Thursday, August 01, 2013

A Matter of Style

In case you haven't yet heard, today is officially National IPA Day. No Atomizer, it is not a national holiday (report to the office immediately) although hard core IPA fans no doubt treat it as such and are celebrating accordingly.

IPAs are the rock stars of the craft beer world. There's an official Site of IPA, which describes the style as the "flagship of the craft beer movement." Anyone with even a passing familiarity of craft beers is likely well acquainted with the style and even some of its history (although they may not know the real story of the origins of IPA).

A less well known beer style that's all the rage among the geekiest of the beer geek crew (guys with beards mostly) these days is sour. I have yet to jump on the sour bandwagon and this piece from the New Yorker called A Brief History of Sour Beer helps explains why the style may not be for everyone:

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.

At brewing conventions these days, the best-attended lectures aren’t about hops. They’re about inoculating wood barrels with wild yeast, with slide shows of oozing bungs and anti-oxidative pellicles. Brewers have put the lessons to use, releasing hundreds of commercial examples of American sour ales. These sometimes have lofty, even sacerdotal names: there’s Allagash’s Resurgam (“I shall rise again”) and Russian River Brewing’s Consecration, for starters. With pH akin to good Pinot Noir, the best make it onto serious menus. The worst taste of nail-polish remover, rotten apple, coconut, or the dreaded “baby diaper.” A consistent product is notoriously tricky to pull off; brewers might be said to guide, rather than master, the beers, hoping for serendipity. Amid all the trial and error, ancient brewing history is repeating, spreading around the nation one foamy, infected-on-purpose barrel at a time: to Billings, Montana; Athens, Ohio; Tampa; L.A.; Brooklyn (of course). Where next?

When there's a chance that the beer you're cracking may taste like a dirty diaper you're operating in a high risk/reward environment. It might be a while before we're celebrating National Sour Day.