sour beers have a growing legion of acolytes who adore their complexity, depth and food-friendliness. Even the most hardened “sour lolly” [1] will concede that most people will be confused, astonished, perplexed or even enraged by their first few attempts at drinking sour beer. However, they argue that perseverance and an open mind can lead to discovering a whole new spectrum of flavours in beer.

Colin the Handsome Yet Softly Spoken Scottish Proprietor certainly believes there is a growing thirst for sour beers. Consequently, Malthouse will be holding Sourfest to showcase over 15 local sour beer examples from breweries large and very small. The festival will start on 13 March 2015 and will continue right through until the sour beers run out. [2]

Now, saying I am no particular fan of sour beers is akin to saying John Key is no particular fan of Nicky Hagar – pretty much everyone is aware of the situation. Indeed, within the illustrious halls of Russian River Brewery, I caused a near beer nerd riot when, pushed for my opinion on their revered Supplication sour ale, I described it akin to a bat taking a whizz in my mouth. [3] As a result, I will be relying heavily on the words of people who do appreciate a decent drop of sour in their mug.

I was particularly taken with David Flaherty’s description of his first taste of sour beer and his later conversion to them. Flaherty is a wine, beer and spirits writer for the Serious Eats website and, while I’ve heard similar stories many times, his work really captures the raw emotion of that initial sip. He wrote:

“I obtained my pour and stuck my nose into the glass. What the? Are you frickin’ kidding me? It smelled of horse butt [4] dabbed with vinegar and blue cheese. I took a sip, my mouth recoiled and my cheeks burned from the dry, skin-shredding acidity. I half expected Ashton Kutcher to jump out, tackle me like a rag doll, and shout, “You’ve been Punk’d, punk!” But beneath the tastebud confusion, a fire was lit somewhere deep inside. In that one sip, Cantillon, a much-revered Belgian lambic brewery, had baptized me and honestly, my life would never be the same.
Over time, I’ve come to crave sour beers like one does the endorphin rush from a hot sauce bottle adorned with skulls and crossbones. If you’ve never ventured far from pale lagers and wheat beers adorned with an orange slice, this category would be a daring leap. But should you wish to experience the wild west of the beer world, this is it. And the brave will be rewarded.”

For the record, the title of this blog – “let me embrace thee, sour adversity, for wise men say it is the wisest course” – is of course from William Shakespeare, Henry VI, part 3, Act 3, Scene 1 and is a line uttered by Henry VI himself. I think this quotation means he was losing the war at this stage and, worse, his hair did not look as pretty as Kenneth Branagh’s in Henry V.

In what I believe is a first for this blog, [5] I’m going to quote The New Yorker. Specifically, I’m going to quote Christian DeBenedetti, author of The Great American Ale Trail and editor of Weekly Pint, on the history of sour beer: [6]

“Before the advent of refrigeration and advances in the science of fermentation in the mid-nineteenth century, almost all beer was, to varying degrees, sour. The culprits were pre-modern sanitation and poorly understood, often naturally occurring bacteria including Lactobacillus and Pediococcus, as well as Brettanomyces yeasts, which can contribute a hint of tartness and characteristic “funky” flavours and aromas, sometimes compared to leather, smoke, and “horse blanket.” In a development that would make Pasteur, the father of biogenesis (as well as his method for halting it, pasteurisation) roll in his grave, brewers, especially in the United States, have embraced the time-honoured Belgian art of deliberately infecting beer with the same “wild” bugs that generations of their predecessors so painstakingly eradicated. The result: pleasingly sour, food-friendly beer, mysteriously complex and engaging.
At brewing conventions these days, the best-attended lectures aren’t about hops. They’re about inoculating wood barrels with wild yeast, with slide shows of oozing bungs and anti-oxidative pellicles. Brewers have put the lessons to use, releasing hundreds of commercial examples of American sour ales… With pH akin to good Pinot Noir, the best make it onto serious menus. The worst taste of nail-polish remover, rotten apple, coconut, or the dreaded “baby diaper.” A consistent product is notoriously tricky to pull off; brewers might be said to guide, rather than master, the beers, hoping for serendipity. Amid all the trial and error, ancient brewing history is repeating, spreading around the nation one foamy, infected-on-purpose barrel at a time.”

The appeal of sour beer is not universal. I took some delight in noting that the “I love Sour Beers” community on Facebook has 18 likes. By contrast, the Act party page has 3,248 likes which seems to be more likes than actual votes…

Here is the provisional line-up for Sourfest 2015:

Moa Ten Year Cherry Sour
Moa Sour Blanc
Moa Mottled Tart Berliner Weisse
Brewaucracy Night Shift
Good George Grapefruit Sour
Good George Oaked Berliner Weisse
Good George Two Year Old Waikato sour (which was kegged the day then brewer Kelly Ryan’s child was born)
8Wired Feijoa sour (last keg in existence)
8Wired Flanders Blond
8Wired Flanders Red [7]
8Wired – two new releases
Panhead Culture Vulture
BlackDog Ich Bin Ein Berliner Weisse
Hallertau Funk
Fork Brewing Purple People Eater
Craftwork 100% Brett Grisette with lactobacillus
Craftwork – a young geuze.

Obviously there are a few details to fill in (such as names and styles for some beers) so keep checking Malthouse social media for details. Sourfest will be the number one place to get your sour on this autumn. If I do attend, I will be sitting in the corner surrounded by a small palisade of hops.

Next time, we drink to “Jiggly Boy” – an epic tale of one sporting fan’s redemption and an inspiration to us husky gentlemen around the world. The link is below.

[1] I’m going to attempt to make “sour lolly” the sour beer equivalent of “hop head” or “malt monster”. Magic 8-Ball says “my sources say no.”

[2] Or until the sour beer kegs are destroyed by mobs of enraged hopheads in order to free up some taps for more Double IPAs. If that happens, I better have a watertight alibi.

[3] This subsequently prompted several people to question how I knew what bat whizz tasted like – questions which, all these years later, I still do not a compelling reply to.

[4] “Horse butt” is generally considered a flaw for most non-sour beers, except perhaps Ranfurly Draught…

[5] It can be hard to remember all the details from the previous 294 posts but I’m pretty confident of this one.

[6] Mr DeBenedetti is certainly putting his mouth where his money is by starting a sour-beer brewery on his family’s hazelnut farm, outside Newberg, Oregon.

[7] I cannot read these beer styles without hearing in my mind Homer Simpson exclaiming “stupid Flanders!”


Neil Miller
Beer Writer
Beer and Brewer Magazine
Cuisine Magazine
TheShout Magazine
New Zealand Liquor News Magazine


Flaherty: “A brief history of sour beers” –
DeBenedetti: “The 20 best new sour beers” –
Jiggly Boy –
Malthouse Facebook –
Malthouse Twitter –!/malthouse
Malthouse Taps on Twitter –!/MalthouseTaps
Neil Miller on Twitter –!/beerlytweeting