Some Like it Sour

In an article in New Yorker magazine, writer Christian DeBenedetti (The Great American Ale Trail) says we’ve come full circle with sour beer. Before refrigeration and advances in fermentation science in the mid-19th century, almost all beer was more or less sour. Even after science eliminated most off-tastes, some breweries continued to turn out sour styles. The best-known such brewery is Brussels’s Cantillon brewery, founded in 1900. To this day, it specializes in spontaneously fermented lambics and gueuzes.

DeBenedetti notes that Cantillon’s beers were, at first, widely misunderstood by American customers. Some reacted to their tart and musty character by calling the beers “infected” and sending them back. As late as 1997, when he first visited Cantillon, its products weren’t available in the United States beyond a few semi-smuggled shipments. Dan Shelton, who took the risky step of importing Cantllion, said that it took almost ten years for people to realize that lambic and gueuze were supposed to taste that way.

Today, a number of American breweries have developed a reputation for high-quality sour beers. They include Jolly Pumpkin, Russian River, Crooked Stave–and De Benedetti’s own sour beer brewery, which he’s building on his family’s hazelnut farm in Oregon.

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Fair warning: these stories might appeal to the beer-prurient interest:

One of the events at the Craft Brewers Conference earlier this month was the world’s largest-ever beer dinner, with 2,000 guest in attendance. Jay Brooks of the Brookston Beer Bulletin has both video and a slide show from the event, which used 600 gallons of beer to pair with the courses and another 200 gallons of beer to cook with.

Beers of Europe, a mail-order beer store based in London, has to be seen to be believed. Which is why the store made a video and asked beer writer Pete Brown to put it on his blog. How large is this store’s range of beer? Its video, which is a tour up and down the aisles, runs eight minutes, 49 seconds.

Don Russell, a/k/a “Joe Sixpack,” reviews 1001 Beers You Must Taste Before Your Die by Adrian Tierney-Jones. He directs your attention to the back of the book, where “the reader–whether twisted or just curious–is exposed to all sorts of strange ingredients, deviant brewing styles and freakish fermentations.”

Finally, what might be the world’s oldest bottle of gueuze resides in Ebenezer’s Pub Cellar in Lovell, Maine.

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