Wild Sour Ales are Here to Stay

Many thought fermenting beers with wild yeasts and bacteria was just a trend. But American brewers are doing their own interpretations of classic European brewing techniques to create complex sour ales.
Bruery Terreux 2017 The Wanderer / Photo courtesy of Bruery Terreux / Facebook

Despite the early warning cries that they were a passing trend, wild beers—those fermented with wild yeasts and bacteria—aren’t showing any signs of slowing down. So here we are again, taking yet another walk on the wild side.

As is often the case, American brewers are leading the charge with playful interpretations of classic European styles and techniques, creating varied, complex and eye-opening alternatives to the classics.

Not that there’s anything wrong with the classics, as you can see by the killer Rodenbach Vintage 2015 Foederbier review below, but it’s also fun to try something new.

Traditional Flanders red ales are typically light- to medium-bodied, with mahogany-like coloring. Conversely, many of the American selections reviewed here are quite varied, with adventurous base-style experimentation and different fruit or spice additions leading to a veritable rainbow of beer colors.

Regardless of color, the key to a well-made wild ale is balance. Forward sour, tart and fruity aromas and flavors produced by wild yeast strains and bacteria should not be completely overwhelming. A malty core or rich fruit flavors should lend balance to the bright acidity and funky overtones. A pleasant, subtly tannic texture and dry finish, which also comes from oak aging, helps to round out the experience.

Often compared to fine red wines in their acidic and textural attributes, some wild ales are layered, nuanced and ageworthy. They are complex selections that are not necessarily for mindless consumption.

That being said, many are also bright and refreshing enough to be enjoyed immediately, and are actually quite sessionable. Perfect examples include the Fruitage, Ginger Sour and Into The Great Unknown selections reviewed below.

If you haven’t already jumped on the funky bandwagon, now’s definitely the time to give these wild things a try.

Wine-Beer Hybrids are Making the Best of Two Worlds

Rodenbach Vintage 2015 Flanders Red Ale (Flanders Red Ale; Brewery Rodenbach, Belgium); $19/750 ml, 96 points. This vintage foederbier from Rodenbach shares a lot in common with the brewery’s 2013 release, though perhaps with a bit more intensity and acidic twang right off the bat. A slightly hazy red-mahogany color, the funky, sour wild-yeast aromas are front and center on the nose, coupled with notes of balsamic, toasted oak and cocoa that are all supported by fruity tones of tart grape, plum and cherry. The medium-weight mouth offers more of those tart-fruit flavors, starting crisp and acidic but then transitioning to richer, cocoa-dusted versions on the long close. Medium carbonation coupled with the lifted fruit and acidity result in a clean and vibrant palate, though a pleasant astringency lends texture and length to the finish. Latis LLC. abv: 7% 

Bruery Terreux 2017 The Wanderer (American Wild Ale; Bruery Terreux, CA); $23/750 ml, 94 points. This is a blend of 85% sour ale aged in wine barrels with blackberries and cherries and 15% dark ale aged in Bourbon barrels, resulting in a pleasantly fresh and tart sip that is grounded by an ample malt backbone. A strong vinous character unfolds on the nose, with notes of tart grape, cherry, raspberry and citrus that are partnered with wood-tones of cocoa nib and sweet spice. It’s medium in body, though that weight is countered by bright acidity, moderate carbonation and more of those tart berry and plum fruit flavors. The toasted malt and woodspice elements come back on the end to carry the long, slightly astringent and dry finish. abv: 8.3% 

Avery Brewing Co. Botanicals & Barrels Ginger Sour (American Wild Ale; Avery Brewing Co., CO); $13/22 oz, 92 points. A sour ale brewed with locally sourced, cold-pressed ginger root and then aged in oak, this is a spicy and refreshing selection. The ginger and sour beer base seem to go hand in hand, with the herbal, zippy ginger tones partnering seamlessly with the tart lemon, orange and pineapple characteristics. A hint of floral hops adds depth to the bouquet, while the palate returns to a fresh and mouthwatering experience, with high acidity and dominating tart-citrus flavors. The finish boasts hints of lemongrass, fresh ginger and honeysuckle. Overall, it’s a dry, clean and incredibly easy-to-like pour. abv: 7%

