143 of the Best Sour/Wild Ales, Blind-Tasted and Ranked

On some level, what you’re about to read is the most schizophrenic of all Paste blind tastings. Approaching “sour beers” or “wild ales” for this style of tasting is like venturing into a quagmire of conflicting styles and substyles—you’re just hoping to find your way out again, when all is said and done. Every beer just raises further questions about which other beers should be included. Fruited vs. neutral? Kettle sours vs. barrel-aged sours? Different strains of bacteria and wild yeast? How do you compare all of them to each other? And what of other “sour beer” styles that are now better defined in the American market, such as Berliner weisse or gose?

In the end, the only way is to make a decision and stick with it. This is a large tasting, and a wide-ranging one that includes beers from some of the country’s most sought-after sour beer producers. It includes many styles of beer, brewed with a dizzying array of fruits, spices, barrels and strains of funk-forward yeast and bacteria. Some of these beers bear a passing resemblance to each other. Others are so uniquely bizarre that we barely knew what to do with them.

It’s perhaps easiest to simply state which types of beer were NOT included: Saison/farmhouse ale, Berliner weisse and gose. There are plenty of tart saisons, but as you probably recall, we just blind-tasted 116 of them last month. Berliner weisse and gose, on the other hand, are so well established now on their own that each of them really deserves its own tasting—something that we will address in the August tasting, which will tackle gose specifically.

Everything else that is tart in the world of beer can be found in this tasting. Flanders red ales and oud bruins are alongside dry-hopped American kettle sours, which are alongside oak-aged fruited sours and other beers freshly dumped from whiskey or tequila barrels. You might say that the only other requirement is that the beer must be sour—or at least claim to be. So let’s get started, and let the best tart beer win.

A Note on Beer Acquisition

As in most of our blind tastings at Paste, the vast majority of these sours were sent directly to the office by the breweries that choose to participate, with additional beers acquired by us via locally available purchases and the occasional trade. We always do our best to reach out to breweries we’re aware of that make exemplary versions of particular styles, but things always do slip through the cracks. We apologize for a few significant omissions that we couldn’t acquire, either due to seasonality or market shortages. There will never be a “perfect” tasting lineup, much as we continue to try.

Rules and Procedure

- As explained above, this is exclusively a tasting of sour/wild ales, largely determined by how the breweries chose to label their products. Nothing labeled as “saison/farmhouse ale, berliner weisse or gose” was admitted. There was no ABV limit. When in doubt, we simply allow a brewery’s marketing to define a beer’s style, and expect them to stick to the designation they’ve chosen.

- There was a limit of two entries per brewery. The beers were separated into daily blind tastings that approximated a sample size of the entire field.

- Tasters included professional beer writers, brewery owners, brewmasters and beer reps. Awesome, Paste-branded glassware is from Spiegelau.

- Beers were judged completely blind by how enjoyable they were as individual experiences and given scores of 1-100, which were then averaged. Entries were judged by how much we enjoyed them for whatever reason, not by how well they fit any kind of preconceived style guidelines. As such, this is not a BJCP-style tasting.