I mentioned recently that I will be doing a monthly study of beer styles, a featured style every month. The way I will be approaching this is I will start with a post that talks about the style so we have a frame of referrence as we work our way through the month (from a technical aspect you can expect to find style articles on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Though there will be other articles mixed in those days based on what is happening in the beer world). The style we are focused on for the month of February is Sours.
The Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) lists sour beers as style number 17 in their guidelines. Within this category there are 6 sub styles. Before we get into that too much lets examine what it is we are looking at when you talk about the style sheets.
The BJCP style guide was created as a frame of referrence for not only professional brewers but also for ameteur competition brewers. With defenite paramators in place it is possible to objectively evaluate beers and score them to how they meet the criteria of the style. For the most part these guidelines are not going to tell you if a beer is good or not (that is a subjective appraisal). What they will tell you is how close to the style the brewer was able to brew their beer. Technical merit is very important in competition.
Now the substyles for 17 sour beer follow:
17A Berliner Weisse: This is a sour beer originating in Berlin Germany. The fact that it is a weisse lets you know that wheat is involved in the grain bill for this beer. Like many of the beers in this category there should be little to no hop aroma or flavor present. Napolean has been quoted for calling this the Champagne of the north as it is highly effervescent.
When served it is commonly flavored with a fruit syrup or with woodruff (making it flourescent green). The fruit addition is allowed per the Rheinheitsgebot because the flavoring is added to the finished beer instead of during the brewing process.
17B Flanders Red Ale: Originating in West Flanders (the most famous from the Rodenbach brewery). This is a reddish ale that is fruit flavor (from the process not from actual fruit flavorings) forward with a mild malt back bone. Based on the beers age it can be mildly acidic to intensely acidic (picture the difference between a gummy worm and a war head sour candy). Again there will be little to no hop aroma or flavor.
This is a medium bodied beer with low to medium carbonation. There can be a sweet finish but not always.
17C Flanders Brown Ale/ Oud Brown: Another sour from Flanders. This beer tends to be a bit darker than the red ale and less acidic. You will find a much richer malt character with a fruit back bone. Fruit notes can include figs, dates, black cherries and prunes. But also expect the toffee and caramel notes you would expect from an English brown as well.
The body is generally medium to medium full with low to moderate carbonation.
17D Straight unblended Lambic: With this we move into the pride of Belgium. Lambics are spontaneously fermented beers. These beers can take anywhere from 1 to 3 years to mature, the microbes that ferment these beers tend to be slow workers. A typical lambic is mixed at a seperate facility outside of the original brewery. Straight lambics carry a house character of the originating brewery as they are not blended with any other beers. These beers will be sour/acidic but this will lessen as they age.
Hops as used in lambics tend to be older hops with no ability to add aroma or flavor to the beer. They are used almost exclusively for their stabilizing ability. They will have a light to light medium mouthfeel with almost no carbonation.
17E Gueuze: This is a blended lambic usually a blend of young to old lambics creating a more complex flavor than you would find in the unblended. Again this is a spontaneously fermented beer. With a gueuze you have the opportunity to taste the skills of the blending house in creating a well balanced yet complex beer. They will be acidic/sour. Flavors stemming from the characteristics of the bacteria used in the process will come forward more.
These are still light to light medium bodied but they tend to also be highly carbonated.
17F Fruit Lambic: In the brewing process fruit is added to bring out a more complex beer. These tend to carry flavors similar to wines. And still this is a spontaneously fermented beer. It has been more common now to add fruit flavoring after the brewing process to sweeten the finished beer.
It wasn't that long ago that this was the first introduction most would have to the world of sour beers. The typical one would have been a Lindeman's Framboise. As we have become more accustomed to the vast array of flavors possible in beer and the world of sours we are finding bigger and bolder offerings available.
This list isn't the all inclusive list of what is happening in the world of sours today. Knowing the spirit of experimentation that is common with brewers, the BJCP also has category 23 Specialty Beers. This category leaves it open to interpretation as to how it is possible to make variations on a beer category that take a beer a bit outside its normal designation. We will look at some of this variation as we progress through the month.
Time for a pint...