Sour beer does not commit one to a particular malt or hop bill. It is possible to leave out the wheat (Cantillon Iris), add oats (Cantillon Zwanze 2010), or (partially) substitute fresh hops for aged hops (Cantillon Iris). Jef van den Steen has documented that traditional lambic brewers did not always exclusively utilized aged hops. But there is a difference between allowing (a portion) of fresh hops with low alpha-acids that add little to the bitterness of the beer and explicitly aiming to add hop bitterness to a sour beer. Cantillon’s Iris is currently the finest example of a sour beer with subtle hop notes, but the sheer amount of hop varieties and (dry) hopping suggest endless possibilities.
I was quite pleased to see that New Belgium had bottled Le Terroir for its Lips of Faith series because it was my favorite non-lambic sour beer at the 2009 Belmont Station Puckerfest. Le Terroir is a sour ale that is dry hopped with Amarillo hops. The New Belgium website also indicates that Target hops were used during the boil. Le Terroir has a very distinct aroma, unlike anything I have ever smelled in a sour ale. The sweet and peachy Amarillo hops are certainly there and there is also a little wood. I did not detect any signs of brettanomyces yeast in either the aroma or the taste. Le Terroir does not hold back on the (lactic) sour scale, which makes for an interesting combination with the earthy green notes in the beer. Light bodied and smooth (oats), the beer ends with a fairly long sour/bitter finish. Its alcohol content puts it somewhere between a real session beer and a sipper.
With the exception of Cantillon’s Iris (and perhaps Cantillon Mamouche) I have little context to go on as far as imparting green notes to sour beers is concerned. If such brews become more prevalent I doubt that Amarillo will be my favorite hop to use, but as someone who is quite interested in imparting an herbal character to wild beers, I am quite impressed. I did have a hard time establishing whether wild yeasts were present and perhaps some additional “barnyard” character could have improved the beer. Le Terroir certainly induces one to ponder the topic of harmony versus contrast in sour beers. This is a very interesting beer from New Belgium, and the best I have ever tasted from them.