Lew Bryson has threatened to turn a discussion he and I and others are having about the use of the word sour - is it a characteristic or a style. So I thought it was about time to post the question here myself...you know...first.
Lew, ever excellently, has taken the specific (a review of New Holland Moxie Sour Ale) and allowed it to illustrate the universal through moving the conversation into the perception, description and taxonomy of sour tastes. When I started my sour beer studies, I did not expect to come to like so many elements or expressions of sour - the youthful hint, the wink out from greater complexity, the soft reproach, the tang, the tart, the vinegary, the sharp, even the fouled stinking skank. These studies have been practical and interesting but it's time for a mid-term pop quiz.
These are all points on the continuum that is as blue is to cheese. But how do we place this puckery sensation? Is it an end in itself that ties all examples together under the bright red bow of "style" or is it a characteristic that sits separately in a porter, a Flemish brown, a lambic or one of the new American wild ales that have gone so far down their own path that the trail of crumbs leading back to initial reference point is now lost. What do you think? Do you love them? Are they, as Jeff suggested, the new hops? Or is it a fad or a leftover sign of a failed aspect of civilization like urban life before sensible public health reforms...or is it just that classic argument made for a luxury - that which others dislike must be misunderstood and so therefore be the brass ring our the hunt for exclusivity.
And, by the way, this is beside the point whether our ancestors might be laughing long and hard over us missing the point.