The sour beer’s heritage comes from Europe — particularly Belgium — and it’s important to mention its legacy to qualify not only the sour beer scene in Colorado but in the United States as well.
In Brussels, you will find breweries such Cantillon and Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen who have been fastidiously working on the art of the sour beer for more than 100 years. The Gueze and the Lambic style these breweries produce are protected and sacred. They can only come from the region where these breweries are located — it’s the yeast from their air that makes it special. The sour beer scene in the United States, for this reason, needs to be considered in respect to that heritage — there is too much respect for its history and tradition to do anything else.
With this in mind, there is no doubt that the state of Colorado, has given the sour beer not only an American touch but a flare only found in the Rocky Mountains. This is because the sour beer style in the United States started with an idea, a dare and a fascination from the brewers at New Belgium Brewing Company in Fort Collins. At a time when not many were focusing on the style, the brewers at New Belgium set out to see what they could do personally. Little did they know then, but they would become some of the forefathers of sour beer, not just in Colorado, but the entire country. However, we do not want to discredit the important contributions to the start of the sour movement from breweries such as Russian River Brewing Company and Allagash Brewing and those have continued to push it like Jolly Pumpkin Brewing and Jester King Brewery. All of those breweries are important, but there is something special about the timing and national movement that can be traced back to New Belgium.
In 1997, the crew at New Belgium began a project with just seven barrels. This would be the beginning of a cultural beer shift from the typical American styles to what could be with the exploration of sour beers.
“Colorado became an island in the middle of the United States” for sour beers as Lauren Woods Salazar described it – she was one of the founders of that island at New Belgium. It started small and locally with beer people getting together – digging into flavor profiles and showing off their newfound knowledge and taste details.
This small group who started playing with sour beer in Fort Collins would then launch the sour beer movement with the release of La Folie. This beer was the result of their slow and methodical process to capture the essence of sour beer. This beer announced its presence with a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival in 1998followed by its national release. The beer drinkers of Colorado wouldn’t know what to do without sour beer – they seek it – it’s ingrained in their beer heritage. While the style wouldn’t take off overnight — La Folie created the consumer and perhaps, more importantly, the sour brewer in Colorado.
Salazar said it best — “The brewers of today are the beer drinkers of yesterday who grew up on sours.” La Folie and New Belgium created a foundation and a generation of sour drinkers and creators. In fact, during our talk, Salazar recalled that she still has the tasting notes from a visit by Troy Casey and Chad Yakobson– founders of Casey Brewing and Crooked Stave respectively – showing the growth and foreshadowing the sour future.
Taking the Next Step