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If you’ve watched the rise and fall of pork belly, Brussels sprouts and kale, you know that foods swing in and out of style. The same is true of beverages, and right now the drink of choice is sour beer. Made in barrels with fermented yeast and bacteria, it has a tart flavor that ranges from slightly puckery to downright vinegary, depending on the balance of acids present in the brew. In Europe, where folks have been experimenting with sour beers for hundreds of years, one variety is even served with fruit-flavored syrups to soften the edge. Sour beers have a “flavor that’s not for everyone,” agrees Andy Parker, chief barrel herder (aka special-projects manager) at Avery Brewing Company, “but people who like them will travel to the ends of the earth to find them.”
These days, you don’t have to travel to the ends of the earth. The restaurant and tap room at Avery Brewing Company, which I review this week, pours anywhere from three to nine sour beers at any given time. And since they’re available in four-ounce tasters, novices can easily experiment with the category. Such experimentation is useful, because the category is broader than the name “sour beer” might suggest. “It’s like going to a chef and saying, ‘I’d like a meat,’” he says. “Well, okay, let’s narrow this down: There are fruited and non-fruited sour beers, and dry-hopped and spiced ones, and some that are really heavy on lactic acid.” Though the lineup is constantly changing, Avery’s current roster includes a raspberry sour, flavored with raspberry puree halfway through fermentation. There’s also Daytox, a vibrant red beer accented with beet juice and ginger, and Fortuna, a margarita-like sour brew aged in tequila barrels with fresh lime zest and Maldon sea salt.
While sour beers aren’t as versatile as, say, Avery’s Ellie’s Brown Ale, they can be successfully paired with foods if you follow a few guidelines. They play best with fatty fare such as cheeses, charcuterie plates, bone-in pork chops, barbecue and duck, and they also cut through the richness of chocolatey desserts. Ray Decker, general manager of Avery’s restaurant and tap room, offers another tip: Sour beer goes well with “anything you’d hit with a lemon.”