by Adam Sawyer | Photo © Cascade Brewing Co.
Very few of us are dragged kicking and screaming into the world of fine food and drink. Pairing food with wine or spirits is nothing new, and pairing beer with food has become a recognized culinary art form. What has not received its proper due, however, is sour beer.
The old-world brewing technique responsible for sour beer is not new to the Northwest. Connoisseurs have been singing the praises of Northwest-style sour beer for years now. But non-beer aficionados may have missed it on the menu. An unfortunate oversight,
because sour beer possesses endless flavor profiles, character and depth that make it as fine a choice as any beverage for pairing with food.
While not exactly a misnomer, the words “sour beer” don’t adequately describe the product. Some have expressed the character of sours to be part beer, part wine, and part champagne. Sours typically take between two and three years to make. They’re aged in oak barrels, and Northwest-style sours acquire subtle sour notes through Lactobacillus bacteria and the fermentation of an abundance of fresh ingredients, primarily fruit.
Sours provide sharp, focused acidity, with good body and mouth feel. They are a balance of sweet and fruity with a light tartness. With traditional beer, hops can coat the tongue and shut down the palate. Conversely, sours cleanse and refresh it.
Cascade Brewing in Portland is the cornerstone of sour beer brewing in the Northwest. According to Ron Gansberg, brew master and blender at Cascade Brewing, a cold glass of sour beer is “like a dew bespeckled bud. And as it warms, it begins to open up. You get subtle flavors when it’s cold, flavors that would be hidden by more powerful elements as it warms. By starting with a cold beer and allowing your hand on the glass to slowly warm it, you get a full range of flavors that evolve throughout the entire drinking experience, even down to the last sip in the glass.”
What to pair with a sour? Half the fun is experimenting with anything from starters to desserts. The fruity acidity of a sour typically pairs well with rich foods with a moderate to high fat content. The broad range of possibilities is a culinary playground for Northwest chefs and foodies.
If you’re ready to give sour beers a try, many of your favorite area microbreweries are producing a sour beer or two, even if only on a seasonal basis. These include Fremont Brewing and Schooner Exact Brewing Company in Seattle and Double Mountain Brewery in Hood River.