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

Indeed Brewing Company

Indeed brewer Adam Theis, Photo by Aaron Davidson // Growler Magazine

Indeed brewer Adam Theis // Photo by Aaron Davidson, The Growler

Mixed-culture fermenting can involve a lot of barrels. At Indeed Brewing Company’s off-site facility in St. Paul, half the space is dedicated to cold storage and the other half is their barrel room—a cavernous space lined with 250 barrels, including ones that previously held white and red wine, whiskey, tequila, and rum (this is separate of nearly 300 more barrels Indeed dedicates to Rum King and Whiskey Queen).

There was no barrel trial period at Indeed, they jumped in head-first with 100 barrels in spring 2014 and added 200 within the next calendar year. Indeed Brewer Adam Theis explains his preference for the wood-aged sour:

“The depth of a wood-aged sour beer and a kettle sour beer, there’s no comparison in depth because over that long aging period there’s so many transitions that happen. One compound is converted to another—all these evolutionary phases where you have this flavor but then it couples with another compound to create a new compound and you only get those with extended time and the right organisms.”

Indeed’s Wooden Soul series relies on coaxing these new flavors from their panoply of oak. Still, it’s a learning curve—they’re in the wait-and-see-what-happens phase. A beer will age at Indeed for one to two years, and each barrel may have only been used once, maybe twice, so far. It will take a little while for each barrel build up its own unique bug community before Theis knows exactly how each barrel will produce which qualities in a beer. He’s excited for when he has a better understanding of what each barrel will do and the timeline it’ll take to get there.

“Each one’s an experiment,” Theis says. “The whole project is an experiment. When we put Heliotropic in the barrels, we didn’t know that it was going to end up the way it did, but we’re really happy that it ended up the way it did. Some people said ‘You should age it longer’ or do this or that and for us that wasn’t the point. We really like it the way it is now. This is what we want people to have.”

Within the next month, Indeed will be installing two new 60-barrel foudres in their sour facility. The short term goal is to use the foudres for a steady production of a couple sours (one being Heliotropic, a Brett saison) and continue the Wooden Soul series as one-off releases whenever the barrels make them ready.

Fair State Brewing Cooperative

Barrels at Fair State Brewing Co-op

Barrels at Fair State Brewing Co-op // Photo by Brian Kaufenberg

The quickest way to produce a sour beer is by way of kettle-souring—when wort is fermented with an acid-producing bacteria for a few days, before it’s boiled and fermented again using traditional brewer’s yeasts. This allows a brewery to sour a beer, but kill off the acidic bacteria before it contaminates the brewery’s fermentation vessels. Fair State Brewing Cooperative’s LÄCTOBÄC Series is a popular local example.

“I think kettle-souring has its place,” says Fair State head brewer Niko Tonks. “For us, it’s how we produce Berliner weisse, the Roselle, beers that are quick and designed to be very drinkable—beer with added acidity.” If you’ve never had a sour beer before, kettle sours are an approachable, balanced entry point.

Though brewers don’t stick to just one style of sour production. Most of Fair State’s work with sours has been with their barrel program. Beneath the Fair State taproom is a hallway crammed to capacity with a long row of barrels. They’re stacked two-high, each with an air-lock stopper percolating from the slow release of gas from the fermenting beer.

“We’ve been emptying and filling barrels down here like crazy, but we haven’t released much of it yet,” Tonks says, with Rye Falutin’ and Wild Rover being the two primary releases of barrel-fermented barrel-aged sours. “So we had all this beer ready to go,” Tonks recalls, “so let’s have a party to get this stuff out.”

Hence, Fair State’s Mixed Culture, a release party in late June which featured seven previously unreleased barrel-fermented concoctions. The most popular from that event, Citra Sour, has since been released in bottles, and won best beer at the 2016 All Pints North festival in Duluth.

Fair State will release several more sours in the coming months and years. They’re even working towards a sour with a recognizable house style. “The goal is to have a beer available all the time, that’s a mixed-culture beer, fermented in stainless, that’s relatively young and not overwhelmingly sour,” Tonks says.

Next page: Boom Island & Oakhold

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