I’m a sucker for sour beer.
I’m not talking about beer gone bad, but rather an old style of beer that’s purposefully brewed to taste sour.
Sours are a curious breed of beer: They have the body of a good IPA or stout, but without the characteristic hoppy or malty profile. Despite the name, they’re typically not as mouth-puckering as one might think. Many have a bold fruit profile, slight chalky acidity and big body. They have the fresh thirst-quenching sweetness of a cider, but with the round complexity of a good wine. Like many styles of beer, the category is vast and varied; I’ve tasted some that taste like dried fruit and marzipan like vermouth, and others that burst with brightness like a Belgian Saison.
So what exactly makes a sour sour? The answer is simple: Any beer can be a sour if it’s made with an acidifying bacterium (lactobacillus and pediococcus are the two main ones) and wild yeast (brettanomyces is the most common).
To get the brewer’s perspective on the style, I spoke to Jeffrey Stuffings at Jester King Brewing. The brewery has released a handful of sour beers and hosted a sour beer festival last fall. Stuffings admitted that once he discovered the style, it “quickly turned into sort of an obsession. It’s almost addictive, once you get into these beers. It gets into your DNA.”
At the brewery, they use a blend of old and new practices to create their sour beers. The beer begins fermentation in a stainless steel tank with cultured brewer’s yeast. After the primary fermentation, the beer is inoculated with wild yeast and souring bacteria and sent to oak barrels for long-term aging.
Stuffings explains that because of all of the different factors involved in creating a sour beer (temperature, age, the way the barrels are topped off, the type of oak that is used, the way the barrels are prepped), you can guide the outcome, but you can’t master it. “When you age beer in the barrels, every one comes out a little different,” he says. “Some are intensely sour, some fruity, some spicy and all shapes in between.”
If you’re looking for an introduction to sours, pop into Star Bar for their take on the traditional Berliner Weisse ritual. They take Petrus Pale Ale (don’t be fooled, this is not an American hoppy pale ale, but rather a delightful perky sour) paired with your choice of raspberry or peach syrup. The pairing is a good way to ease into the style, manager Nathan Nyberg says, because the consumer can adjust the sweetness of the beer to their liking. “From a bar’s perspective we love it because it’s interactive. People love to offer tastes of their mixture all the time. It’s definitely a conversation starter at the bar.”
For more options, Black Star Co-Op has some house-brewed sours on tap, and “The Oxdford Companion to Beer” recommends looking for beers that are labeled Oud Bruin, Berliner Weisse, Gueuze and Flanders Red. Jester King recently released a raspberry sour, and if you’re lucky you might be able to track down a bottle of RU-55, their Barrel-Aged Sour Red (most recent reports said Red’s Porch had a bottle or two, but call ahead).
Summer’s back, and that means the rum will once again flow through local bars.
Last year, the local chapter of the U.S. Bartender’s Guild launched Texas Tiki Week, seven days of activities centered on one of the most playful tropical drinking eras in American history. The event is back through Sunday.
In this month’s issue of Real Magazine, I dive into the history of the weeklong fest, and detail what the organizers hope for its evolution (read more at statesman.com/real).
Here are a few of the remaining highlights for you local rum lovers to check out (full schedule, plus merchandise and recipes, at texastikiweek.com):
Wednesday: Bou-Tiki night at Bar Congress and Midnight Cowboy. You still have to make reservations to visit Midnight Cowboy (tiki service starts at 10 p.m., but Bar Congress is accepting walk-ins from 6 to 11 p.m.).
Friday: Tiki Happy Hour at Four Seasons. The first 100 guests will recieve a commemorative Texas Tiki Week Mug, so get there early. After that, head over to the Mohawk for rum drinks provided by El Dorado Rum from 10 p.m. to close.
Saturday: To wrap up the Austin festivities, Drink.Well will host a Bourbon Tiki Brunch with a tropical food menu to match, and Treaty Oak will host a block party at 1704 E. Sixth St.
Ever wanted to gather the best local bartenders in one room and have them mix cocktails for you?
It’s not quite the same experience, but the new summer cocktail menu at Hyde Park’s Vino Vino features a section of drinks from a handful of Austin’s best and brightest.
Contributors include Houston Eaves of Esquire Tavern in San Antonio; Chris Bostick, formerly of the Varnish in Los Angeles; Justin Elliot of Qui (formerly of the Volstead Lounge); Gabe Harrelson of Weather Up; Francisco Terrazas of Fino; and Vino Vino’s Mike Cecelski.
Bar manager Brian Elder said he got the idea during a visit to the Esquire Tavern in San Antonio last summer. He noticed a guest section of cocktails featuring Austin bartenders. “It resonated with me that even outside of Austin, these friends of mine were gaining notoriety,” he said. “Also, I thought it was cool of the Esquire to make that connection to Austin people.”
Many bars around the country feature a standing section of guest cocktails on their menu as a way to pay homage to their industry colleagues (Austin’s Midnight Cowboy had one for a long time but recently dropped it off the regular menu). In a world where recipes are recycled and re-interpreted regularly, it’s refreshing to see bars giving credit where credit is due. It’s also fun and interesting to see where a given bar might be looking for inspiration and influence.
Elder asked a handful of friends for their favorite summer cocktail and variation on the recipe. He said he was “blown away by the response. It is personally very humbling and satisfying to have these truly talented people contribute to our list.”
Each of the drinks on the Vino Vino menu, from a margarita and mint julep to the Singapore sling and last word, will be sold for $10 throughout the summer. Elder says the interpretations show a level of sophistication and mastery that only comes with experience and experimentation.
“The Milan Julep, for instance, is very akin to other drinks that I have created recently,” he says. “I love the sparing use of Zucca that gives the drink its biting, refreshing finish. It is a perfect summertime drink in that it is both bold and clean, which leaves one’s palate wanting for more.”
Emma Janzen recommends 10 drinks perfect for the hot months, at austin360.com.