Colorado beer news: Is sour the new bitter? |

Colorado beer news: Is sour the new bitter?

Colleen O’Neil


Back in the day, all beers were a little sour. Since pure yeast cultures weren’t available, the starter used from one batch to another usually contained some wild yeast and bacteria. Traditionally, Belgian brewers allowed wild yeast to enter the brew naturally through the barrels or during the cooling of the wort in an open coolship, an unpredictable process that many modern brewers avoid. Sour beers are made by intentionally allowing wild yeast strains or bacteria into the brew. This process has to be carefully controlled to avoid contaminating all the other beer in the brewery.

Cody Nelson, Chuck Campagna II and Tyler Glatting sit on squishy couches in the dim downstairs meeting room at the Glenwood Canyon Brewpub, sipping from little tasting glasses. Open beer bottles and used glasses are scattered across the coffee table. But this isn’t just an after-work hangout. It’s product development.

Glatting opens a new bottle and pours the light-gold liquid into a tasting glass. He sips, then makes a face.

“It tastes like an old grapefruit wrapped in Band Aids,” he says.

Campagna and Nelson are brewers at the Glenwood Canyon Brewpub (head and associate, respectively) and Glatting is the buyer at Cooper Wine and Spirits. They’re sampling different sour beers for a new beverage that Nelson is developing.

In a market oversaturated with extra-hoppy IPAs, it seems that sour beers are the new belle of the craft brewing ball.

But sour beers aren’t exactly new. They first started being brewed in the mid-19th century in Belguim. Back then, all beers were a little bit sour — historical brewers didn’t have the modern luxury of brewing in a sterile environment to guard against strains of wild bacteria that grow on malted barley.

Traditionally, Belgian brewers allowed wild yeast to enter the brew naturally. The wild yeast creates a different flavor profile, with such descriptors as “horse blanket,” “baby diaper” and even “Band Aid” when the mix is slightly off.

But now, in the age of the expanding public palette, brewers are experimenting more with this risky method. When it’s done right, the resulting flavor is pleasantly sour, complex and engaging. And unlike a super-hoppy IPA with high alcohol content, two of these beers won’t put you under for the evening.

“It’s a brave way to brew,” Nelson says. “But it shows the quality of a brewery if it’s done well.”


This beer is Cody Nelson’s second original recipe for the brewpub. Earlier in the year, he developed a new dark beer infused with coffee beans from Bonfire Coffee. The resulting “Café Brebaje” (Spanish for “coffee concoction”) recipe is complex and well-balanced. It’s a super-smooth beer with coffee beans roasted specifically to match the porter’s flavor profile. As the brewpub’s newest team member, this is a pretty ambitious start for Nelson.

“We’re really trying to branch out and make interesting beers,” said director of brewing operations Todd Malloy. “We’re done just making the same old English ales.”

After graduating from Glenwood Springs High School in 2007, Nelson studied psychology and exercise science at Southern Arkansas University and graduated in 2011. But his career took a turn when he got a homebrew kit for Christmas in 2012. He dabbled with it at home, then discovered that he really enjoyed the process of making good beer.

“I love making beer,” he explains, “and sharing it with people.”

Nelson worked for a while at the 75th Street Brewery in Kansas. Then he decided to start traveling. His journey took him all around the world, from New Zealand to Colombia, where he toured organic coffee plantations and got the idea for Café Brebaje.

While he was in South America, he interviewed for the job at the brewpub via Skype. A few weeks later, he came back to Glenwood Springs and started working.


Nelson is a devoted Glenwood native. “After traveling all over the world, I realized that this was one of the best places to be,” he explains. Working at the brewpub is something of a stepping stone in his career. It’s a small brewery where he has the freedom to try out his own recipes. He compares it to working at a large-scale brewery, where a newcomer would just be schlepping barrels or mopping the floor. At the brewpub, he schleps barrels, but also gets to use his creativity. That way, if he moves on to a larger brewery he’ll have knowledge of the entire brewing process.

“It’s been a whirlwind ever since then,” he says with a grin. “But in a good way.”

The sour beer, dubbed “Berliner Weisse,” rolled out on April 22 with a public tasting. It’s an unfiltered, straw-colored brew with a bit of citrusy tartness. To balance that tart lemony flavor, it’s served with optional fruity syrups on the side — the way it’s traditionally served in Berlin. Campagna is “morally offended” by the syrups, but the idea is to get more people into the idea of drinking sour beer.

The public received it well.

“Hopefully when the weather starts getting warmer, people will start drinking it more,” Campagna said. “It’s a great beer to drink sitting out on the patio on a nice night.”

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