For those familiar with this blog, the concept of sour beers isn’t ground-breaking or earth-shattering. The concept of sour beers is a delicious one however, and it’s a market that is beginning to expand as craft brewers seek to push the boundaries of ‘everyday’ beer drinkers and their taste-buds.
The most common – and original – sour beers are lambics, beers brewed using wild yeast cells and the process of spontaneous fermentation – where brewers make beer in an open vat and allow naturally occurring bacteria in the local environment to kick-start the brewing process. It’s an approach polar opposite to the bright, clean, stainless copper vats used in the modern industry, but it’s an approach that certainly makes unique beer.
Additionally, saisons, farmhouse ales, and other styles of beer can be ‘made’ sour through the introduction of acid-producing microbes into the brewing process. Once the beer has been brewed with such microbes, it is aged – often in barrels which previously held cognac, bourbon, or other assorted spirits or wines – with fruit used to balance out the sourness and ‘freshen up’ the beer before it is bottled and sold.
The length of ageing and amount of sourness in a beer are as varied as the types of sour beers you can now find. Some aim for a truly puckering finish, others have a mild sourness to add subtle tartness to the mix, and some aim for a sweet-n-sour flavour. Most of them however, are just brilliant drops. Breweries in the Australian craft brewing scene have been producing saisons and farmhouse ales – known for their earthy, funky tastes – in larger batches of late, and this experimentation has led to a rise in the brewing of sour beers.
Wig & Pen (operating out of Canberra) produced their ‘Lambs Go Baa’, a cherry lambic that spent 18 months aging in the barrel. Van Diemen Brewing (from Evandale in Tasmania) brewed their ‘Hedgerow’, an autumn seasonal beer that incorporated berries and was aged in pinot noir barrels. Red Duck (a brewery well known to this blog) took sourness to new levels with their Canute the Gruiter – a beer brewed based on a 15h century Dark Sour Ale recipe. Also, MoonDog (operating in Abbotsford in Victoria) have put forward the ‘Perverse Sexual Amalgam’ – a dark wild ale brewed with cherry plums, and the ‘Mister Mistoffelees’ – a passionfruit and mango wild ale.
All of which brings me to Feral Brewing’s Watermelon Warhead.
Feral Brewing Company is a microbrewery operating in the Swan Valley in Western Australia – an area more widely known for its wines and vineyards. They produce a wide range of beers, although are most famous for their Feral White (witbier) and their HopHog (an American IPA). They do – as most quality microbreweries do these days – also experiment with a variety of beer styles.
One of their most popular is their funky/sour/wild ale brewing, part of which saw the invention of the Feral Watermelon Warhead. Obviously named after the confectionary loved by kids everywhere, this beer popped up at the Great Australasian Beer SpecTapular earlier this year, and was one of my favourites.
The beer was produced using local watermelons, before being aged in Chardonnay barrels using some lactobacillus yeast. For those of you playing along at home, yes that is the bacteria that most of us associate with yoghurt and Yakult.
Its tart, with citrus (in particular lemon) and strong watermelon notes, has zest and funk, sourness that comes through towards when you swallow your mouthful, and tops it all off with a long, clean, crisp, super-refreshing finish. And to top it off, it’s one you drink a lot of, weighing in at just 2.9%. It’s a beer that you don’t really know what to expect when you look at it – in its cloudy, yellow, murky, bubbly guise, but when you drink it you wonder why you ever doubted if you would like it in the first place!