Sour beer – a forgotten beer style brought back to life

a small glass of beer
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Whether it’s lambic, Berliner Weisse, or gose: Sour beers are currently enjoying more international popularity than ever before. But what makes them so special?

Sour beer only exists in Belgium: or at least that’s what most beer drinkers think. In actual fact, these highly aromatic brews have a long tradition here in Germany. In Berlin, for example, ‘Berliner Weisse’ was once the most popular tipple. 150 years ago, there were still around 200 breweries in what is now the country’s capital that specialized in this type of beer. However, such sour white beers then faced the brink of extinction.

Thanks to the craft beer movement, people are now experimenting with sour beer styles across the globe, either on the basis of ancient recipes or in the form of new interpretations with exotic ingredients. In Berlin, there is now one particular creative brewer who has devoted herself to the Berliner Weisse. With her ‘Schneeeule’ brand, Ulrike Genz wants to reunite the city with a piece of its cultural heritage, but without resorting to combining it with sickly sweet woodruff or raspberry syrup. Instead, this native Berliner prefers to add jasmine or elderflower syrup to her brew, which is gaining in popularity among consumers.

Another traditional German sour beer is ‘gose’. The ancient birthplace of this beer is said to be Goslar, in the Harz mountains. There, beer was brewed using water from a small river called the Gose. This style of beer then became established in the Leipzig area. Originally, a gose would be flavored with salt, or sometimes with coriander or nutmeg. But now, brewers in the USA, Canada, the Netherlands, and elsewhere are interpreting and modernizing the style in their very own way.

In Belgium, sour beers have long been enjoyed as an aperitif or as an accompaniment to food. There, connoisseurs partake of lambics, which are often flavored with fruits such as cherries, red currants, or peaches during the brewing process. Another example is gueuze, which is made by blending not yet fully mature lambics and leaving them to ferment for a while longer in the bottle. The most renowned brands are Lindemans and Brasserie Cantillon in the Brussels area, and Rodenbach in the province of West Flanders.

The key characteristics of sour beers are their acidity and freshness. Often, these brews are left in the cask or bottle to ferment for twelve months or more. In addition, they usually keep for many years. Especially now that we are entering the summer months, this beer is likely to experience a revival in all its forms. Due to their complex flavors, gose, lambic, and Berliner Weisse are a perfect match for cheese (link to cheese post).

To find out more, visit the place2beer at drinktec, where you will find qualified beer sommeliers and innovative brewers willing to share their knowledge, as well as one or two sour beers to try for yourself. In addition, sour beers are now one of the categories at the European Beer Star competition, one of the most renowned in the world. Here, the three best beers are selected in 57 different categories. The jury is made up of master brewers, industry journalists, and beer sommeliers from 30 countries. The public tasting session at the awards, to be held on September 12, will offer every drinktec attendee the opportunity to test and rate top-quality beers from around the world. You’ll be sure to find some trendy sour beers among them.


Mareike Hasenbeck

Mareike Hasenbeck is a freelance journalist with her own craft beer blog (Feiner Hopfen), she is also a beer sommelier and an international expert for beer sensory certified by the DLG (German Agricultural Society).