August 11, 2015
In today’s craft beer scene, nothing is trendier than sour. Having dethroned super-hopped IPAs as the brews of the moment, sour beers may sound bizarre to the uninitiated, but these beguiling, complex, and palate-challenging pours also tend to make quick converts. If you’re looking to discover some of the best sours in the US, set your sights on these 10 breweries in Colorado – already considered one of the country’s top beer hubs, it’s no surprise that the Centennial State is at the crest of this new craze.
But first, a quick primer: sours may be on-trend now, but fact is, until 150-odd years ago, most beers had varying degrees of sourness. The tart flavours typically come from a few different sources: Brettanomyces, a wild yeast strain known for its dry funk, is a common one, while benign bacteria like Lactobacillus (which ferments yogurt and sourdough and has a tangy, dairy flavour) and Pediococcus (which imparts equal parts tang and funk) also bring that characteristic piquancy. Add in optional fruit additions and oak barrel aging and you can wind up with flavours ranging from lemony citrus to full-on red wine vinegar.
Before the advent of pasteurisation, when beers were left to ferment in the open air, these “˜microflora’ ended up in most brews; for many modern breweries, they’re considered invasive when sour flavours are not desired. But lately, increasing numbers of brewers have harnessed their range of surprising flavours to their advantage. From traditional Belgian sour styles (Gueze, Ouid Bruin, Flanders Red) to old-school German sours (Berliner Weisse, Gose) to brand new American styles, there are plenty of sours to go around. Now, on to the sampling.
Founded by yeast aficionado Chad Yakobsen, Denver‘s Crooked Stave began life as a Masters dissertation in Brettanomyces – and a very tasty one at that. Since then, though, the Denver-based brewery has gone on to achieve cult status. Crooked Stave’s Vieille Saison – a tawny, herbaceous Belgian farmhouse style spiked with Brett – is its most popular brew, but its Petite Sour line of barrel-aged, fruit beers is a compelling study in sourness.
Sour brews typically require longer fermentation times than their non-funky peers – sometimes up to several years. For brewers starting up sour programmes, that usually involves investing in stacks of barrels where their beers can happily mature at their own pace. Boulder’s Avery Brewing is no exception: having launched their Barrel-Aged Series in 2009, they stow many of their sours in wine barrels for extra complexity.
One of the biggest craft breweries in the US – and one of the first to kick-start the craft beer revolution – New Belgium has a lot to recommend it. Even more so since the recent launch of Lips of Faith, its sour beer series. Sampling for the first time? Begin with the brewery’s iconic La Folie, a totally tart Flanders Red-style beer that tastes like an American version of that sour Belgian favourite, Rodenbach.
Another member of the generation of early craft breweries in Colorado, Great Divide only really began honing its sour beer programme four years ago. But things are evolving quickly: just last month, the brewery unveiled an expansive new taproom in Denver’s increasingly beer-focused RiNo neighbourhood. Alongside the taproom, an adjacent warehouse will also make room for thousands of barrels, exponentially increasing the brewery’s sour beer production.
All right, so Epic Brewing technically hails from Salt Lake City. But in 2013, the brewery opened up a brand new facility in Denver, officially digging in its Colorado roots. And that also means investing in its sour beer program. While its granny smith-like Sour Apple Saison is one to seek, its Elder Brett: Saison-Brett Golden Ale, brewed in collaboration with Crooked Stave, wins even more local points.
Troy Casey is something of a legend when it comes to sour beer. Once an employee of MillerCoors’s AC Golden Brewing Company (you know sours are trending when the big breweries get involved), Casey struck out on his own in 2013 to found Casey Brewing & Blending. Now among the best sour breweries in Colorado, Casey Brewing puts particular emphasis on area ingredients: hops, grains, and yeast are all local, and the Fruit Stand series of fruity sours features Colorado-grown berries and stone fruit.
Former Future Brewing, open only since February 2014, has already drawn acclaim for its tasty beers and its historic brewing methods. That dedication to traditional pedigree can be witnessed in the brewery’s Black Project, which focuses on sours. But these aren’t just any sours: freshly made wort (the name for pre-fermented beer) is left open to the air to be inoculated with the wild yeasts and bacteria that surround Denver. Think of it as beer’s version of terroir.
Based in Fort Collins, Funkwerks does exactly what its name suggests: these are some out-there, multi-layered brews. Heavily inspired by Belgian brewing techniques, Funkwerks specialises in styles like tripels, quads, and saisons, though it’s the Raspberry Provincial – a tart, citrusy sour that features heaps of fresh berries – that leaves the tongue prickling. The brewery has also invested in a foeder (a large, upright barrel normally used for wine aging), meaning more sour styles are on the way.
Any brewer of sour-style beers knows that they’re taking a gamble: unlike the governable Saccharomyces (your humble, workaday brewer’s yeast), Brettanomyces, wild yeasts, and bacteria behave in mysterious and unpredictable ways. That means you’re likely to wait a while for your final product – and that, even after all that time, your beer may not end up being drinkable. Paradox Beer Company seeks to “honour the uncertainty of nature” with its funky fermentation, placing a focus on Colorado-sourced ingredients, including house-cultured Brett. Flavours get pretty wild here – like in the brewery’s salted mango chilli sour.
Many of the sour beer breweries in Colorado focus particularly on Belgian-inspired sours – but these aren’t the only mouth-puckering brews on the market. Verboten Brewing in Loveland, Colorado, turns its attention to Gose: an old-school, citrusy German style brewed with coriander and a touch of salt. Roll in Ze’ Hay is its award-winning iteration of the style, though it also does special seasonal versions, like its Roll in Ze’ Watermelons.
Our partnership with Delta means it’s easier than ever to travel to Colorado – and to get a taste for sour beers yourself.
Have you visited any of these breweries in Colorado? What’s your take on the sour beer craze? Share some of your favourite brews with us in the comments section below.
Written by Claire Bullen