Will sour beers lead to sweet success?

October 31, 2018
4 min read

Sour flavors are closely associated with sugar confectionery and beverages such as kombucha or drinking vinegar, but brewers are increasingly experimenting with sweet and tart beer.

While the number of launches of sour-flavored beers remain relatively small globally, they are on the rise. Sour beers are appealing to those with adventurous flavor preferences, but the tart brews are also attracting attention for delivering refreshment suited for hot weather and post-exercise consumption.

Thirst-quenching sour beers can target athletes

The US leads global innovation of sour-flavored beer and one of the most noteworthy US releases has been SeaQuench Ale Session Sour from craft brewery Dogfish Head. SeaQuench Ale is a blend of three beer styles – kolsch, gose and Berliner weisse – that is brewed with lime zest, black limes and sea salt.

According to Dogfish Head, SeaQuench Ale has become the fastest growing beer in the craft brewery’s 23-year history. Partially fueling its success, SeaQuench Ale was recognized by fitness magazines such as Sports Illustrated and Men’s Health magazine, which named it the Best Low-Calorie Beer in 2017 and 2018. Men’s Health said SeaQuench Ale “may be the world’s most thirst-slaying beer,” suggesting that more brewers can target tart beers to fitness enthusiasts.

A small selection of light beers, led by Michelob Ultra, have promoted their lower calorie and carbohydrate content to athletes and health-conscious adults. But SeaQuench’s success presents an opportunity for more sour beers to promote their thirst-quenching tart flavor to active consumers who want a post-activity beer.

Sour candy segment shows broad age appeal potential for sour flavors

Sour-flavored beer can take a cue from sour candy in targeting a wide audience. Use of sour flavors has increased globally in the gum and confectionery sector, offering an antithesis to overly sweet candies, while also providing consumers with a flavorful, memorable punch.

In many markets, soured flavor confectionery products are most popular among younger adults, who are often more experimental with flavors. Yet some confectionery brands have started to actively target adults with more mature sour confectionery. For example, Finland’s Pandy Protein offers Sour Plates Protein Candy that provide 16g protein per 70g serving. The functional Sour Plates Protein Candy provide a sour confectionery formulation for an adult audience that is interested in health and wellness, which is similar to the demographic that has embraced SeaQuench Ale.

Tart flavors of kombucha present a potential audience for sour beer

Sour beers also can target kombucha fans, a small but dedicated niche of consumers who might be more accepting than traditional consumers of tart flavors in beverages. In the US, kombucha is consumed by one in five older Millennials (born 1977-1986) and one in 10 younger Millennials (born 1987-1994). More brewers can target kombucha fans by emulating kombucha flavors.

In addition, brewers can collaborate with kombucha brands and create hybrid products. In spring 2018, brewer Rogue Ales & Spirits released Kulture Clash, an imperial blonde ale blended with kombucha tea from Brew Dr. Kombucha. The beer is described as an “explosive collision” with kombucha that combines “the unique tangy flavors of a custom-brewed kombucha with a Rogue imperial blonde ale specifically brewed to complement it.”

Global sour beer releases gain tartness from a range of ingredients and processes

Citrus-forward flavor

New Belgium Tartastic Lemon Ginger Sour Beer (US)
US craft brewer New Belgium offers this refreshing sour ale that is said to feature “lip-tingling” sweet and sour flavors of lemon and ginger.


Bringing sour to IPA’s

Boatrocker Brewing Co. Jungle Jive Sour IPA (Australia)
Australian brewery offers this dry-hopped kettle sour that is said to have “tart acidity, tropical, juicy hop aromas and a mild bitterness at the finish.”


‘Sour Patch’ collection

Brekeriet Beer Sour Patch Pink Passion Beer (Sweden)
Sweden’s Brekeriet Beer has a Sour Patch line of beers fermented with different wild yeast strains and lactic acid bacteria cultures. The Pink Passion Beer is made with passionfruit and hibiscus.

What we think

While currently niche, more brewers can develop sour-flavored beers. The tart formulations offer refreshing flavors that can appeal to fitness enthusiasts looking for thirst-quenching, post-activity drinks, but sour beers can also attract adventurous drinkers, especially those who have already embraced the inherently tart flavors of kombucha.

Jennifer Zegler
Jennifer Zegler

Jenny Zegler is the Director of Food and Drink at Mintel. Jenny blends her trends expertise with food and drink topics such as health, formulation, sustainability and premiumization.

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