Sour everything is on trend right now, sour beers included.
Robin Ridesic, founder and CEO of The Exchange Brewery on Queen Street in Niagara-on-the-Lake, sees the trend toward sour beers as part of a larger interest in sour or fermented food and beverages such as kombucha, a fermented tea drink.
Although this trend may be new and exciting, the process for creating sour beer is ancient, she says.
Ridesic, along with the NOTL Chamber of Commerce, hosted the second annual Sourpalooza beer festival in the Market Room at the Court House Saturday, organized to celebrate sour beers.
Organizers applied for and received a two-year grant from the Canadian Experiences Fund, which helps support community tourism projects, Ridesic says. This grant helped to expand on last year’s success by enhancing the overall event and adding a fourth sampling time.
Ticket holders were given an attractive souvenir sampling glass and were able to sample from 30 brews supplied by 12 breweries from Ontario, Quebec and the US.
Ridesic describes how her brewery follows an “old school Belgian way” of producing sour beer. This Lambic type of beer production involves exposing the brew to airborne wild yeasts and bacteria just as the monks did hundreds of years ago. She explains how risky this practise is because “you never know what you will get.”
This is where the brew master comes. These brews can then be blended together to create different flavours and notes, just like a winemaker would blend wines. At this point, she says, creating a great sour beer becomes, “an art, not a science.”
So what is sour beer? Jeff Kaldma, lead brewer from Bench Brewing Company, explains it’s made by the introduction of yeast and bacteria into the brew. Although different types of bacteria can be used, one of the most common is Lactobacillus, which is commonly used in yoghurt. Fruit can also be added for flavour and to create tartness during the fermentation process. The brew is then aged in wooden barrels.
Some of the sour beers at the event were aged in gin, whiskey or wine barrels for added complexity, resulting in a refreshing taste experience. Different types of fruit can be used, such as cherries, raspberries, strawberries, peaches, apricots or grapes.
Kaldma highlighted a specific brew where they used Twenty Valley Pinot Noir juice to create their Pinot Noir Wildwood, which delivers “bright fruit notes of strawberry and cranberry.” Kaldma’s enthusiasm for his work is obvious. He describes sour beers as being very trendy and “fun and exciting” right now.
Although these beers may be trendy, some consumers may be hesitant to try a sour beer. Ridesic says when women specifically come into her brewery, they are hesitant to try beer and often ask for wine instead. She gleans that this bias against beer may stem back to their first beer experience. She encourages people to move beyond that bias to try other types of beer — if you don’t like a lager, try a stout, an IPA or a sour beer. She says that many people are pleasantly surprised by what other styles and flavours of beer are available once they give them a try.
While Ridesic may not stock wine at her brewery, she does collaborate with wineries to create unique brews. The Exchange Brewery has created an ale using the Chardonnay grape pomace from Pearl Morissette Winery for the fermentation process. Grape pomace is the leftover residue from the winemaking process. It contains the skins, pulp, seeds and stems of the grapes after the juice has been extracted. It also contains any of the yeast that accumulated on the skins. After being fermented and aged one year, the ale is ready. Ridesic is happy to announce that this brew, Grand Cru, will be launched in two weeks at the LCBO but is ready for sampling at The Exchange Brewery, along with their other lagers, ales, stouts, IPAs, and of course their sour beers.
A champion of sour beers and this unique type of brewing, Ridesic is already looking forward to next year. Along with the grant they received from the Canadian Experiences Fund, she has “grand ambitions” and hopes they will be able to expand and take the festival outside.
As a new sour beer fan, this reporter looks forward to attending the event next September in the open air, where the wild yeast lives.
The breweries that participated in this year’s event included:
– The Exchange Brewery
– Fairweather Brewing Co.
– Niagara College Teaching Brewery
– Niagara Oast House Brewers
– Blood Brothers Brewing
– Small Pony Barrel Works
– Bench Brewing Company
– Bellwoods Brewery
– Short Finger Brewing Company
– À la Fût Microbrasserie
– Stillwater Artisanal
– Jolly Pumpkin Brewery