Would a pH Scale Help Consumers Understand Sours?

Conveying the level of sourness in a beer can be important in meeting a guest’s expectations, but a misnomer like the style “Sour” — where all levels of tartness are prevalent — can be confusing for someone trying to buy your beer.

“Is the guest looking for a sweet/tart sour or more of a deeply acidic sour?” pondered Bozeman Brewing‘s Kristen Hilleren, the brewery’s Lead Bartender and Merchandise Manager.

Each bottle at Bozeman is labeled with both pH and TTA (titratable acidity) in an attempt to convey just how sour the beer is going to taste, she explained.

“TA may offer a more accurate representation of how sour the beer will taste in comparison to pH because it measures all acids present in a beer,” Hilleren said. “There are many types of acid present in beer and our palatescan pick up all of them — meaning that we may interpret a beer as more sour than its pH suggests.

“By including both of these measurements of acid in each beer, we can begin to create a language for and an expectation about a perceived level of sourness.”

As for a scale to measure sourness, measuring pH is a well-established method but not a well-known term as it relates to beer for most people, added Lone Tree‘s Dennis Stack. “With campaigning and education, public knowledge could be expanded to develop this scale into a more widely used way to communicate the level of sourness of a beer.”

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As the segment continues to grow and mature, Legion‘s Courtney Glasser feels a guide for consumers would be helpful.

“There will be micro-segments emerging within sours as brewers continue to experiment with different recipes or souring techniques,” she told Brewer. “I don’t know if pH is the right scale as it could have some negative connotations because the pH scale is a known thing.

“IBUs work because, outside of the brewing world, it doesn’t have a ton of meaning for drinkers to attach to.”

Twin Oast’s Cory Smith added that having a scale would be beneficial just to give the customer something to expect before buying a beer.

“The pH scale would make the most sense, though, like IBUs, it can be both misleading and could scare away people from making purchases,” he said. “Beers with 100 IBUs aren’t necessarily overly bitter, and beers with a pH of 3.2 don’t melt the enamel off of your teeth (every time).

“As a starting point to give the customers a reference, though, I feel it would be worthwhile.”

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