Thanks to the Facebook page of Brasserie V, I discovered Christian DeBenedetti‘s fantastic article titled “A brief history of sour beer,” which was posted yesterday at The New Yorker. DeBenedetti takes a look at where sour beer came from, how European masters like the folks at Cantillon preserved a centuries-old tradition, and how some American upstarts are brewing impressive sour beers across the country.
As DeBenedetti describes,
Before the advent of refrigeration and advances in the science of fermentation in the mid-nineteenth century, almost all beer was, to varying degrees, sour. The culprits were pre-modern sanitation and poorly understood, often naturally occurring bacteria including Lactobacillus and Pediococcus, as well as Brettanomyces yeasts, which can contribute a hint of tartness and characteristic “funky” flavors and aromas, sometimes compared to leather, smoke, and “horse blanket.” In a development that would make Pasteur, the father of biogenesis (as well as his method for halting it, pasteurization) roll in his grave, brewers, especially in the United States, have embraced the time-honored Belgian art of deliberately infecting beer with the same “wild” bugs that generations of their predecessors so painstakingly eradicated. The result: pleasingly sour, food-friendly beer, mysteriously complex and engaging.
Whether (like me) you’ve fallen head over heels in love with sour beers, haven’t encountered them, or have sampled them but not yet been won over by their unique charms, the piece is well worth a read. Check it out here.