10 June 2016

Sour is the new bitter

It’s hard to imagine that the corporate fat cats, aka members of the global business elite, who read Bloomberg Businessweek, regularly go for a sour beer. I mean, can you envisage the Coke-swilling super-investor Warren Buffett ever allowing a Rodenbach Grand Cru to touch his lips?

Yet, Bloomberg Businessweek magazine on 9 May 2016 published a two-page spread on sour beers with the teaser saying that craft beer cognoscenti should “move on from IPAs and imperial stouts and try a sour beer” as “previously little known European styles and modern American ones have soared in popularity to the point where the once obscure genre is becoming mainstream.”

Sour beers mainstream? My foot! But if Bloomberg Businessweek says so it must be true.

Among the ten recommended sour beers, ranging from “sorta sour” to “super-sour” were six beers from the U.S., two from Belgium and one each from Italy and Germany.

Still, in view of the fact that for several years the craft beer discourse has been dominated by sour beers, the hype over sour beers is not corroborated by actual sales.

Market research would be pressed hard to estimate sour beers’ total volume sold. In Belgium, they are in a category representing 2 percent of total beer consumption – together with the much more popular kriek and fruit beers. That’s not a lot, if you ask me. I am sure that figures for the U.S. will not exceed Belgium’s. As to mainstreaming sour beers: at such low volumes it is somewhat exaggerated to talk of sour beers having become common.

However, whether you like sour beers or not, they are part of a wider trend in craft brewing: rediscovering forgotten European beer styles. Needless to say, U.S. craft brewers have been at the forefront of this movement, whether they are mimicking historical styles or forging their own path.

At the recent South African craft brewers’ Powwow, Horst Dornbusch, a U.S. brewer and author, told the audience how he interpreted long-forgotten beers like a Bière de Mars from France’s Picardy, and a Keutebier from Westphalia, Germany at his brewery, the Neighbourhood Brewery in Exeter NH.

He showed how he had done historical research and arrived at his modern recipes.

His argument in favour or rediscovering these forgotten styles is: “Heirloom and terroir beers – no matter how obscure, vague, cryptic, and contradictory their description in the literature – can serve as inspiration.

Fortunately, it’s up to the consumers if they want to be taken aback by these “rediscoveries”.

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