Are sour beers higher in calories?

Sour beers have become increasingly popular in recent years as craft breweries continue to experiment with new styles. These tart, funky beers provide a refreshing contrast to sweeter beers and offer a complex array of flavors. But with their sharp, acidic taste, many beer drinkers wonder if sour beers come with a higher calorie count.

What are sour beers?

Sour beers are a broad category of beers that have an intentionally tart, acidic taste. They get their sour flavors from wild yeasts and bacteria that ferment the beer. The most common types of sour beers include:

  • Lambic – Spontaneously fermented Belgian beers made with unmalted wheat, aged hops, and airborne wild yeasts like Brettanomyces.
  • Gose – A German-style wheat beer with additions of lactic acid bacteria and coriander.
  • Berliner Weisse – A low-alcohol German wheat beer soured with Lactobacillus bacteria.
  • Flanders Red Ale – A malty, fruity Belgian ale aged in oak barrels to develop acetic sourness.
  • American Wild Ale – A catch-all term for experimental American sours inoculated with wild yeast and bacteria.

While traditional beer styles rely solely on brewer’s yeasts like Saccharomyces for fermentation, sour beers utilize wild yeast strains and bacteria to create acidic flavors through additional fermentation processes. The main microbes used are:

  • Brettanomyces – A yeast that produces funky, barnyard flavors.
  • Lactobacillus – A bacteria that generates lactic acid, giving a tangy sourness.
  • Pediococcus – Another lactic acid bacteria used for clean, sharp acidity.
  • Acetobacter – An acetic acid bacteria that creates vinegar notes.

By introducing these wild microbes, skilled brewers can create complex sour beers bursting with tart, sour flavors not found in regular beers.

Are sour beers higher in alcohol?

Despite their big flavors, most traditional sour beer styles are relatively low in alcohol compared to other craft beers. For example:

Beer Style Average ABV
Lambic 5-6%
Gose 4-5%
Berliner Weisse 3-4%
Flanders Red Ale 4-6%

So while strong sour ales can reach up to 8% ABV or more, most traditional examples are lower in alcohol content. The wild yeasts and bacteria that create the sour flavors tend to ferment beers very dry, leaving behind less residual sugar that could get converted to higher alcohol.

Are sour beers higher in calories?

Alcohol content is directly correlated to calorie content in beer. So with their lower alcohol percentages, traditional sour beer styles also tend to be lower in calories compared to other craft beers.

For example, a 12 oz serving of:

  • Lambic – 150 calories
  • Gose – 125 calories
  • Berliner Weisse – 100 calories
  • Flanders Red Ale – 135 calories

Compare that to a typical American IPA which can range from 200-300 calories for a 12 oz serving. So calorie-wise, most sour beers have a leg up.

However, there are some exceptions. Higher alcohol sour beers like Flemish Reds, Lambic-Gueuze blends, and barrel-aged sours can reach 200+ calories per serving. And contemporary American sours feature new techniques like kettle souring and fruit additions that can up the calorie content.

But in general, traditional sour beer styles made with old world methods tend to be lighter than other craft beer styles.

Factors impacting calories in sour beers

Several factors influence the calorie content in any beer, whether or not it’s sour:

  • ABV – The biggest determinant of calories is alcohol percentage. The higher the ABV, the more calories in a beer.
  • Residual sugars – Unfermented sugars left behind after brewing also increase calorie content.
  • Ingredients – The types and amounts of grains, malt, hops, fruits, and other adjuncts affect calories.
  • Carbonation – Heavily carbonated beers tend to be lighter in calories than their flat counterparts.

Looking at these factors more closely:

Alcohol content

Since alcohol provides 7 calories per gram versus 4 calories per gram of carbohydrates, higher alcohol beers inevitably contain more calories. And in sour beers, alcohol percentages can range widely depending on style and fermentation methods:

Sour beer style Typical ABV range
Berliner Weisse 3-4%
Gose 4-5%
Flanders Red Ale 4-6%
Lambic 5-6%
Oud Bruin 4-8%
Flemish Red 6-8%
American Wild Ale 5-12%

As expected, higher ABV sours contain more calories. But even up to 8% ABV, most sours are still lower in alcohol than an IPA.

Residual sugars

The wild yeasts and bacteria in sour beers tend to ferment out nearly all residual sugars, leaving a very dry, attenuated beer. Less residual sugar means lower calorie content. Again, IPAs tend to finish sweeter and therefore have more calories from additional residual carbohydrates.


Like any style, ingredients choices make a difference in calories:

  • Grains – Sours featuring wheat or oats tend to be lighter than those heavy in malt.
  • Hops – Bittering hops add negligible calories. Hoppy IPAs often have more carbs and calories from malt needed to balance the hops.
  • Fruits/spices – Sugary fruit additions or spices can increase calories. Tart cranberries, blackberries, and cherries have a minimal impact.

So if you want to keep calories low, choose a sour made with a grain bill of wheat or oats, easy on the specialty malts, and fruited with tart berries rather than sugary varieties.


Heavily carbonated beers create a perception of lightness. Many iconic sour styles like lambics and gueuzes are bottle-conditioned for natural carbonation. This spritzy quality counterbalances their funky flavors, tricking your palate into thinking the beer is lighter than it really is. So don’t let the prickly bubbles fool you – that Belgian sour may be higher in calories than it tastes.

Calories in specific sour beer brands

Looking beyond styles to individual breweries, calories can vary widely brand to brand. Here’s a comparison of calories in 12 oz servings of some popular commercial sour beers:

Brewery Beer Calories (12 oz)
Anderson Valley Gose 125
Firestone Walker Bretta Rose 147
New Belgium La Folie 210
Sierra Nevada Brux 180
Brouwerij Boon Oude Gueuze 180
Rodenbach Grand Cru 216

These commercial examples illustrate the range you can find – from 100 calories for a tart, wheat-based Berliner Weisse to 200+ calories for a stronger abbey-style gueuze or Flanders red ale.

Best practices for creating low calorie sour beers

For breweries looking to make lighter, less caloric sour beers, here are some best practices:

  • Aim for ABV below 5%. Use shorter fermentation times for less alcohol production.
  • Use a high proportion of wheat or oats in the grain bill rather than barley malt.
  • Don’t go overboard on crystal malts – they add residual sweetness.
  • Keep the hopping light. Bittering additions only.
  • Limit fruit to tart berries like cranberries and blackberries vs. sweeter fruits.
  • Add spices and botanicals sparingly.
  • Consider a lactic fermentation with lactobacillus for a clean, crisp sourness.
  • Package in cans vs. bottles. Cans prevent overcarbonation which can increase perceived calories.

Of course, flavor should still take priority over calories. But with the right techniques, brewers can craft flavorful sour beers under 150 calories per serving.

The bottom line

So are sour beers higher in calories than other beer styles? When you compare them to the typical IPA, stout, or Belgian strong ale – sour beers made in traditional Belgian and German styles tend to be lower in calories due to their lower alcohol percentages and lack of residual sugars.

However, specialty sours with higher ABVs, lots of fruits, and barrel-aging can see increased calories. And contemporary American sours use new techniques that don’t necessarily lead to lower alcohol levels.

If calories are a concern, your best bets are clean, crisp German-style sours like gose and Berliner weisse. Belgian lambics and gueuzes also generally have less than 150 calories per serving.

In the end, quality and flavor are far more important than calories when it comes to enjoying sour beers. But it’s useful knowledge that the funky, acidic flavors of traditional sours often come with lower calories than their sweeter, maltier craft cousins.

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