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Beer radar: sours of the south

Eat | Drink | Explore

There’s a new beer style in town. It’s weird, wonderful – and sour. Sour like a Barossa dill pickle. Sour like chèvre.

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Sours are sometimes oaked and funky; sometimes clean and soft. Low in bitterness and hop character, these beers can be either subtly refreshing or mouth-puckeringly intense, but all exhibit a wonderful tart characteristic of lactic acid.

They are re-emerging as the forgotten beer style that deserves to be on at least one tap at your local.

Brewers often match the sourness or tartness in a beer with a fruit to soften the impact of the acid, resulting in a fruity and refreshing taste.

This style of beer will be a rude awakening for some drinkers; on social media, one Adelaide beer fan described his first sip of a local sour as “like vomit”. I’ve also seen a few people deliberately slip sours into a round at the pub, just to see the response.

The first lightbulb sours for me weren’t the imported stomach-destroying beers from Belgium. They were at Clever Little Tailor in the Adelaide CBD, where visionary brewer Ashley Huntington showed off a few of his beers from his farm brewery Two Metres Tall in Tasmania. They were complex, tart and very delicious.

South Australian brewers have been tinkering with a few sours themselves, and there are some absolute gems worth looking for.

The Ministry of Beer is a fairly new label to pop up on the radar, but its Raspberry Berliner Weisse is definitely worth tracking down. It has great bright berry aromas, flavours and colour – and at 4 per cent alchol and almost no bitterness, it’s a bloody great beer for a hot day.

Owner and brewer Brett Reimann explains: “I enjoy making and drinking that style of beer, and so far am having positive feedback from people who’ve tried it. I think this style of beer will become more popular in the future.”

Let’s hope plenty of venues jump on this next summer. I’d match the beer with dusted, pan-fried garfish fillets or roast turkey. There’s loads of bright raspberry flavour to complement the white meat.

Big Shed Brewing Co has had positive feedback for its Cranberry Sour – a soft, easy-drinking sour that is still very refreshing and has a pink hue. Tartness from real cranberries works with the slight sourness of the beer.

Big Shed co-founder and director Jason Harris was keen to see how the public would handle the company’s first sour.

“The beer didn’t polarise as many people as we initially thought,” he says.

“Sours are still early days in Australia. We had a few people say it could be a little sourer but we would rather be on the softer than harder side of sour to try to encourage more people to have a sample.”

The Big Shed sour is styled on a Gose, with a small addition of salt as well as cranberries into the fermenter. Harris says a quality selection of tangy cheese and salty meats with some fruit is the best match for the beer.

Little Bang in Stepney has had success with its version of a sour which uses hibiscus flowers in the 3%-abv brew called The Pinkening. Co-owner, brewer and brand manager Ryan Davidson describes it as a soft, aromatic sour beer.

“We wanted to make something that wouldn’t frighten too many people, and hopefully encourage those who may have been scared by sours in the past to investigate further.

“We do see a few faces screw up, but for the most part [there’s] a lot of raised eyebrows and plenty of people coming back for more.”

Hibiscus is rarely seen in beer, but Davidson says it was the perfect choice for a sour.

“I originally encountered dried hibiscus flowers in a herbal tea. There’s a lovely tartness, and an amazing colour and aroma, without a bunch of sugar. It’s the perfect kind of ingredient to mess around with in brewing.”

As for a food match, he suggests a good tacos.

Other excellent local sours include Pirate Life’s Apricot Berliner Weisse, made with Riverland fresh apricots, and Left Barrel’s SourPuss Berliner. The Wheatsheaf Hotel’s Wheaty Brewing Corps also regularly brews a sour or two to pour in the hotel.

If you’re not onto it yet, the smartphone app Now Tapped is a good way to find obscure fresh beers locally pouring.

John Krüger is an Adelaide-based photographer and home brewer with a passion for good beer. He’s on the Royal Adelaide Beer and Cider Awards committee, as well as being a beer judge with the awards.

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