With the popularity of both hop-forward IPAs and sour beers, it is surprising that so few brewers add aromatic hops to their mixed-fermentation beers. I suspect that many brewers are scared off of brewing a hoppy sour after hearing that hops can inhibit souring bacteria or that sourness and bitterness clash (both of which are true).
The key to success is the way in which the ingredients are brought together. In the case of the two beers I'm drinking tonight, Nathan and I allowed the base beer to sour in a wine barrel for more than three years (solera style) prior to dry hopping briefly right before bottling. This is the easiest way as it imparts a huge aroma, but minimal bitterness. As an added bonus, Brettanomyces scavenges oxygen as the beer ages in the bottle, protecting the hop character from “turning” as it does in so many IPAs.
Appearance – Ever so faintly hazy vibrant yellow. The retention of the white head is rather brief, typical for a long-aged sour.
Smell – Subtly herbaceous compared to the straight bottling. Not enough to cover the underlying vinous/citrus or faint maltiness. Very clean, no big funky Brett character, considering the age and fermentation.
Taste – Firm acidity, that fades to a bit of the classic “Cheerios” character in the finish that I get in my young/pale sours. The winey notes from the barrel and the hay and lemon from the microbes get along nicely with the hops. Comes across very lambic-like, positively Hanssens-esque I’d say.
Mouthfeel – Dry, but not thin. Solid carbonation. Nothing I would change.
Drinkability & Notes – The lingering cereal note in the finish detracts from the drinkability slightly, but this is still an excellent beer. When the hops were a little fresher I didn’t pick up that toastiness, and hopefully it will clean itself up with a couple more months in the bottle.
Solera on Citra/Mosaic/Nelson
Appearance – Ditto, other than pouring with a slightly smaller head.
Smell – Wow. An aroma that doesn’t just leap, but explodes out of the glass. Huge juicy layers of peach and tropical fruit. When I shared this beer with a couple of the brewers at Modern Times, they doubted that there was no fruit added. At once both reminiscent of the hops used and completely unique. Considering the hops went in four months ago, they still come across fresh. The only shame is that the base beer smells excellent on its own, and the hops obscure most of it.
Taste – The acidity comes across as mellower than the Sterling’d portion. Rounder. Tangy certainly, but the less aggressive. The “Cheerios” character is nowhere to be found. The bright fruitiness lasts through into the finish, fresh squeezed orange juice especially.
Mouthfeel – Feels fuller, sticky, almost oily. Carbonation is similar.
Drinkability & Notes – It is remarkable how beer that spent three years together and then received identical treatment other than the hop varieties could diverge so wildly. This is one of my favorite sour beers I’ve ever brewed, complex, drinkable, and surprising.