THERE was a time when the last thing in the world anyone wanted their beer to be was sour.

If you ordered a pint and it tasted sour, it was a sure-fire sign that something was amiss.

Not that such a glaring tell-tale evidence was always enough, mind you. Several years ago, in a York pub whose name I will spare, I ordered a half of best bitter that was mouth-puckeringly vile, yet the barman tried some himself, insisted it was fine and walked away.

Now though, times have changed. Sour beers are very much in, and breweries are rushing to make a virtue of what was once only a vice.

You’ve probably seen some such beers on your pub travels around York. Words like ‘gose’ and ‘lambic’ will call to you from the pumpclips on the bar or the bottles in the fridge, trying to make themselves heard over more familiar terms.

But where to start with styles that remain alien to the vast majority of British drinkers? At Pivní in Patrick Pool, they have some answers. Or at least they did last week, at the latest of the bar’s tasting evenings.

York Press:

The beers that featured on the tasting night

Their “sours and saisons” night gave a whistlestop tour through this corner of the beer world, still largely undiscovered by British drinkers.

Pivní’s Billy Taylor compered the evening in the upstairs room. About a dozen of us had paid £10 each and received a moderate share of six different beers from three different continents, and a tasting sheet. Cue lots of lip-pursing, glass-swirling, air-sniffing and superlative-swapping.

Up first was the Saison Dupont from Brasserie Dupont. Saisons were traditionally farmhouse beers, produced to keep labourers refreshed and brewed with whatever ingredients were available – spices, herbs, a range of grains – and in his Beer Bible, Jeff Alworth upholds Saison Dupont as the saviour of the style.

Beer writer Michael Jackson chanced upon it in the 1970s, he says, and persuaded an American importer to begin sourcing it, reviving the fortunes of a style that had nearly died out, and laying the foundations for countless imitations and variations ever since.

So, what’s it like? It’s light golden in colour, very refreshing, and with a subtle spiciness to it. I thought the flavour quite apricot-like; my friends described it as pithy citrus. It was strong and dense and would have been one to savour. But beer two was already on the way...

Timmermans Blanche Lambicus was paler and more opaque than the Saison Dupont. It was lively and lovely, bubbling away with subtle orange and peach flavours, as if someone had sprinkled some sherbet into the glass. It was scintillating and superb, and was several people’s second highest-scoring beer of the night.

York Press:

Pivní in Patrick Pool

Lambics, Billy explained, are truly magical beers. Whereas almost all beers are brought to life through a selected and cultivated yeast, lambics are left to nature. Wort is left in open tanks, so wild yeasts and bacteria in the air can settle and turn the wort into beer. A few UK breweries, notably Wild Beer Co in Somerset, now adopt such an approach but it is the Lambic brewers of Belgium who remain the masters.

Beer three, from Germany, was Leipziger Gose from Gasthaus and Gosebrauerei Bayerischer (a test for my shorthand on the night). Gose beers originate from Goslar and are typically slightly sour and salty. This one was earthier and murkier than the previous beers.

Beer four was Saison Du Japon from Hitachino Nest in Japan, a rare sake saison. It was undoubtedly a fine beer, but judged against the previous three, it was more cloying and chewy. A drinker at the next table said it was reminiscent of over-baked bread.

We were back with a bang for beers five and six though. The penultimate one was Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale by Boulevard Brew Co in Kansas City, Missouri, and it looked spectacular. If you drew a cartoon beer, this would be it – the body was a peachy golden colour, and a thick, undulating head sat upon it like drifting snow. The dominant tastes were light spice and bold tropical fruit.

And then, finally, the showstopper: Cascade Sang Noir by Cascade Brew Co and Raccoon Lodge and Brewpub in Oregon. A syncretic work of brewing brilliance. The beer is the result of wild fermentation and was aged for more than a year in pinot and bourbon barrels, before being blended with a barrel-load of sweet American bing cherries.

It was the sourest of the beers, with the cherry dominating the flavour, but the underlying bourbon and wine flavours were detectable too. The aroma was so strong that it drifted across the table even before one picked up the glass and when Billy sought our verdicts at the end, the Sang Noir was the clear winner.

Pivní deserve praise for their tasting nights, which do a lot to further understanding of myriad beer styles, and to broaden horizons. Their next one, likely to focus on IPAs, will be later this summer.

In the meantime, happy hunting on the sours. They are typically pricier than many other options on the bar, but should be viewed as beers to savour rather than swill. At Pivní, the Timmermans Blanche Lambicus is temporarily out of stock but the others are all available. The Sang Noir is £25 for a 750ml bottle, and is definitely one to share in a group.