Beer Man

Great Divide initiates sour beer program, will unveil two brews during GABF

Great Divide Brewing has initiated a full-fledged sour ale program this year thanks to a new seven-barrel pilot brewing system that allows it to experiment on a small scale. The first beers from the program, Berliner Weisse and Leipzog Gose, debuted earlier this summer in the tasting room and were on tap at Great Divide's 18th anniversary party.

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The Berliner Weisse and a third beer, a saison that has been inoculated with brettanomyces yeast, could show themselves in the taproom and around town during the Great American Beer Festival.

"We've toyed with sours in the past, but nothing more than one barrel here and one barrel there," says Great Divide lead brewer Taylor Rees. An example was Bretti Yeti, a version of Great Divide Yeti that was aged in a barrel with brett yeast.

"But this year, we're taking it a lot more seriously and have a whole room dedicated to it to avoid cross-contamination. We're also brewing beers to spec that will work for sour beer production rather than just using our existing beers," Rees adds.

The goal is to have at least seventy oak, wine, whiskey or repurposed beer barrels filled with sour or wild ales by the end of 2012. "We, as employees, love sour beers, but we've never had the space or the resources," Rees explains. "Now, we've all realized that there is an opportunity here, so they've given us the space."

No decision have been made about whether Great Divide will one day bottle one of its sour beers, especially since each one takes a year to eighteen months of barrel-aging. A few more sours should be ready sometime in the second half of 2012, including a Flanders-style red ale aged in wine barrels.

Great Divide is starting its sour program a little later than some other bigger Colorado brewers, like Avery, Odell and New Belgium -- and even some smaller ones, like Crabtree, Grimm Brothers, Trinity and Funkwerks.

"We are definitely later. So, we aren't trying to innovate, we just want to make a quality product," Rees says. "I definitely feel like sours are going to be more than a trend.

Certain beers are hotter at certain times than others. For instance, Double IPAs were huge a few years ago, but they are still here,and here to stay. It's the same with sours."

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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes