The Brewer's Eye-View
The beer that people normally drink is brewed “clean”—meaning without using wild yeast or acid-making bacteria—unlike sour beers, which rely on those additions. But that’s not to say sour beers are “dirty.” They’re unique, erratic, mysterious.
Oh, and fun to make.
“I love the invested time and eff ort and the understanding of the beer’s truths,” says Eric Drew, co-founder and brewer at Oxnard’s Casa Agria Specialty Ales. “It’s the blending of art and science.”
Conventional brewing is measured and precise, key for consistency and quality control—and for what consumers expect. Wild beer can be governed, too, “but only to a point,” says Eric, who advanced to the final round of the 2014 National Homebrew Competition in the sour beer category.
“Once the wort is offered to the ‘bugs’ and open air, art becomes a brewer’s tool to manage variables out of his/her control. Blending different barrels into one package allows a form of consistency from batch to batch, year to year, and this is only guided by the blender’s palate.”
Sours vary as much as their appeal. For the oenophile, it’s a fairly seamless switch from wine to barrel-aged beers. Foodies will dig the acidity and paring potential. Beer geeks are drawn to them for the outlier mystique, aging and complexity.
As for brewers themselves?
“When you’ve nurtured a sour for a year or more, you develop a close understanding—almost a relationship—with it,” Eric says. “You’ve created a home for it, fed it, watched it evolve and mature, but it becomes its own final product. It’s parental, in a way. Sometimes the beer doesn’t turn out like you’d hoped; other times, it makes you so proud, you could just burst with pride.”
Casa Agria Specialty Ales (CasaAgria.com) is looking to open its Oxnard taproom early 2016. (The first bottle release is already allocated to CASA Bottle Club members.) By spring, they plan to have monthly releases. Casa Agria’s wild ales and farmhouse style ales also will be available on tap at the Twisted Oak Tavern in Agoura Hills (TwistedOakTavern.pub).
Michael Kew is a freelance writer, photographer, filmmaker and sour beer aficionado. He is the author of Crossings, a collection of 10 years of travel writing, with 35 chapters about 10 of Earth’s surfiest zones.