The State of Sours: An update on Minnesota’s funkiest beers

Bemidji Brewing

Bemidji Brewing Berliner weisse // Photo via facebook.com/bemidjibeer

Bemidji Brewing Berliner weisse // Photo via facebook.com/bemidjibeer

Bemidji Brewing’s sour beer program kicked off in 2014 with the release of its Flanders-style red ale, aged in three large wine barrels that were tucked into the corner of the old brewery. Since then, the brewery’s sour program has been slowly unfurling. In July of 2015, the brewery released bottles of its 2015 Flanders-style red ale, aged for eight months in barrels and three more months with blackberries and raspberries, as well as a Berliner weisse on draft at the taproom. The enthusiasm from locals for sour beers was a pleasant surprise to the head brewer Tom Hill.

“It’s fun to see so many people excited about our sour program; these beers can be obscure, approachable, traditional, and new all at the same time,” said Hill, before the 2015 bottle release. “I think the industry will be seeing lots of growth in sour and wild beers in the near future.”

Since then, Bemidji has made several other styles of sour beers, including a barrel aged golden sour ale, an oud bruin, and variations of Berliner weisse—a style the brewery hopes to keep on tap more consistently.

Fitger’s Brewhouse

Fitger's Brewhouse Wild Cherry Sour // Photo via facebook.com/fitgersbrewhouse

Fitger’s Brewhouse Wild Cherry Sour // Photo via facebook.com/fitgersbrewhouse

Fitger’s Brewhouse was winning awards in sours before the majority of Minnesota’s breweries were even in existence. In fact, the Duluth brewpub has brewed sour beers since 1998, according to former head brewer Dave Hoops.

Fitger’s Brewhouse Framboise, a Belgian-style Lambic aged for three years in oak barrels with the addition of raspberries, took third place in the wild beer category at the 2008 Festival of Wood and Barrel-Aged Beers, and was decorated with a bronze medal at the 2012 GABF.

The Brewhouse has also released Duluth Sour, a Lambic-style beer brewed in September of 2012, and Wild Cherry Sour, a mildly sour version of their popular Cherry Batch Anniversary Ale that uses a half-ton of Door County cherries.

Excelsior Brewing

Excelsior Peach Kettle Sour // Photo via excelsiorbrewing.com

Excelsior Peach Kettle Sour // Photo via excelsiorbrewing.com

Excelsior first got into sours with offerings like last January’s Barrel-Aged Whiskey Sour Ale with Brettanomyces and ginger root, and MinneGose, a slightly tart gose made with acidulated malt released last April.

This July though, Excelsior Brewing decided to jump into a new variety of sours. In a blog post announcing its new sour beers, the brewery drew an interesting parallel between sour beers and the latest gaming craze—Pokemon Go. In the brewery’s estimation, “Pokemon GO is a phenomenon because it took something people already enjoyed and enhanced it with technology. It is an evolution. The game was re-imagined and updated with some clear advantages.”

In the same way, says Excelsior, the world of sour beers has been changed by the introduction of kettle souring. The process allows small brewers, who don’t have the space or resources to isolate wild yeasts and bacteria from the rest of their brewhouse, achieve “the distinctive flavor profile of sours in small batches without the drawbacks and hazards,” Excelsior Brewing explains.

The brewery jumped feet-first into kettle sours, releasing three kettle sour beers in the taproom on July 21: Peach Kettle Sour is a 4.7% ABV kettle soured ale brewed with fresh peach; Apricot Kettle Sour, a 5.4% ABV kettle soured beer that balances the tartness of the sour with the sweet earthiness of apricot; and Raspberry Kettle Sour, a 5.2% ABV sour loaded with fresh raspberries.

Next page: More Minnesota-made sours

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