I will never forget my first sip of Duchesse De Bourgogne. That fateful moment opened my eyes to a whole new world of what beer could be. More than a decade and countless sour sips later, I’m excited to watch as the wild/sour/mixed-fermentation category becomes one of the fastest growing segments of American craft beer.
Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus, and Pediococcus are becoming ubiquitous terms in even the moderate craft beer drinker’s vocabulary. These microflora are what impart funky and sour flavors as they consume sugars in the fermentation process.
Sour beer is a difficult style to define. Generally, sours have been inoculated with acidifying bacteria like Lactobacillus and Pediococcus. “Wild beer” can refer to those fermented with wild yeasts, like Brettanomyces. Beers that are made with yeast and acidifying bacteria are often called “mixed-fermentation beers.”
There are so many different producers in Minnesota making intriguing wild/sour/mixed-fermentation beers that it was impossible for us to pick any one individual as the Trailblazer in a category that is blazing trails. We decided that most deserving honoree was the style itself.
We believe that sour beer represents the best of what craft beer should be. It harnesses something wild and unpredictable, and speaks to the boundless epicurean opportunity that lies in the variation of styles and ingredients. Wild/sour/mixed-fermentation beers are the tent pole of a blurry new category I like to call “interesting fermented beverages.” I believe we are going to see a vast array of these IFBs made in Minnesota in the coming years as collaboration between breweries, cideries, vineyards, and distilleries matures, and access to local ingredients becomes more demanded and therefore more fulfilled.
It strikes me that to someone who has never tried a sour beer, terms like “sour” and “funky” and “bacteria” may be a little off-putting. Please don’t let the beer geek speak dissuade you from trying a sour sometime. I find that the style can actually be a pretty great “gateway beer” for someone who has yet to find a craft beer that excites them. The leap to sour beer seems to be an especially easy transition for wine and cocktail drinkers. Beers from this family also tend to be good companions for food, so they have begun showing up in force on the beer lists of many of our favorite local restaurants.
There are a few dozen Minnesota beverage makers dabbling in the art of sour beer these days. From kettle-soured fruit beers to traditional lambic or gueuze styles, local breweries are experimenting with funky beers and pushing the boundaries of what beer can and should be. Some breweries might have one funky barrel in the back. Others are building entire facilities for a fleet of foudres and coolships. One thing is certain: no two of these beers will be alike, and each will leave its own unique footprint in the landscape of Minnesota beer.
Our mission at The Growler is to tell stories that inspire progress in local food, drink, and culture. And in that spirit as part of our 2016 Kind-Of-A-Big-Deal Issue, we felt the need to point out 25 people, ideas, businesses, and organizations who have done necessary, important, and groundbreaking work in 2016. See the rest of our 2016 Trailblazers here.