The new IPA: The increasing popularity of sour beer

The Spring and Summer of 2016 brought about new trends in the world of beer, and as India Pale Ale has seemingly begun to shift from the brew-du-jour in popularity, it’s evident to bartenders and patrons alike that there’s a new kid in town. While IPAs will remain a classic and popular style of beer, particularly with millennials, who flock to bold, bitter, pungent flavor profiles, I’ve found myself among the masses searching for that face-puckering delight of a sour beer.

Sour beer is born when wild yeast, or bacteria, is introduced into the brewing process, creating varying flavor profiles, ranging from tart, acidic, lightly tangy to bold and mouth puckering. Whether they are Belgian ales, lambics, gueuze and beyond, one thing’s for certain: Sours are here to stay, and breweries have caught on to the trend.

This year, on many a sweltering-hot Kentucky summer day (or morning, or night, really), I found myself cracking open a delectable sour, or gose. Some of my top picks were the Anderson Valley Briney Melon Gose, and the Rhinegeist Peach Dodo, both boasting a bold, yet thirst-quenching funky flavor, perfect for an afternoon poolside, or a toasty evening on a bar patio. But what are the tart delights being churned out by our local beer experts, you ask? Cumberland Brewery is pouring up a Mango Berliner Wiesse currently, and NuLu’s Akasha created a delicious Gose. Falls City has its own Berliner Weisse, and outside of Louisville, you’ll find the Country Boy Ghost Gose (Lexington) and Ei8ht Ball Brewing’s Dalton’s Kriek Cherry Sour (Bellevue). Find many a sour variety at local beer boasters, such as Holy Grale and Craft House (Crescent Hill and Germantown locations), which always maintain a stellar rotating tap selection. Sours are even becoming the epicenter of parties and events, such as the Holy Grale’s St. Sours Day on Nov. 20, and Against the Grain’s Wild and Sour in America, taking place this Thursday, Sept. 22, with swanky cocktail-style sour tastings from a myriad of breweries, and small plates, hosted with their friends at Dauntless Distributing.

“Sours are the new IPA!” said Katie Molck, marketing and media maven at Against the Grain. “The craft beer community is evolving. For most, bitter beers opened the door to expanding taste. Now, the door has been opened: They want more.” Molck claimed that sour beers are not a new style, per se, as they’ve been made for centuries, but now brewers are really “grabbing the style by the reins.” But as I sit back and crack open my Tin Man Damascene Apricot Sour, I have to wonder, how do we predict the evolution in style popularity? How do brewers know what styles will be on the upswing? I turned to my favorite fermented beverage specialist, Beertender Lucas Worley of the Louisville Beer Store, who sees the growth in sales first hand.

“I think there’s always going to be one particular style that ends up being the popular kid,” said Worley. “For a while, it was as hoppy as you could get it. Then it was as alcoholic as you could make it.” Worley said that sours began to enter the scene because of a select few importers. “People got a taste for the Belgians, and American breweries started doing their own version in the classic American way, and now we have a trend of what I call American gose.” The ‘American gose’ is what Worley said is incredibly popular at the moment, due to the style’s drinkability and wheat-based, lactic sourness. Now, I know exactly what you’re thinking. What can we expect to see next?

“The popular thing now is hoppy sours, bringing it back to that IPA craze. Maybe imperial high gravity dark sours will be next!” said Worley, giddily. While it’s hard to predict what people will want to drink come this winter, I think brewers and bar proprietors alike can feel confident that our newfound affinity for all thinks tart, tangy, acidic, and delightfully mouth puckering is here to stay, particularly in Louisville, where bold flavors seem to forever be on the rise. Cheers! •