143 of the Best Sour/Wild Ales, Blind-Tasted and Ranked

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143 of the Best Sour/Wild Ales, Blind-Tasted and Ranked

On some level, what you’re about to read is the most schizophrenic of all Paste blind tastings. Approaching “sour beers” or “wild ales” for this style of tasting is like venturing into a quagmire of conflicting styles and substyles—you’re just hoping to find your way out again, when all is said and done. Every beer just raises further questions about which other beers should be included. Fruited vs. neutral? Kettle sours vs. barrel-aged sours? Different strains of bacteria and wild yeast? How do you compare all of them to each other? And what of other “sour beer” styles that are now better defined in the American market, such as Berliner weisse or gose?

In the end, the only way is to make a decision and stick with it. This is a large tasting, and a wide-ranging one that includes beers from some of the country’s most sought-after sour beer producers. It includes many styles of beer, brewed with a dizzying array of fruits, spices, barrels and strains of funk-forward yeast and bacteria. Some of these beers bear a passing resemblance to each other. Others are so uniquely bizarre that we barely knew what to do with them.

It’s perhaps easiest to simply state which types of beer were NOT included: Saison/farmhouse ale, Berliner weisse and gose. There are plenty of tart saisons, but as you probably recall, we just blind-tasted 116 of them last month. Berliner weisse and gose, on the other hand, are so well established now on their own that each of them really deserves its own tasting—something that we will address in the August tasting, which will tackle gose specifically.

Everything else that is tart in the world of beer can be found in this tasting. Flanders red ales and oud bruins are alongside dry-hopped American kettle sours, which are alongside oak-aged fruited sours and other beers freshly dumped from whiskey or tequila barrels. You might say that the only other requirement is that the beer must be sour—or at least claim to be. So let’s get started, and let the best tart beer win.

A Note on Beer Acquisition

As in most of our blind tastings at Paste, the vast majority of these sours were sent directly to the office by the breweries that choose to participate, with additional beers acquired by us via locally available purchases and the occasional trade. We always do our best to reach out to breweries we’re aware of that make exemplary versions of particular styles, but things always do slip through the cracks. We apologize for a few significant omissions that we couldn’t acquire, either due to seasonality or market shortages. There will never be a “perfect” tasting lineup, much as we continue to try.

Rules and Procedure

- As explained above, this is exclusively a tasting of sour/wild ales, largely determined by how the breweries chose to label their products. Nothing labeled as “saison/farmhouse ale, berliner weisse or gose” was admitted. There was no ABV limit. When in doubt, we simply allow a brewery’s marketing to define a beer’s style, and expect them to stick to the designation they’ve chosen.

- There was a limit of two entries per brewery. The beers were separated into daily blind tastings that approximated a sample size of the entire field.

- Tasters included professional beer writers, brewery owners, brewmasters and beer reps. Awesome, Paste-branded glassware is from Spiegelau.

- Beers were judged completely blind by how enjoyable they were as individual experiences and given scores of 1-100, which were then averaged. Entries were judged by how much we enjoyed them for whatever reason, not by how well they fit any kind of preconceived style guidelines. As such, this is not a BJCP-style tasting.

The Field: Sours/Wild Ales #s 143-51

This was, at times, a confusing and difficult tasting for our judges. Tackling a lineup every afternoon that has beers made with 10 different varieties of fruit can be a perplexing experience for one’s taste buds, and some of the results were unexpected. There were relatively unheralded breweries that performed exceptionally, and some brewers considered among the best in the world that missed out on the ranked portion of the list. In short, it was a good example of the kind of results that make blind tastings so interesting.

The best beers in this tasting were often the ones with some semblance of balance. There are a disproportionate number of beers in The Field that missed out on the top 50 because on some level they were just too bombastic—often too tart, without any balancing quality to rein in all that acid. Rule of thumb: “bile” is not the kind of quality you want to evoke in a fruited sour. If it seems like something that would be best used to shine up tarnished old pennies, your sour beer might be getting away from you a little bit. But at the same time, there are many ways to make an exemplary beer—balance may be one of them, but others you can’t help but love for the purity with which they channel specific flavors. There are examples here that succeed both with bombast and subtlety.

