Tis The Season of the Sour

Eno Sarris, November 25, 2014

During some research for another piece, I stumbled on this graph. It shows the number of new beers added in the sour category, by day, going back to last July 1. I posit that it clearly shows a season: 

Some time between August and early October, we add more sours to our database than at any other time. This year, 6.7 sours were added per day between February first and May 30th. From August first until October 15th, that average was 11.6. So almost two times as many sours are added in late summer and fall than in spring and early summer. 

You might think that this season has something to do with the aging process. Sours take anywhere from six months to three-plus years to age. But you can throw the beer in the barrel any time you like. At first, it doesn't seem like there's any reason that it has to be in August. 

Except that many new sours are adding fruit to the beer. Most sour brewers put a fruit purree into the beer once it comes out of the barrel. That could be done with less than fresh fruit, but maybe the harvest does create a natural season for sours. We know that wet hop IPAs have a season, and it's a very similar one. Maybe the strawberries and cherries need to ripen before they can be blended and thrown into the developing sour. 

But not all breweries work this way. Almanac Brewing, for one, adds fruit to the barrels toward the beginning of the aging. Even if that's changing to the middle of the process now, it's not at the end of the process. Depending on how many brewers make their sours that way, we might be looking in the wrong direction.

Let's look instead at a particular calendar. Check out this 2014 list of deadlines...

2014 Dates & Deadlines
June Brewers Registration Guidebook Mails (same information that is online)
June 17 – June 26 Online brewery application period for competition and festival (Closes at 5pm MST on June 26)
July 1 – July 10 Competition beer registration for eligible breweries that have applied to participate as of June 26
July 7 Breweries notified of festival booth space status (via lottery selection, if needed)
July 15 – July 24 Festival booth registration window
August 8 Refund deadline for cancellations (Badges, Booth, Beers, etc.)
August 26 Microstar kegs arrive to breweries (if requested)
August 25 – August 29 Competition beers due to Denver (New Address – See “Shipping Your Competition Beers“)
Late September (dates may vary) Estimated due dates for festival beers to drop-off locations (exact dates vary by location)
October 2 – 4 Great American Beer Festival

Oh. Will you look at that. If you want your beer in the Great American Beer Festival, you pretty much have to have it ready to go by August first. 

There's still a bit of an open question here. Other beer types don't really have these obvious seasons, especially if you look at average score. (More on that later, by the way.)

If other beers aren't as subject to the deadlines from GABF, what does that say? Are sours made more for critics than the masses? Does critical acclaim help a sour sell more than it does an IPA? Perhaps sours are for the nerdiest of beer nerds, the ones that follow these awards and pattern their buying behavior upon the results of the biggest beer fests. 

Unfortunately, that's jumping to conclusions not yet supported by the data. But maybe these can provide us some more questions to try and answer. Maybe we could find the 'beer fest bump' and compare it for different styles? That seems possible, particularly now that we have two years of data. Maybe other ways of attacking the question will occur to us as the year closes. 

For now, there is one thing we can say: 'Tis the season of the sour. So, when you debate which beer would make for the best Thanksgiving Beer, remember: the wet hopped beers disappearing from the shelves, the pumpkin beers have been on shelves since July, and sours (and their flavor profile) are uniquely suited to the moment. Perhaps you should share one this week at your dinner table. 

Thanks to Wiki Commons user Henna for the header image.