I made a lot of choices in 2015, most of them pointless and forgettable. When it comes to beer, I will remember 2015 for the year I first tried a sour beer.
The beer style has been around since the Middle Ages, but it just recently arose from the dead. The 20th century basically killed sour beer, but the craft beer revolution has brought sour beer, notably the Gose, back to life.
When I first heard of sour beer, I thought people were losing their minds. Why in the hell would anyone want a beer that tastes like a lime, I wondered. I felt like maybe, somehow, that was a sign that brewers had simply run out of ideas.
And then, there I was this summer. I was sitting at Hailstorm Brewery, enjoying all their lovely selections — IPA, stout, porter, and all the classics. But, they had a sour. I had to try it. In fact, it was part of my first blog here on Chicagonow. I wrote,
The most interesting beer emerged from a collaboration brew between Hailstorm and Imperial Oak Brewing (another great brewery) in Willow Springs, IL. Together, they created No Way Gosé Sour Beer. Is it a beer? Is it a margarita? This beer confused me with every taste, but I loved it. The sea-salt is ever present and the sour-lime flavor emanating from the Kaffir Lime Leaf ingredient makes one think they’ve set foot in Key West. I’ve never had a saltier beer in my life, but it only sounds bad, I promise. If you enjoy imagination and innovation, this is a beer for you. It is especially good when you have it after a beer with strong hops. Try it, you won’t be disappointed.
I’ve since had many sour beers, including my most recent experience with Miskatonic’s Long Tongue Liar and Sierra Nevada’s Otra Vez. The former I wrote about in my most recent blog entry and the latter for a story I recently did for Chilled Magazine (which will get published in the print version in February, I believe).
On the surface, it seems as if the brewing world has gone mad. How did we go from wanting more hops, or better malt, to wanting our beer to taste as if it is a piece of candy or lemonade? But, in reality, it’s the true sign that craft brewing has evolved to a point where it is no longer part of a revolution. It’s here to stay. I don’t care how many breweries AB-Bev wants to buy — Goose, Breckenridge, etc. There are more than 4,000 breweries and most of them are micro brews right down the street from your house or mine. The brewing world isn’t just trying new things to be cute. They are trying new things becuase they no longer have to sell craft beer to people as something new. Craft beer is established. It’s here and now brewers can do any number of things. Like a great chef, a great brewer looks to appeal to an array of palates that might come to his or her place.
I wasn’t sure what to think when I had my first sour. I still like some of them, dislike many others, and am struggling to find a real zeal for sours. But, I’m also no longer confused by them, or unsure of their place.
Beer can be sour. It can be aged in a cognac or pinot noir barrel. Beer can be hoppy or malty. Beer can be German or Icelandic! The 20th century made the world think that beer was akin to a solo drummer with a snare drum and one cymbal. The 21st century has reminded us that beer resembles the Chicago Symphony Orchestra — a plethora of notes all coming together harmoniously, but in a variety of tunes and speeds.
I went sour in 2015. Like craft brewing itself, I matured. I now know that beer is more than just ales and lagers. It’s anything that a brewer can conjure up in his or her dreams. I can’t wait to see what I have to try in 2016.
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