Booze 101: Sour beers


Taking the local craft beer world on a tart wave of mouth-puckering flavor, sour beers have a devoted following in San Diego. With breweries including Council, Mikkeller, and Wild Barrel leading the charge, the wide-ranging style often incorporates local produce for a truly farm-to-bottle experience for beer lovers.

But with terms such as kettle, barrel-aged, gose and Berliner weisse, it can be a confusing lingo to understand. Here is the lowdown, along with where to find a variety of choices in San Diego.

To mix or to kettle?

Traditional or mixed-fermentation sour: This classic style is created with a mixed-fermentation of traditional yeast, wild yeast (Brettanomyces), and bacteria (lactobacillus and pediococcus), and can occur all at once or in specific succession. The beer is first brewed with traditional yeast, then placed in barrels or stainless steel tanks where wild yeast and bacteria are added. This launches a secondary fermentation, which produces lactic, acetic and organic acids that sour the beer. This style can require months or years of commitment, but results in a beautifully complex and multi-layered beer that can be consumed or blended with younger beer.

Kettle sour: A simpler, quicker way to sour beer, this style involves a lactic fermentation with a live culture of lactobacillus being pitched into the kettle. The wort remains for 24 hours to a few days to the desired level for the brewer, producing an acidic mash. The liquid is then boiled to kill off any remaining bacteria and can be used on its own or to add acidity to other beers, like gose and tart saisons. With its singular high note, it is also considered less layered and complex than barrel aging.

Sour beer styles

Berliner Weisse: Originating in Germany near Berlin, this style uses a blend of malted wheat and barley and is soured with lactobacillus in cask or bottle. Low in alcohol, usually at 3-4% ABV, Berliner Weisses are traditionally served with green woodruff or raspberry syrup, although most American examples do not and are made through kettle souring.

Lambic: Hailing from an area outside of Brussels, Belgium, this spontaneously fermented beer is a historical gem in the beer world. Often used as a base for other beers, lambics can be blended with fruit to produce such classics as kriek (cherry) and framboise (raspberry) or different aged lambics to produce gueuze.

Flanders Red: Using malts to achieve its characteristic crimson hue, this style is soured in oak barrels for up to three years with naturally occurring yeasts and bacteria. Flanders beers have flavors of cherry, plums and raisins.

Oud Bruin: Using brown ale as a base, the style is soured and aged in barrels for up to two years and often blended with younger beer and bottle conditioned.

Gose: Enjoying a revival in the craft beer movement, this German sour style is brewed with coriander and sea salt for a distinct flavor profile, drawing a range of opinions from beer lovers.

American Wild: A highly interpretive style employed by craft brewers in the U.S. to create funky ales using ale yeast and Brettanomyces. Sub-styles for judging include brett beer, mixed-fermentation sour, and wild-specialty.

Where to find it

Council Brewing: This award-winning brewery, now with a new tasting room opening in Santee, offers an exciting range of mixed fermentation, foeder, and barrel-aged sours. Most well known is their Beatitude tart Saison, with flavors including prickly pear, cherry, and mango on tap. Foeder aged beers include the Woofle Dust Apricot, an American golden sour, and the Broken Wand Boysenberry a dark sour. Fun with Neighbors is a barrel-aged golden sour with chardonnay and muscat grapes from Menghini Winery.

7705 Convoy Ct., Kearny Mesa, 858.256.0038,

Wild Barrel Brewing: With “Dr.” Bill Sysak and crew leading the charge, Wild Barrel brings an aromatic array of sours to locals. Their popular San Diego Vice series rotates flavors include black currant, pink guava, passion fruit and cactus, mango, and mixed berry bomb, a blend of blackberry, blueberry, boysenberry, and strawberry.

692 Rancheros Dr., San Marcos, 760.593.4785,

Modern Times: Known for their clever design and solid brews, this multi-location favorite produces the Tortuga, a Berliner Weisse with tangerines, soursops, and apricots, and the Fruitlands, a gose with passionfruit and guava. Try to catch the New Atlantis, the barrel-aged sour saison with pineapple, blood orange, and guava, or the Neon Tiger, a gose with sour cherries, cranberries, raspberries, and lemons.

Point Loma: 3725 Greenwood St., 619.546.9694; North Park: 3000 Upas St., 619.269.5222,

Mikkeller San Diego: Donning the most entertaining labels in town, this Belgian brewery outpost offers a variety of sours, including the Raspberry Blush Berliner Weisse with coffee, the Sur Ferskener, a sour blonde aged with peaches, the Lilla Regn golden sour with Temecula Malbec grapes, and Freckle Face Berliner Weisse with ginger and orange.

9366 Cabot Dr., Miramar, 858.381.3500,

Toolbox Brewing: Head up to Vista for a range of barrel aged sours, including Brooks was Here, fermented with California Brooks, Rainier and tart cherries aged in French white wine barrels, the Honeybird with local wildflower honey and blackberries, and the Ugly Duckling, a dark sour aged in French red wine barrels with raspberries. For gose fans, choose between their classic Salt Shaker with Himalayan pink salt and the On a Stick spicy mango gose with Tajin and lactose.

1495 Poinsettia Ave., Vista, 760.598.1477,