The Sweetness of Sours
Sour beers are not for every craft beer fan–at least at first taste. Thought to be a new gimmick by some, few realize that beer was born sour. Believe it or not, people like Shakespeare, King Arthur, Benjamin Franklin and Cleopatra all likely drank a version of sour beer.
Until Louis Pasteur paved the way for microbiology in the 1800‘s, no one really knew what made barley-sweetened liquid ferment into beer. That didn’t stop humans from making beer for thousands of years pre-pasteurization. In the last century, scientists isolated the optimal yeast strains that brewers use today to make beer. Before that, brewers just let fresh air do its magical, spontaneous work, never recognizing the wild yeasts and bacteria that were making their beer what it was.
Using these traditional microbes in beer has become popular again. You will often hear the hippest of beer fans talk about “Brett,” the shorthand for a wild, funky yeast cultivated from the skin of fruit that’s used in many sours today. Or Lactobacillus, a bacteria that makes the sour lactic acid that many beer fans now enjoy.
Magpie was probably the first Korean brewery to make a sour beer. They originally brewed a style of beer known as “gose” and named their version The Ghost. Brewing it mostly for themselves, they were surprised at how well it sold and how many new people drag in their friends to give it a try.
Magpie co-founder Erik Moynihan thinks sour beer will grow on customers if they just try it. “The sour is exactly the same as the pale ale, where first you’re like ‘What? Why would I want to drink this?’ But halfway through the glass people are like ‘This is good. These are really interesting flavors.’” The gose, with its sour and salty taste, has made a big comeback overseas. Part of the reason Magpie called theirs The Ghost is because it’s a resurrected beer.
This past December, Korea-based homebrewer Jared Hatch organized “Funkfest” in Busan with support from Galmegi’s Stephane Turcotte and Craft Brewer, a local brewer’s supply shop. Beer lovers got together to share sours and learn more about how to make these very finicky beers.
There’s lots of ways to make a sour beer. “I personally enjoy making sour beers the traditional way, which often takes a year or longer,” Hatch said. Some brewers take shortcuts, as the traditional method can take much longer and run the risk of infecting other, non-sour beers in the brew house.
Hatch thinks sours have a future here in Korea because they’re so unique. “Sour beers are definitely a very trendy thing in the States right now, and for home brewers it is the new frontier of brewing, so I do think it will catch on in Korea, at least within a certain section of the Korean community.”
Galmegi makes a tart, yet sweet and very refreshing Hallabong Gose made with real Jeju citrus and a Sour Red Ale made with Korean cherries and blackberries. The Booth and Mikkeller Bar both offer delicious imported sours. Pong Dang in Garosu-gil usually has a wide variety of imported sours as well as some on tap from the Busan brewshop, Wild Waves. Bottle shops like CraftBros and The Bottle Shop also carry several Belgian and American sours.
Sour beers tend to be expensive because of the time and risk involved. However, for bored beer drinkers or wine lovers, the complex flavors found in well-made sour beers are very rewarding. Plus, it’s what our beer-loving ancestors drank for thousands of years.
Rob Shelley writes about craft beer and keeps a Korean Beer Directory and Upcoming Events page at www.CraftBeerAsia.com/Korea.