Tangy, crisp, and brimming with bold flavors from wild yeasts, sour beers are an interesting, and sometimes intimidating, corner of the craft beer world.
Sour beers are traditionally produced through a longer process of barrel aging with wild yeasts and bacteria. The process allows for a unique flavor from each different barrel. Until recent developments, producing a product marked by a consistent taste was uncommon.
This is where Blue Owl Brewing introduces its genius. From the start, cofounders Jeff Young and Suzy Shaffer set out to create a sour-mashing process never before attempted in other Austin breweries. Their vision included creating sours in a way that is replicable and time-saving, using the wort (sweet unfermented beer) of the main bash, and introducing it to naturally occurring bacteria and wild yeast. This wort is then sealed and starts producing lactic acids—as well as other low-level acids—which adds to a complex and interesting flavor profile, and what makes it a sour. Think of these sour-mashes as a refreshing hybrid of your favorite style of beer; if you’re a fan of pale ales, their Spirit Animal – Sour Pale Ale, still tastes like a pale ale and would be right up your alley.
Their ingenuity does not stop with their sour-mashing process. While most brewers have used pH levels and titratable acidity (TA) to measure how sour a beer or wine will be, Young and Shaffer have created a new way to measure that sourness. Young coined the measurement ‘SU’ or sour units to describe how acidic and tart a beer is. To put it simply on a scale, their Little Boss has an SU of 50, while their bolder sour, the Van Dayum has an SU of 70.
Currently, Blue Owl has a producing capability of 2,500 barrels a year and is looking to expand for the purpose of stocking and releasing their tasty brews across the state. Young describes Blue Owl’s vision with one simple word: “approachable”. Setting out to bring the creative taste of a sour, while being inclusive, has been Blue Owl’s goal for the sour market. Blue Owl’s value of approachability is realized in their true-to-form sour-mashed versions of classic brew styles. This means that bartenders are able to recommend sours based off of a craft lover’s go-to favorite, whether it’s a light pilsner or a hoppy Imperial Pale Ale.
The Blue Owl Brewing taproom has also created a drinking experience as unique as their beers. With a funky, eclectic aura, they indulge customers with a four-drink tasting package, with prices based on sizes; a twelve-ounce souvenir glass costing only 15 dollars. This approach encourages customers to become familiar with different sour spins on beers they know and love, therefore introducing a new taste in a fun, approachable way.
To keep things interesting, Blue Owl regularly produces different tiny barrel series inspired by a variety of flavors, or even collaborates with other breweries. Their newest sip, “Cool & the Gang”, a sour English mildly brewed with earl grey tea, is a recent brew in collaboration with fellow Austin native, Lazarus Brewing