The sweet success of sour beer | Food | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

The sweet success of sour beer

We all knew kettle sours were on-trend, but the stats show they’re officially making millions in Nova Scotia.

Sour beer is a growing market in craft beer and brewers, bars and the NSLC are stepping up to meet the demand. A spokesperson for the NSLC says as of March the amount of sour beer sold has risen 125 percent compared to last year, bringing in roughly $8.3 million over the same time frame.

Currently, the NSLC only carries five sours in its 35 top-selling stores, but has plans to stock three more in coming months. All but one are brewed in Nova Scotia.

Sour beer comes in many varieties, the easiest to find being a kettle sour. These beers are soured and fermented in stainless steel tanks, or kettles. Souring is a process in which yeast interacts with different bacteria to create acids—providing that characteristic taste.

The NSLC has a limited selection in comparison to local breweries and taprooms. Patrick Robichaud, the sales and marketing director for Propeller Brewing Company, says that sours are perfect for craft breweries.

"With some of the big guys, the big brands, they're all about efficiency," he says. "They're all about 'How much beer can we turn out in the shortest amount of time?' and you don't do that with a sour." Propeller has felt the demand bubbling up. The brewery launched its Dark Berry Sour on Labour Day weekend of last year and by Friday afternoon all of the kegs were gone, says Robichaud.

"It's really just hard to ignore the demand for it. I think the cool thing about sours is that they appeal to a wide market," he says. "I think it appeals to people that don't normally drink craft beer."

Stillwell sells a varied selection ranging from a $7 kettle sour, to upwards of $55 for a bottle of Drie Fonteinen—a Lambic-style sour imported from Belgium that is fermented in oak barrels which can take years to finish.

"We've carried sour beer since we opened in 2013, and there haven't been a lot of local sours available until just recently— so we were, for a long time, importing beer," says Chris Reynolds, co-owner of Stillwell and lead brewer at Stillwell Brewing. "It wasn't until sometime between 2015 and 2017 that it really started to happen" in Halifax.

Reynolds said one of the best things about sours is that brewers can create a beer that is uniquely their own. "It's an extremely complex ecosystem of yeast and bacteria that I keep myself and I reuse over and over again. Because I have that, it's unique to me and my brewery, I find generally that my beer doesn't taste like anybody else's," says Reynolds. "That's what you want. You want to make something that is just your own."

Since opening 2 Crows in 2017, Jeremy Taylor–head brewer and owner of 2 Crows—has been exploring the different variations of sour beers. "The flavours can be more nuanced and it's more of a challenge as a brewer, too, to be playing with these wild yeasts and bacteria," says Taylor.

The beers have been well received and tend to move fast. Some of the brewery's limited runs stay on the shelf only for a couple of days.

Taylor says sours have dominated his brewing: "All of our barrels are now sour barrels. I find it's more interesting as a brewer to brew that sort of stuff, as opposed to just kind of cranking out the same stainless-steel stuff that takes you two or three weeks to make a batch."

He sees plenty of room for the beer to evolve and change as more companies brew sour beer. "I still have a massive amount to learn about sour beer," says Taylor. "We really are making it up as we go along here."

About The Authors

Alec Martin

Alec is a student finishing their degree at University of King’s College School of Journalism. They have been covering arts on the east coast since high school, and are currently an organizing member of New Feeling Co-op.
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