The tartness, the pucker, the bacterial strangeness and perfection that you can’t find in any other kind of beer — yes, I’m talking about Sour Ales. I loosely compare Sours to IPAs; both have one ingredient that tries to overpower the beer, both need to be balanced, yet showcase that ingredient’s strength to be delicious, and both can vary vastly depending on the style and amount of their key ingredient. With IPA’s, the ingredient is hops, with Sours it’s Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus, and Pediococcus. These bacteria are usually feared by brewers because of their ability to take over any flavor that gets in their way, but brewers today seem to deal with them better, and are producing remarkable sour beers. Some of our favorites are Tart of Darkness, Petite Mutant, and Supplication.
Just like other beverages, the experience of drinking a Sour can be supercharged by pairing it with the perfect meal. The fun comes in how you want to pair it, do you want to compliment the flavors, showing off a mingling of matching flavors, do you want to try contrasting a Sour to allow it’s tartness to offset or cut through other strong flavors, or do you want to use the Sour flavor as a palate cleanser, like pickled ginger for sushi? Or, you could follow my lead, throw caution to the wind and do all three!
When pairing a meal to compliment the flavors of a Sour, you should treat it like any highly acidic food. Think tart green apples, balsamic vinegar, or lemon juice. Also, since we’re thinking of complimenting, think of what kind of flavors are in the beer, and find a food with those flavors. Fresh citrus fruits like limes and grapefruits go well with Sours, so a ceviche would be a delicious complimentary pairing. Want a southern flare? Get some fried green tomatoes, the unripened tartness is a perfect match. Along those lines, tomatillos have a wonderful tartness, opt for enchiladas with green sauce. But I can’t have a Sour without tasting a slight sour-cherry flavor making tart cherry pies are a great match. Try this recipe from epicurious.com!
I can’t possibly talk contrasting sour without instantly thinking sweet. This is a classic pair for a reason, sweet and sour can match so perfectly that it’ll make stopping your meal nearly impossible. Sweet and sour chicken? Amazing. Sweet and sour pork? Culinary heaven. America’s number one cocktail, the margarita, kicks the sweetness of Triple Sec with acidity of limes or sour mix. But we’re not looking for a food that is already sweet and sour, we’re looking for sweet foods that when eaten with the sour make the sum of their parts taste better than their individual entities. Think sweet potato soup, coconut shrimp, or grilled pineapple and teriyaki chicken. A real winner, and a fun way to start your day, would be this blueberry crepe recipe!
Sours are great at many things, one of those is cutting through rich, fatty, savory flavors. Bratwursts, fatty cuts of beef, and Foie Gras. I actually had a sandwich the other week at Revolution Brewing, in Chicago, that I wish I would have enjoyed with a sour. This Crispy Pork Belly And Egg sandwich was rich, fatty, savory, and absolutely delicious. A side of their garlic mashed potatoes was another layer for a Sour to help wash down, and renew my palate making each bite taste like the very first one.
Sours are beers that have unique yet versatile flavors. Their bacterial tartness lends itself to complimentary, contrasting, and palate cleansing meals. It is easy to have a bad pairing with Sours because they have such strong flavors that they can overpower a delicate meal. With that in mind, please, pair responsibly.