The sours of Pangaea

Beers made from an ancient, risky process are displacing bitter IPAs as the current ‘it’ brew

Photo by Christy Rogers

Pangaea Bier Cafe, at 2743 Franklin Boulevard, will serve a beer-paired dinner with Pliny the Younger on Monday, February 26. Tickets for the sold out event are $100.{

The lunchtime line is six deep at Pangaea Bier Cafe and moving fast. Anders Kindall is taking orders in polite, rapid-fire succession. He’s providing samples, asking for IDs and pointing toward the self-serve utensils. And he’s answering the phone from behind the counter, all in a controlled, multitasking whirl.

Pangaea is known for its mean burger, but the tavern in Curtis Park is more well-known for its revolving rotation of beers.

Last week’s sour offerings included Fruitlands from San Diego’s Modern Times, Bouffon from Austin’s Jester King, Ganache by Portland’s Allagash and Vanderghinste Oud Bruin by Brouwerij Bockokr, in the Netherlands, as well as Thribble Currant by Anderson Valley—there is always a sour on tap from this inventive Boonville brewer. Sours, obviously, are suddenly becoming popular.

“Beers turn sour due to spoilage and contamination, and it wasn’t really something that Americans brewed,” says Kindall, Pangaea’s general manager and beer buyer. “But there’s a long, long history of sour beer-making in Europe. Ten or 15 years ago, to my knowledge, the only one doing it in America was Jolly Pumpkin. But it just wasn’t a popular thing. It’s kind of a high-risk, high-reward thing. So many things can go funky.”

Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales in Dexter, Mich., was founded in 2004. It produces unfiltered and unpasteurized beers and was at the domestic forefront of the now ever-expanding sour beer phenomenon.

“Even when you are trying to make sour beers, there’s the potential for an off flavor. It’s not perfectly in control every single time as much as you’d like it to be,” Kindall says.

Kindall, 28, began to study beer even before he was legally able to purchase it. He lived near Corti Brothers, the East Sacramento specialty foods and wine retailer, and often visited with the store’s experts.

“From the mid-to-late 2000s, the goal was to see who could get the most bitter—most hoppy—beer. I think people just wanted to get the most bitter thing they could get.” Kindall references Stone, the Escondido brewery and its popular hoppy Arrogant Bastard Ale. And there’s Russian River Brewing Co., in Santa Rosa, and its legendary Pliny the Younger, which Pangaea will serve in a beer-paired dinner on February 26.

“There’s been a shift from, ’What’s the most hoppy beer you have?’ to, ’What’s most sour beer you have?’’’Kindall says.

Bitter beers use high levels of hops for a consistent taste. Sour beers use multiple varieties of bacteria and wild yeast.

“Sour beer isn’t an easy-to-define category,” Kindall says. “There are a lot of different styles under the sour beer umbrella, some more approachable, some more extreme. Some sours are good with certain kinds of food, some you don’t look for pairings. There’s just a huge variety of sour beers because the history is so long and so storied.”