Bitter Isn't Always Better: Sours and Goses Offer Wider Appeal than IPAs

All images property of their respective brands.

At the SAVOR craft beer and culinary event in Washington, D.C. this past June, more than 80 craft breweries from around the country poured brews pairing with small plates. Not surprisingly, the ever-popular IPA category was well represented.

What was surprising were the number of sours and Goses also available to taste, which brewers touted can be more refreshing and better partners with food than bitter beers made with the goal of out-hopping one another. (They aren’t nearly as tiresome on the palate, either.)

For operators who want to add sours to their beverage programs or expand their existing offerings, we asked five top brewers around the country—production manager for DC Brau Christopher Graham, owner and founder of TailGate Beer Wesley Keegan, co-founder and CEO of Sun King Brewing Company Clay Robinson, beer director and partner of Bluejacket Greg Engert, and co-founder and director of brewing operations for Iron Hill Brewing Mark Edelson—to weigh in on why these tart and tangy suds are definitely having a moment:

Let’s start with the basics. What’s the difference between a sour and a Gose?

Edelson: Sour beers use wild yeast (usually lactobacillus, brettanomyces or pediococcus) to intentionally produce a tart flavor. Sour beers come in many styles including Gose; some of the [other] more popular styles are Berliner Weisse, Lambic and Flanders Red Ale. Wild yeast introduces a certain level of unpredictability into the brewing process, which allows brewers to experiment and may also mean that the beer can take months to ferment to achieve the desired flavor profile.

Graham: All Goses are sours, but not all sours are Goses. Without getting too complicated, Goses contain an addition of salt (and traditionally coriander) at some point during the brewing or fermentation process—this is what lends a Gose its salinity. From a production standpoint, most Goses in the US are produced via the "kettle sour" method which is a quick turnaround way of making a sour beer.

Why is this category trending?

Engert: The category has long been popular but is certainly trending at an increased pace. Sours, like Gose, are increasingly receiving massive fruit treatments that leave them tasting super juicy, often rich and sweet on the palate, and undeniably delicious. The fruit intensity is pushing these styles further beyond just the interest of beer geeks and into the realm of casual craft beer drinkers along with macro-Lager drinkers. Wine and cocktail drinkers are also finding plenty to love about these brews, since the juicy acidity—and the exuberant fruit character that often accompanies—finds parallel in the drinks they typically enjoy.

Robinson: Sour and wild beers appeal to craft drinkers, but they also help bring new drinkers into the category because of their unique flavor characteristics. They are often aged in wine barrels and tend to be more appealing to people who don't generally think of themselves as beer people. Likewise, as beer drinkers’ palates continue to grow and change, people are looking for new taste adventures and sour/wild beer definitely offers that.

Graham: Drinkers enjoy the newfangled drinking experience that the Gose gives them. It's sour, slightly salty, and refreshing; who can argue against that?

Do you think they’re a reaction to all the IPAs on shelves and menus?

Keegan: I don't think the two are related; that'd be like comparing whiskey to vodka sales. They're completely different products. I think broadly speaking, craft beer fans enjoy the adventure to tasting and learning new styles. An IPA ten years ago is radically different than an IPA today. Even present day, styles vary by region. But I do think that if you like trying new beers, this is another step into that rabbit hole.

Engert: I definitely think that people, by-and-large, prefer sweet (and sweet and sour) flavors to those that are more bitter. While countless guests love bitter IPAs, many don't, so these styles definitely appeal to additional drinking preferences. Also, those that love the latter do often enjoy the former, so there is a bit of mass appeal happening with these tart, often somewhat sweet and fruit-forward beers.

Can Goses and sours be great crossover beers for crisp white wine fans?

Engert: The over-arching effect (of a Gose) is a crisp and quenching brew, with vibrant but measured tartness, a modicum of wheat sweetness followed by a dry finish, hints of light spice, lemony notes in the nose, and a gentle briney quality as well. I have turned many a Sauvignon Blanc drinker on to Gose, but I find that it is even more suited to those who love Muscadet or Assyrtiko.

Edelson: We find ourselves meeting tons of newcomers to craft beer. If someone says they mostly drink wine, we'll start with a Gose, sour or our housemade cider. That's three options with a huge range to choose from. All our taprooms have roughly 30 choices, so if you say you like a Sauv Blanc, we start with a nice fruited Berliner Weisse and work from there.

What food pairings can you suggest for sours and Goses?

Keegan: Fruits, cheeses, seafood, citrus dishes.... Light fare. Anything that would be a great aperitif or refreshing snack is always a great choice. When you get into the world of wild fermentation you can get much bigger, busier beers that would really do well with a [heartier] meal. But for the typical kettle sour or Gose, think crisp and refreshing.

Edelson:  The sour-salty balance of Gose beers makes them the perfect pairing to the fresh, seasonal dishes ranging from a seafood ceviche with mangos to blackened shrimp tacos with habanero pineapple salad or a watermelon feta salad and peach crisp with vanilla ice cream. 

Graham: With a Gose, try seafood. I like to go with shellfish (shrimp, crab, etc.). With sours, seek out a fruited sour that would pair well with dessert. Think Framboise Lambic with flourless chocolate cake.

Beers to try

Sun King Brewing Cherry Busey beer

Sun King Brewing Cherry Busey: A Flanders-style Oud Bruin Ale produced with wild yeasts and aged in different berries. Montmorency cherries were added to give it its tart cherry tang.

Bluejacket Circus Gose beer

Bluejacket Circus: A traditional German-style Gose brewed with wheat, coriander and, salt and finished with huge amounts of local, Virginia-grown blueberries (three pounds per gallon).

Iron Hill Brewery Tropical Blast Gose

Iron Hill Tropical Blast Gose: Vibrant flavors of blood orange and pineapple stand out in this tropics-inspired beer. It starts off juicy, slightly sour, and totally refreshing and evolves to a subtle, salty finish.

TailGate Cucumber Gose: Refreshing, salty and clean, this Gose is great by itself or in beertails.

DC Brau and Cape May Brewing Co. Rosé du Gosé

DC Brau Rosé du Gosé: A one-time, limited edition collaboration with Cape May Brewing Co., this beer was inspired by the popularity of pink wine. Large additions of strawberry and peach purees were used, and the final product has a pink hue, a flavor of rosé, and a good balance of acidity and salinity. (May still be available on a limited basis.)

Kelly Magyarics, DWS, is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com, or on Twitter and Instagram @kmagyarics.