But some beer aficionados have their doubts. Author Brian Yaeger, who visited Stone Brewing Co. in March while promoting his 2008 beer-travel book, Red, White and Brew: An American Beer Odyssey, suspects that many brewers are dumping Brettanomyces into their vats for the sake of riding the wagon.
“These beers are trendy and they sell, but just pouring a beer into an infected barrel doesn’t make it worth twice as much,” says Yaeger. “Funk for the sake of funk doesn’t interest me.”
Arthur, at Lost Abbey, agrees that there can be “bad” sour beers. They will be either too high on the Acetobacter-vinegar notes and too low on the Brett-barnyard essence or vice versa. Balance, says Arthur, is usually the trick. McIlhenney of Alpine Beer doesn’t even care for the horse sweat–barnyard characteristics so revered by others; he will soon be releasing two barrel-aged Brett beers that, if he can manage, will taste like tart cherry pie.
Most brewers predict that sour beers will remain a specialty product — like an expensive party gag. Koch notes that craft beers occupy only 5 percent of the beer market, and sour beers less than 5 percent of that.
“Sour beers are, by their nature, an enthusiast’s style, and even enthusiasts don’t drink them every day. They’ll never go mainstream.”