As ever, the following beers are simply listed in alphabetical order, which means they are not ranked. I repeat: These beers are not ranked.

Adirondack Puree: Tart Cherry
Avery Ginger Sour
Ballast Point Sour Wench
Beachwood Blendery Coolship Chaos
Black Project Supercruise
Boneyard Gooze Cruise
Boulevard Love Child #8
Braxton The Pot Calling the Kettle Sour
Braxton Yesterday’s Headlines
Breakside B-Sides # 4
Brewery Vivant Angelina
Burial Fall of the Damned
Burlington Beer Co. You Can’t Get There From Here (Strawberry Rhubarb)
Burlington Beer Co. You Can’t Get There From Here (Blackberry, Black Currant)
Calicraft Zinfandel Sour Ale
Carton Brewing Co. Dune Fruit
Carton Brewing Co. Monkey Chased the Weasel
Casa Agria Heritage Gold
Cascade Brewing Apricot Ale
Cerebral Brewing/TRVE Brain Transplant
Cigar City Lactobacillus Guava Grove
Creature Comforts Triangulation
Destihl St. Dekkera Vuile Blonde
Destihl Synchopathic Sour
Dogfish Head Alternate Takes #5
DuClaw Sour Me This
Epic Oak and Orchard (Blueberry, boysenberry, black currant)
Finch Beer Co. Tacocat
Firestone Walker SLOambic
4 Hands Brewing Co. Kriek
Four Quarters Brewing Sour 47
Fulton Beer Culture Project Series One
Funkwerks Luminoso
Funkwerks Raspberry Provincial
Goose Island Gillian
Goose Island Lolita
Grand Teton Sour Brown
Great Raft You, Me and Everyone We Know 002 (peach)
Great Raft You, Me and Everyone We Know 004 (pluot)
Green Flash Nouveau Tarte
Green Flash Passionfruit Kicker
Half Acre Pennon
Henniker Brewing Co. Sour Flower
Henniker Brewing Co. Queen Pollyana
Hi-Wire Brewing Blackberry Sour
The Hourglass Brewery Violet
Indeed Brewing Co. Lucy
Ipswich Ale Brewery Bramble On
Ipswich Ale Brewery Cranberry Beret
Iron John’s Copper Sky
Jester King Spon (Apricot & Peach)
Kelsen Lucious Sour Brown
Lagunitas Aunt Sally
Lagunitas Dark Swan
Lindemans Cuvee de Rene Kriek
Lost Abbey Framboise de Amorosa
New Belgium La Folie
Night Shift Ever Weisse
NoDa Boba Brett Sour Project
NOLA Out Tequilya
Odell Brazzle
Odell Green Coyote
Ommegang Pale Sour Ale
Orpheus Brewing Like a White Curtain Blowing in the Draft From a Half-Opened Window Beside a Chair on Which Nobody Sits (Yes, this is the actual beer name.)
Oud Beersel Bzart Lambiek
Perennial Artisan Ales Savant Beersel
pFriem Family Brewers Peche
Prairie Apricot Funk
Quest Brewing Co. Funkscursion
Rhinegeist Hurricane
Rodenbach Fruitage
Samuel Adams Grand Cru
Samuel Adams Stony Brook Red
Short’s Anni Ale 13irteen
Silver City Foxy Lady
Sixpoint Stun Gun
Ska Brewing Co. Pink Vapor Stew
Societe The Thief
Straight to Ale Paramecium
Sun King Afterparty
SweetWater Cambium
Thirsty Bear Isidore’s Transfiguration
Three Taverns Blueberry Inceptus
Timmermans Kriek Lambic
Track 7 Chasing Rainbows
Troegs Freaky Peach
TRVE Red Chaos
Upland Brewing Co. Cherry
Upslope Dry Hopped Wild Ale
Vanberg & DeWulf LambickX
Wicked Weed Angel of Darkness
Wild Heaven Beer Joni
Yards Brewing Co. Pynk

Next: The rankings! Sour/Wild Ales #s 50-26

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