Shawn Doyle, chef-owner of Savory Grille in Macungie, readily recalls his first love (of the sour beer kind): Duchesse De Bourgogne. This traditional Flemish Red Ale, made by Brouwerij Verhaeghe in Belgium for more than a century, is brewed with deeply roasted malt, then double-fermented before being matured in oak barrels. The result is a refined sour beer with a lovely reddish-brown hue. In addition, its food-friendly character extends from pairing to cooking – from sweet dessert sauces to savory stews.
Doyle expounds on the natural affinity between sour beers and food. “Personally, I like adding a tart component to a dish with a beverage,” he explains. “If you have something really sweet or really fatty, like a rich cheese or salmon, that tartness cuts through” – essentially doing a mini-palate cleanse – “and you’re adding another dimension to the taste.” He also notes you have to “watch what kind of sour you’re dealing with. Guezes can be so acidic, with a ton of grapefruit flavor. I don’t like to drink them by themselves: I have to have those with food. However, Goses are more nuanced, with a little sea salt and coriander taste. Some sour styles are more quaffable and refreshing, where you could down one or two on their own, like the Duchesse I mentioned. That one is so malty, yet it has a decided tartness that doesn’t become overbearing. It’s a complex beer.” There’s one other aspect of sour beers that this chef finds captivating: the bubbles. “They’re almost like Champagne bubbles,” he says. “They’re elegant.”
With an expansive range of tastes, sour beers can also play a key role in cocktails laced with gin, whiskey, bourbon, mezcal, tequila, or numerous other spirits. For an unexpected ingredient, Doyle recommends including kombucha, a non-alcoholic fermented drink. “They share the same flavor profiles,” he notes. “Beverage is like food to me: When someone’s doing it right, you get this perfectly balanced cocktail – with sweetness and tartness – that has complexity from one end to the other.” Near limitless flavor combinations should serve as a spur to creativity. So start drinking! (As if you needed that suggestion.)