Pale, tart and crisp—sour wheat beers are some of the least alcoholic and most refreshing beer styles. Although these styles are not brewed in the capacity that they once were, they have seen a mini revival in the past decade—especially in the U.S.—where some craft brewers have not only adopted the traditional German and Belgian brewing methods, but also modernized them with the addition of interesting herbs, fruits and spices.
As you can probably infer, what makes sour wheat beers different from their non-sour counterparts is the use of souring agents including Lactobacillus and wild yeast, or a combination of both in the fermentation process. Made with a blend of pale malted barley and wheat, sour wheat beers tend to be extremely low in alcohol with a lemony, almost yogurt-like tartness and can sometimes be a bit funky.
Although most Americans today enjoy these styles of beer on their own, in the past, they were all often served with flavored syrups, fruit purees or some kind of sweetening agent to cut their tartness. In fact, many of them are still served this way in Europe.
It is important to note that sour wheat beers are not exclusive to any particular group or heritage, many variations abound, but the purpose of this post is to look at three specific styles: Berliner-style weisse, Leipzig-style Gose and the Belgian-style lambic.