If you've never tasted a sour beer, your first reaction might be something like mine.
Whoa. This is beer?
Tart, light in alcohol. Not very foamy, odd hues: Sours are more than an acquired taste; they challenge the very idea of what beer is. And if you're a brewer, the bacteria that makes it sour can ruin ever other beer you're trying to make.
While sours are growing popularity, they remain firmly on the margins of the craft beer world (which is still pretty small). The flavor is not so much the flip side of hoppy bitterness as a step beyond: bitter and sour are practically kissing cousins. Besides, who doesn't like a nice glass of tart lemonade, especially on a hot summer day?
For the adventurous drinker, sours offer something different from the hop bombs and big beers that seem to dominate the scene. They make take some getting used to, but once you get your taste buds past conventional ideas of what beer is supposed to be, sours can become something of an obsession.
An obsession, even for people who once hated them.
Take Bob Lorber. He says he couldn't handle the first few sours he tried. "Now it's all I want to drink," says the St. Petersburg ad salesman and affable Saturday tour guide at Tampa's Cigar City Brewing. "It's beer, it's just not the beer you're used to."
Paul Unwin didn't know what to think of his first taste of sour beer either. "I like hops," he recalls," and all of a sudden someone gives me this tart fruit beer."
Soon he was seeking out the best sour beers from around the world. And when Cigar City dropped their Fruit In the Room event, he started his own sour beer fest. A veteran festival host—Unwin has put on multiple highly regarded craft beer events—he didn't know what to expect from the first sour beer fest. But enough sourheads turned out and he's bringing it back.
Saturday's second annual Sour, Lambic and Berliner Weisse Festival will feature some of the best of the three styles in that mouthful of a title—130 in all, many of them bottles rarely found locally (and costing upwards of $30 for a 750 ml bottle if you can find them) along with some of the best Tampa Bay craft brewers.
The three styles he's featuring are distinct but can generally be lumped under the banner of wild beers thanks to the type of yeast that is used —styles like Gose, Gueze, Lichtenheiner (a smoked sour) and Flanders Red.
Local breweries are experimenting like crazy with various permutations of wild beers. Expect to find sours from 7venth Sun, Cycle, Rapp, Green Bench and Angry Chair, along with Miami's Jonathan Wakefield and Gravity Brewlabs. 7venth Sun plans on bringing a "blending lab" to custom-mix different beers.
Wine drinkers tend to gravitate toward sours because they have simliar complex characteristics. In fact, Unwin goes so far as to say that sours are "closer to wine than beer."
Cajun Cafe's Second Annual Sour Lambic and Berliner Weisse Festival, Saturday, June 15, 2-6 p.m. Cajun Cafe on the Bayou, 8101 Park Blvd., Pinellas Park' $45 in advance, $65 at the door.