How to Look at a Glass of Sour Beer

© Copyright 2021 Elizabeth Gould, Ryerson University

Picture this: it’s a hot summer day; you and your friends are enjoying a picnic in the park. You ask your friend for a beer, and without inspecting the label you take a giant gulp. Your tastebuds activate, and within seconds you are overwhelmed with electrifying flavours that remind you of a Sour Patch Kid. It’s acidic, it’s tart, it’s powerful, it’s good. It’s definitely not your classic Stella, Heineken, or Corona. You glance at the label: it’s a sour.

Prior to the nineteenth-century, refrigeration and advances in the science of fermentation were absent, ultimately causing all types of beer to be sour to some degree. While more conventional beers are made in sterile environments using specific strains of yeast, sour beers are aged in oak barrels that allow the beer to breath and for microorganisms to grow. The two types of yeast most prominently found in sour beer are Lactobacillus and Pediococcus. Lactobacillus turns sugar into lactic acid, while Pediococcus adds acidity to the beer. The most prominent strain of yeast found in sours is Brettanomyces, which adds earthy tones to the flavour. It is common for those who are highly in favour of sour beer to no longer desire the malted flavour of more familiar beers, as they fail to give them that sensory overload experience derived from eating a sour candy.

Digital photograph of a glass of sour beer on a white table.
Figure 1. Shaun Melo. “Photograph of Sour Beer in a Glass.” February 9th, 2021. Digital Photograph. © Shaun Melo.

Although it has been around for the entirety of beer’s existence, sour beer has recently gained immense popularity in North America. If you happen to live in Toronto like myself, you’re likely to indulge in one while sitting on a patio located around Ossington Avenue or Queen West. In 2021, sour beer is often associated with youth, even becoming a symbol of stereotypical “hipster culture” due to the popularity of craft breweries in considerably trendy neighbourhoods.

 Almost all sours consist of a sandy-amber colour, however, some have red tones from incorporating flavours, such as cherry or raspberry. The lightness of sour beer allows for translucency in the liquid, unlike the dark rich stouts many of us come across in English-influenced pubs.

Sour or not, most beer lovers prefer to drink their beverage out of glass, such as the one shown in Figure 1. This is because drinking from a glass rather than a bottle or can encourages our sense of smell to activate, thus intensifying our flavour experience. When analyzing the image captured in Figure 1, we as viewers are encouraged to make one of two assumptions: either this beer has been sitting out for a while, or it was a victim to a careless, inexperienced pour. If this was a fresh and/or skillfully poured glass of beer, there would be about a half to one inch of fluffy white foam floating on the surface. As the glass becomes progressively empty, analyzing your beverage may become progressively difficult, as a certain consumption of sour beer can result in a warm, hazy, drunken state.

The presence of alcohol in the twenty-first century makes us consider its purpose. Does a glass of sour beer indicate a social gathering of sorts? Does it indicate the aftermath of a long, tiresome day? Is it a reward, is it a vice? Whether you go for a Belgian Lambic or a Jelly King from Toronto’s beloved Bellwoods Brewery, I leave you with one simple phrase:

It’s five o’clock somewhere.

Works Cited

© Copyright 2021 Melo, Shaun. “Photograph of Sour Beer in a Glass.” Digital Photograph. 9 February 2021.

DeBenedetti, Christian. “A Brief History of Sour Beer.” The New Yorker. 26 July 2013,

Elkins, James. How to Use Your Eyes. Routledge, 2000.

Hines, Nick. “Sour Beer, Explained.” VinePair. 21 July 2017,

Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.