As flowers and trees bloom anew, so too does my thirst for a fresh low-alcohol beer to hydrate me throughout the sunny, sultry months set to blaze.
In seasons past I was brainsick for session IPAs, shaved-down ABV matched to heightened aromatics. Then shandies and radlers—basically, beer blended with fruit juice—became my lightly boozy best friends. Be it 21st Amendment’s Down to Earth or Hopworks’ lemonade-rocked Totally Radler, I bulldozed these beers by the six-pack, growing neither bored nor overly buzzed.
Some folks have a song of the summer; I have a beer style of the summer, a crowd-pleaser by the full cooler. This year’s chart-topper will be a dry-hopped sour. It’s a hybrid set to stun beneath the sun.
The IPA is America’s ascendant beer king, hopped from here to eternity, juiced with grapefruit, tropical with novel hops, feral with wild yeast. Hot on the IPA’s heels, sour beer has seen its tart star rise. Notably, stateside brewers have embraced Germany’s sharply lemony Berliner Weisse and salt-licked, appealingly tart gose ("goes-uh"), dusty historic styles polished for modern consumption.
Few dry-hopped sours buzz my pleasure center of flavor, portability, and ABV like Evil Twin’s Sour Bikini.
Consider the dry-hopped sour a most fortuitous on-trend collision. Done right, it’s a colossal refresher, lip-scrunching and juicy, bursting with an aromatic bouquet of fresh citrus and tropical fruit. Bitterness? Not here, my friends. Added post-fermentation, hops don’t impart bitterness; instead, they contribute their signature flavors and aromas, perhaps lemons and limes, oranges and pineapple. Makes sense when you recall these fruits are underpinned by acidity, essential to the flavors exploding in 3-D.
As the weather breaks warm, the hybrid has increasingly infiltrated beer shops nationwide. Lagunitas’ latest year-round release is juicy-fruity, earthy-tart Aunt Sally, while Grimm Artisanal Ales releases plentiful dry-hopped sours such as Vacay, pluckily puckering and evocative of lemongrass and apricots. Colorado’s Odd13 offers Vincent Van Couch, an "American session sour" hit with tropical, citrusy Citra and Mosaic hops, and Denmark’s To Øl, Oklahoma’s Prairie, and Sweden’s Brekeriet make estimable versions.
Few dry-hopped sours buzz my pleasure center of flavor, portability, and ABV like Evil Twin’s Sour Bikini, canned at a scant 3 percent ABV. Founded in 2010, the gypsy brewery—it lacks brick-and-mortar headquarters—is the brainchild of Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, a Dane turned Brooklynite. (His twin is Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, who runs fellow irreverent, itinerant brewer Mikkeller.) Evil Twin’s raison d’etre are fancifully named, uniquely formulated ales such as Imperial Doughnut Break (yes, the porter contains real doughnuts), smoky Ashtray Heart, and Molotov Cocktail, a shock-and-awesome triple IPA.
Sour Bikini tastes like Tang gone tipsy, or perhaps liquid Flintstones vitamins for the beer-drinking set.
There’s also Sour’s precursor, Bikini Beer, a citrusy session IPA that’s a petite 2.7 percent ABV. Despite the low-blow alcohol, the refresher remains surprisingly flavor-freighted, proof that good things do come in really small packages. In 2012, Jarnit-Bjergsø partnered with brewer Terry Hawbaker to tweak the session IPA, creating the dry-hopped Sour Bikini. (Hawbaker now shepherds Pennsylvania’s superb Intangible Ales, focusing on wild and rustic ales; the logo adorns Sour’s label.)
I really liked their collaboration, but I rarely bought it. The problem was packaging: 22-ounce bottles, too much liquid for me by my lonesome. I prefer 12-ounce bottles or cans, a fine volume whether I’m nipping imperial stouts or power-pounding pilsners. So I was indubitably thrilled when I recently spotted Sour Bikini in cans, the price tag an agreeable $10 per four-pack.
That fee might off-put some, a sum more in line with six or a dozen beers, depending on your neck of the nation. But for sours that’s not a bad deal, owing to a technique called "kettle souring." Instead of adding souring bacteria and wild yeast, and patiently waiting (and waiting) for beer to pucker up, brewers typically add Lactobacillus—the bacteria converts milk into sour cream and yogurt—to the wort, or sugar-rich, unfermented grain broth. In a matter of days the wort acidifies, creating a clean, sharp lactic tartness. (The beer is boiled to halt the process, before proceeding to fermentation.) Downside: the sourness is not super complex. Upside: the tart beers won’t tear drinking budgets to smithereens.
Which whips us back to Sour Bikini. Flicking the tab releases a rush of lemons and grapefruit, the scent reeling you in like fish to bait. Pouring the hazy gold Bikini into a glass is perfectly acceptable, but lazy me sips it from the can. The beer is tangy and fruity, citrus-zinged and moderately carbonated, light-bodied and closing out sweetly quenching. Sour Bikini tastes, in the most marvelous way, like Tang gone tipsy, or perhaps liquid Flintstones vitamins for the beer-drinking set. Top to bottom, Sour Bikini is simultaneously strange and familiar, suited for IPA die-hards looking to escape a bitter rut, or intrepid drinkers eager to explore the sour waters, an accomplice to good times as endless as July sunshine.
Though the calendar might declare otherwise, summer is officially in session.
Editor: Kat Odell