Interest in sour beers is growing because they are both “scary” and “intriguing” says Goose Island’s barrel master Bill Savage.
Savage, who spoke about the Australian launch of Goose Island’s Sour Sisters range on Brews News’ Beer is a Conversation podcast this week, said he thinks people are approaching beer in different ways nowadays.
“So, they’re just expanding their horizons,” he said.
“They’re figuring out what they like and what they don’t and sour beer, I think, is scary to some, but intriguing at the same time.”
Though he said pinning down a single reason for their rising popularity was speculative at best.
“I would say the whole movement of craft beer globally has really just shifted people’s interactions with beer in general and made them really rethink that relationship a little bit,” he said.
“It’s still something to just enjoy and, hopefully, like, but craft’s kinda making people more aware of where beer comes from.
“Hopefully you get to know the brewer down the street and have a little bit of a interaction with them beyond just, ‘Hey, thanks for the beer. Much appreciated’.”
“You’ll hopefully be able to be like, ‘Hey, this is an actual art and science and interesting hobby and way of looking at the world.”
The Chicago-based brewery first released the Sour Sisters range as part of the brewery’s Barrel House Collection in 2009, with Savage now responsible for a barrel program of more than 500 barrels of each of the four beers.
Savage said each of the beers was Belgian-inspired but with their own Goose Island twist.
“We put our twist on it, and we are not by any stretch of the imagination doing the kind of farm ales,” he said.
“We don’t live on a farm. We’re in industrial Chicago.
“Luckily, we have access to really great, fresh fruit around us, so especially Michigan and some places even further in Illinois, in the U.S.
“So we take advantage of that and do kind of an homage to traditional, Belgian, lambic brewers and blenders, but it’s definitely a different process, but we’ve always drawn inspiration from really traditional sources. So this is kind of one of those iterations.”
The Sour Sisters range
Halia is the first and lightest beer in the Sour Sisters series and literally means ‘remembrance of a loved one’ in Hawaiian. Brewed with a Cezanne beer base, Savage then added 50 pounds of peaches to the wort, before inoculating it with brettanomyces claussenii. Savage said he chose to use that particular strain of brettanomyces because it plays very well with the lighter and more delicate, almost pineapple characteristics of the beer.
Savage said he would classify Halia as the most drinkable or approachable of the sours.
“It’s got a mild tartness, partly from the peach, but mostly from the wild microflora that are on the fruit that we get in for this beer,” he said.
Lolita is the second beer in the Sour Sisters series and Savage described the base wort as a “kind of Belgian pale ale”, which is then aged in a mixture of red and white wine casks.
“It’s basically a raspberry sour or our take on a framboise, if you’re familiar with Beligan or Lambic beers,” Savage said.
“It’s still pretty approachable, it’s right around seven per cent alcohol, has kind of a ruby hew to it and it smells like fresh raspberries with maybe a touch of oakiness or vanilla.”
With its crisp and refreshing mouthfeel that’s like “biting into a raspberry”, Savage said that Lolita is one of his favourites.
“It’s just got a lot of kind of light, fruity notes, but it’s not delicate, it’s definitely tart.”
“You know you’re drinking a sour when you have it, but it’s not so tart that it’s going to overwhelm your palate, I don’t think, but I’ve been drinking sours for a long time.”
Gillian is the third beer in the Sour Sisters series and is brewed using the same base beer as Halia. Despite coming from the same wort, Savage said that Gillian is very different to Halia. Savage added about 20 pounds of honey to the beer, as well as fresh strawberries and white pepper, before being partially aged in white wine casks.
“It’s a kind of foodie or a restauranteur beer,” he said.
“We also add brettanomyces for some kind of barnyard – I don’t think we get quite horse-blanket character from it but it’s definitely a bit tart.”
“It’s not quite as sour as Lolita, but it has a lot more complexity to it and it highlights some of the oak characteristics that are in there.”
“It’s just amazing and if anyone has a chance, you should definitely give it a go.”
Madame Rose is the fourth and final beer in the Sour Sisters series. While it had some of the least amount of ingredients added to it, Savage said that Madame Rose is the most sour and most complex beer of them all. Starting out as a simple brown ale, Madame Rose was then inoculated with a “cocktail” of microflora additions, before being blended with 50 pounds of fresh Michigan cherries and put to red wine barrels.
“We basically just blend it in, but we also add two different strains of brettanomyces, lactobacillus and pediococcus.”
This, said Savage, helps the brew to develop better over time and will remain in cask for a year and a half. Extended aging time allows the lactobacilli to slowly take over and really shine through.
“That’s why this one ends up being quite a bit more sour, but we like that,” Savage said.
“Madame Rose is a rich kind of cherry flavor bomb.”
Goose Island Sour Sisters series is available at Dan Murphy’s, Vintage Cellars and BoozeBud.