Beer Styles 201: What is a Sour Ale / Wild Ale?
Sour Ales: where they come from, their appearance, flavour & aroma, palate & mouthfeel, food pairings and serving suggestions are all explained in this Beer Styles 201 article.
By The Beer Community on Mar. 27, 2019
What are Sour Ales & Wild Ales?
Sour ales aren’t necessarily wild ales, and wild ales aren’t always sour ales.
Sour ales are beers that are brewed to be intentionally sour. Originating in Belgium, brewing sour beers can be a risky move to brewers because it is a specialized form of brewing. In the craft beer industry today, sour beers have moved outside of Belgium and is starting to gain popularity to other European, American and Canadian brewers. Wild ales are American beers that are brewed to have strong Brettanomyces characteristics.
Sour Ales vs. Wild Ales: What’s the difference?
It is not uncommon to assume that wild and sour ales are the same beer style, but did you know that not wild ales are sour?
Here’s what The Oxford Companion to Beer says about the difference between sour ales and wild ales:
“The development, largely by American craft brewers, of entirely new categories of beer [that use wild yeast and/or bacteria] during the past decade, has resulted in the need for a new nomenclature to describe them. This nomenclature is surely unsettled, but the two terms in general use are ‘sour beer’ and ‘wild beer.’ ‘Wild beer’ is generally used to describe any beer that displays earthy characteristics of Brettanomyces yeast strains, regardless of whether the beer is a light golden ale or a strong dark stout. If the brewer adds acidifying bacteria to the beer, it is termed a ‘sour beer.’ If both Brettanomyces character and bacterial acidity are in evidence, then the beer is generally deemed to fit both categories.”
Wild ales are essentially earthy beers with a strong Brett character that presents no added acidity. The term sour beers refers to beers that are made with wild yeasts and have added bacteria that results in a sour, acidic flavour. Wild ales can be sour. The main difference between a sour ale and and a wild ale is the addition of bacterias, like Lactobacillus or Pediococcus. During the barrel aging process, these microorganisms convert unfermented sugars into lactic acid, resulting in a sour flavour.
Added Bacteria = Sour Beer
Brett Brettanomyces Yeast & No Added Bacteria = Wild Ale
Acidic & Has Brettanomyces = Both
Sour & Wild Ale Essential Information:
Style Region of Sour Beers:
Sour beers originated in Belgium.
Style Region of Wild Ales:
Wild ales were first brewed in America.
Appearance of a Sour or Wild Ale:
Sour and wild ales often result in a light golden, sometimes clear sometimes hazy yellow. Other ales can be a light copper to deep red colour.
Wild & Sour Ale Flavour & Aroma:
Hop aroma, flavour and bitterness can be showcased over a full range from low to high. In darker versions of wilds and sours, roasted malt, caramel and chocolate-like aromas are sometimes present. Sour ales are acidic and sometimes fruity.
Palate & Mouthfeel:
Sours and wilds can have either a low or high carbonation with a mouthfeel on the lighter side.
What foods pair well with Sour or Wild Ales?
Pair sour beers with duck or pork chops, as the acidity can be used to harmonize with fatty cuts of meat. Fruity characters in wild and sour ales pair well with light fruit dishes or spicy vegetables.
How to serve a Wild / Sour Ale:
Sour and wild ales are often served in a goblet or tulip glass. When it comes to serving temperature, there isn’t an exact number because sour and wild beers can all be so different. A good starting point would be somewhere between 40 – 50° F.
Comparable styles to Sour Ales & wild Ales:
Want to try some sour and wild beers?
Now that you’re a Wild / Sour Ale know-it-all, learn more about other beer styles below:
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Cheers to Sour Beers
Sour Beer: A deceptively simple term for a complex style. Is sour beer here to stay or a passing trend? I visited Bricks Wine Co. for the “Cheers to Sour Beers” tasting event with Certified Cicerone, Mike Maxwell, to see what the big deal is about sour beer and find out just what makes a sour beer, well… sour.