to the body. Vinegar and strong lemon scents leap off the glass, reminding you that what's inside isn't just a normal witbier.
Aged for three years in oak barrels at Boom Island, this dutifully fermented small-serving beer is a pricey option. You're basically paying for its rent on the microbrewery's brew floor. Because of that, it's better saved for a special occasion — though a few sours over charcuterie is an occasion that doesn't pop up nearly enough.
3) Eastlake Kirby Pucker Series
Sour wheat beer, 4.5% ABV, Availability: On tap at the brewery
Nestled in a corner of the Midtown Global Market, Eastlake Craft Brewery has been running a robust sour series for the last year while going mostly unnoticed. Their Kirby Pucker line is now in its fourth iteration, and the brewery is tapping a kettle-soured pale lager. Head brewer Ryan Pitman likens it to a sour PBR, but in truth, it's a tarty twist on the brewery's Laeger-Hagemeister. The paleness gives the beer a dryer finish than most sours, and it pours a familiar straw yellow, but that's where the PBR comparisons stop.
While sourness is the most prominent taste in the no. 4 brew, Eastlake also has the no. 3 oak-aged red sour on tap in their brewery. The flavor of the no. 3 is far more complex — the oakiness of the barrel bleeds into a heavy malt profile and some red wine flavors. Whenever you make it to their centrally located taproom (most sours are not sold in their already-limited liquor store selection), they always have a Kirby Pucker of some variety pouring. It's one of the most accessible (and affordable) sour programs in the Twin Cities, so check in frequently, as new sours roll out roughly every two months.
2) Bent Brewstillery Funked Up Series
Berliner weiss, 6.6% ABV, Availability: On tap at the brewery and in 16 oz bottles
It's up for debate whether a traditional berliner weiss falls into the sour category, but when it's been fed to loads of Brettanomyces and lactobacillus bacteria and left to age in oak for a year, it takes on a definitive, undeniable sour characteristic. Roseville's Bent Brewstillery has an excellent line of sour berliners under their Funked Up label, with their current baby being no. 9, Kentucky Road. What sets this whiskey-aged offering apart from its competition is the soothing vanilla flavor that backs up the barnyard funk.
Bent is also selling their no. 13, named Squishy Brett Hop, which leans on the fruit profiles of mango and white apricot, but Kentucky Road has been the most unique of six barrel-fermented beers they've brought to market. As far as sours in the Gopher State go, it's nearly the best brew you can pour in your snifter. It's highly acidic, though — to the point where you might want to snack on some soda crackers between gulps.
1) Surly Pentagram
Sour dark ale, 6.6% ABV, Availability: On tap at the brewery and in 750 ml bottles
At this point, it's tacky to say that Surly has the best anything in Minnesota, but the devilishly complex Pentagram is truly, incontestably the best sour been in the North Star State. Paste Magazine named it the 22nd best sour in the country, and the beer holds an enviable Beer Advocate rating of 92, but a pour of the sticky sour dark ale holds up to the critical adulation. Served in a wine bottle sealed with the wax from a necromancer's paraffin, the beer pours a red mahogany.
The odor of the red wine barrels it's aged in jump out of the glass. The scent alone is intoxicating — maybe it's the tacit tobacco notes or the fact that this beer is brewed by the devil himself, but either way, you could only smell this Brettanomyces-fermented beer and never taste it and still get the experience. But what you'll miss is the lurking sourness that hangs on the back end of a sip — a tart that's strong enough to make your fillings hurt. Swallow slow, and enjoy the melon and sour cherry flavors of this wild-fermented master stroke.