Beachwood Blendery Careful With That Aprium, Eugene (American Wild Ale; Beachwood Blendery, CA); $14/500 ml, 91 points. Inspired by Belgian lambic tradition, this sour ale is fermented and aged in oak barrels with apriums. The name instantly hooks—a reference to Pink Floyd’s “Careful With That Axe, Eugene”—though the modern label is equally enticing. The tart, refreshing fruity tones are upfront on the nose and mouth, expressed in waves of underripe stone fruit: aprium, of course, so plenty of plum, apricot and pluot. There’s a pleasant wild funk to the nose, with hints of barnyard and lactic acid. The palate is vibrant and refreshing, with medium carbonation and a strong acidic streak that lends a mouthwatering sensation to the finish. abv: 6.5%

Rodenbach Fruitage (Flanders Red Ale; Brewery Rodenbach, Belgium); $7/8.5 oz 4 pack, 91 points. This gorgeous ruby-pink canned pour is hard to resist. The Flanders red-ale base, a blend of 25% 2-year-aged Rodenbach and 75% young ale, also has cherry and elderberry fruit added. It’s bright, fruity and so refreshing, with abundant red berry and cherry notes across the nose and mouth. The palate is light in body, with high carbonation and bright acidity that results in a vibrant and mouthwatering taste and finish. Well balanced and light in alcohol, this is a perfect summer sipper. Latis LLC. abv: 4.2%

Shared Waters Sour Collaboration Dry-Hopped Sour Blonde Ale (American Wild Ale; Coronado Brewing Co., CA); $15/550 ml, 90 points. A collaboration between California-based Coronado Brewing and The Libertine Brewing Co., this sour ale is aged three years in former Bourbon, wine and brandy barrels. For Coronado’s first foray into the sour scene, it’s a solid entry, as it shows great balance between the various funky elements and the fruity and hoppy notes—the latter always seeming to pick up most right when you need it. It pours a hazy burnt-orange color, with a thin head that falls fast. The nose and palate release notes of tart orange, barnyard, oak spice and just a touch of fermenting grape must. It’s high in acidity and medium in carbonation and weight, offering a refreshing and clean sip through the close. abv: 6.5% 

Beachwood Blendery Into The Great Unknown (Strata & Mosaic Edition) (American Wild Ale; Beachwood Blendery, CA); $12/500 ml, 89 points. This is a Belgian-style sour ale that’s aged in oak barrels and then dry-hopped with Strata and Mosaic hops. There’s an interesting marriage between the tart base-beer character and the citrusy, juicy hop characteristics, melding together so seamlessly it’s tough to tell where one aspect ends and the other begins. It’s bright, refreshing and quite easy to drink, with orange-like acidity and flavors of green apple, tart grape and just a touch of wood character. abv: 6%

Published on June 19, 2018
Topics: Drinks
About the Author
Lauren Buzzeo
Managing Editor

Reviews wines from South Africa and Languedoc-Roussillon. Reviews beers.

Buzzeo joined Wine Enthusiast Magazine in 2006 as a tasting coordinator, and eventually became Tasting Director and Senior Editor, previously responsible for overseeing all aspects of the tasting and review program. Most recently, Buzzeo assumed the role of Managing Editor. Since coming to Wine Enthusiast, she has made it one of her personal missions to promote the acceptance of cross-drinking, encouraging everyone to embrace finely crafted libations across all beverage categories. Buzzeo is also an avid homebrewer and a member of the AHA (American Homebrewers Association). Email: lbuzzeo@wineenthusiast.net.




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