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Why you shouldn't be sour about sours!

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Kim Lentjes

Why you shouldn't be sour about sours!

Usually when people think of sour, it isn’t necessarily positive. It works the same with beer. Acetic, lactic acid and vinegar are off-flavors in beer that usually are highly unwanted. So why would someone organize a whole festival about these kinds of sour and/or dry beers?

First of all, sour and dry beers are hot. A few years ago the IPA was the biggest thing, especially the West Coast IPA, but now the trends lean more towards the sour and dry beers. The IPA remains popular, deservingly so, and I could say a lot about the new style New England IPA, but for now I am focusing my attention to the so called sour and dry beers. Because man! They can be absolutely wonderful beers!


That these types of beers are so hot and happening now is not coincidental. The beer market is evolving constantly. I spoke earlier of off flavors in beer, and yes, in a Belgian Blond or Triple a sour flavor generally speaking is an off-flavor. But, with certain yeasts, whether or not in combination with certain bacteria, can create very interesting (sour) tastes and aromas. A brewer would have to know what he is doing, because it is not easy to use these yeasts well, but, when done right, the beers are fantastic. Yeast is, as the main organizer of the festival Carnivale Brettanomyces so greatly put it ‘the soul, the center and the all of the beer’.

Some famous examples of this style of beer is a Saison, or a beer from a Trappist Brewery I visited recently, a wonderful dry and fruity Orval. In Europe the Belgians have been lord and master of these types of beers. In the Senne valley, near Brussels, people discovered that certain fruits carried an organism that, when used in the brewing process, produced a wonderful development of aromas and flavors. It took a while before they named it and knew exactly what it was, but eventually it was named Brettanomyces, lovingly shortened to Brett. Brett is a family of yeast that is used often in the brewing process, as well as in wine making. It can be used in combination or pure, you can add fruit during brewing that carries the yeast, or what happens a lot now too, you can use barrels that contains the yeast for an extra dimension. The final product then is, traditionally, a kriek, geuze or a saison.

But, and here it is, brewers nowadays do so much more with yeast and bacteria, and certainly not just the Belgian brewers. The result of this is an unimaginable complexity of flavors and aromas and so it is no wonder you can dedicate a whole festival to it! As the true ‘enfant terrible’ in the world of brewing, because you can easily call brett that, this festival helps the people understand how incredibly complex and influential and even determining the yeast is for a beer. Yeast is far more than just an alcohol and yeast pooping little organism. Yes it is hip, yes it is delicious, but it is also so incredibly interesting! The variety of tastes and aromas is so incredibly big, you can hardly imagine. You can brew a beer and let it age on barrels with brett, you can use brett in combination with bacteria, you can use it in a second fermentation, you can add it with fruits, and so much more. So, in short, it is very multidimensional. That is exactly what is happening now. And when it is done right, like for instance at Crooked Stave or what Tommy Sjef is doing, the result is a beer that is a delight to drink. It can be (intentionally!) sour, but also funky, dry, complex, fruity (also without added fruits) or with many more aromas and flavors.


In Brazil there is a new beer style called Catarina sours, which is like a Berliner Weisse but with added Brazilian fruits. In Belgium they have been using this yeast for years, and also in the US the styles are very popular. Even Germany has its dry or sour beer styles like a Gose, Berliner Weisse or even a Weizen. In the Netherlands it took a while to get used to it, and it is still an ongoing process. And that is exactly why a festival, a carnivale, a party of flavors, aromas and complexity, in Amsterdam (where, next to Rotterdam most trends seem to start) should take place. Are you thirsty yet? No? Then let me try to persuade you further. Many famous brewers from many different countries will be there (like Yazoo, de Garde, Bokkereyder and Tommy Sjef), as will representatives, blenders, influencers, barrel agers and other beer people. You will also find beer geeks, beer enthusiasts and basically just people who enjoy beer, trends, complexity and flavor. Besides all the wonderful people that will be there, there will be various events such as food pairings, tap take-overs, lectures, masterclasses, live blendings, guest speakers and tastings. Besides the previously mentioned breweries there will be some pretty amazing breweries present. Cloudwater and Funk Factory for instance. Roel Mulder will tell some amazing stories, h. Ertie and Trois Dames will do live blend sessions and Richard Preis will do a masterclass on how to homebrew with Brett. There will be beer dinners with 3 Fonteinen, Nevel, Tommy Sjef and Kent Falls Brewing.


So, as a thirst causer, a propeller, a bon vivant person, I would like to urge you all to embrace this trend, this wonderful development in the world of brewing and go to Amsterdam. Go to Carnivale Brettanomyces from June 21-24 to, for instance if you haven’t discovered it yourself, or because you have, to immerse yourself in the wonderful world of wild yeast, bacteria, fruit, barrel aging and complexity! I, of course, will also be there!

PS. There are many things to do those days in all the bars that are involved in the event (like In de Wildeman, Foeders and het Arendsnest), but for some events you need tickets. Besides tap takeovers, tastings, masterclasses and guestspeakers, there are many things that are worth the time and effort. Curious? Make sure you stay up to date by following Carnivale Brettanomyces on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and get your tickets on time if you want to go to certain specific events. But, trust me, even without visiting one of those really special (tickets required) tastings or other events, this festival surely is something amazing and is well worth the visit!!

Over de auteur


Kim Lentjes

Internationaal Biersommelier (Doemens/Siebel/BeerAcademy) en eigenaar Dutch Beer Academy. Jureert, traint, adviseert, proeft en schrijft over bier.

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