What are Catharina Sour Beers – A Brazilian Beer

I recently did a post on pastry stouts and mentioned Catharina Sour beers. It led to people asking about them so, I thought I’d write another post.

Catharina Sour is a style originating from Brazil, typically the southern states (see the map below and Santa Catarina). They’re fruit forward sour beers where the fruit doesn’t have be tropical just FRESH.

Catharina Sour Beers - Map Of Brazil

In Brazil Catharina Sour beers, are a recognized style with several breweries and many homebrewers producing this beer. With the base beer being a wheat ale (4.2-6% abv) that’s been kettle soured with fresh fruit added after fermentation.

Brazil has a lot of fruits, which many of us outside the country have never heard of. The Amazon is wild place full of strange fruits. With many used to make Catharina Sours like butía, with more common fruits like tamarind, guava, dragon fruit and pineapple also used.

The History of Catharina Sour Beers

In the southern states of Brazil there’s a strong German influence carried over from colonial times. For example, many people have German names; like Gisele Bündchen the model or the Liverpool goal keeper Alisson Becker.

Moreover German heritage can be found in the Brazilian beer culture as well, with German beer styles being popular and well-known. Catharina Sour beers evolved from these German traditions.

When you combine German heritage with access to readily available fresh fruit there’s going to be some experimentation from naturally curios brewers. This curiosity gave rise to Catharina Sours.

What Does a Catharina Sour Taste Like?

Catharina Sour could be best described as strong Berliner Weisse brewed with pilsner and wheat malt. Like most sour beers the IBU’s (bitterness level) are low, typically 2 to 8 IBU’s with a lactic sourness plus fresh fruit taste at the end.

These beers are supposed to be moderately sour to complement/balance the fruit, not overpower it. Plus be light, refreshing, well carbonated and highly attenuated. The fruit addition should be the main note on the nose too.

There should be no hop aroma or flavour present to be true to style. As the beer is based on the traditional German Berliner Weisse, the sour should not be “funky”, but a clean lactic sour almost with acetic notes.

When brewing this beer, a clean neutral yeast should be used. Furthermore, the malt profile should be low allowing the fruit and sourness to take centre stage.

Think of a German Berliner Weisse’s, where people add syrups to take the edge of the sourness. In a Brazilian Catharina Sour, that’s the role of the fruit addition. The sourness is less intense then say, that of a Lambic beer.

The Look of the Beer

Also, the color of the beer is often determined by the fruit addition. If the fruit’s color isn’t prominent then the beer should be relatively pale (from the pilsner and wheat malt). Depending on the pectin level of the fruit, the beer can be clear to hazy.

Catharina Sour Beers - The Look

Similar to a wheat beer; the high carbonation plus wheat in the mash gives the beer a persistent head, that’s often off-white, due to the fruit addition. Having a low malt profile, high attenuation and carbonation level, makes this style refreshing to drink too.

How to Brew Catharina Sour Beers

Wheat should make up a major portion of your grain bill, with 50% being common to the style whilst pilsner malt makes up the rest. Note, the fruit you’ll use, is the headline act for beer so, no other malts are needed.

As you want a highly attenuated beer a single infusion mash at 65°C will suffice if you don’t have the ability to step mash. As the beer is not hop driven, a neutral bittering hop is appropriate such as Magnum or Warrior.

Just be careful about how much you use, when working with high hop alpha varieties. Please note German noble low alpha hops can be used if you prefer. As hops are just for the beer’s low bitterness, with none being used for hop aroma or flavor.

The Souring Process

Some brewers do a sour mash, but this doesn’t give the clean sour that’s appropriate to style. In Brazil they use pro-biotic drinks at home brewing level.

This may seem odd but it apparently works. If you can find a pure lactobacillus (lacto) strain, then that will be more suitable for commercial brewing. So, something like sour pitch is ideal.

Much has been written on the subject of kettle souring, such as here. So, I will not cover it in detail. I’ll just give a few pointers:

  • Kettle sour at around 38°C – temperature depends on your lacto source too
  • Pre-acidify the wort with lactic acid to pH 4.5
  • Don’t add hops till after the souring
  • Try and keep a layer of CO2 on the wort when souring (add CO2 and cover with plastic wrap)

Keep an eye on the pH as it drops, the higher the temperature the quicker the souring will happen. In Brazil they usually let the wort drop to pH 3.2. Don’t got too low, as you will be using brewers’ yeast to ferment this beer out.

Once you’ve hit target pH; boil the wort, to kill off the lacto and add your hops. You ferment using a neutral and high attenuating yeast. Additionly, the fruit is added after the fermentation.

The Fruit Addition

The fruit should be sweet and ripe. If you’re using tropical fruits that are under ripe, they might be quite acidic. You add the fruit to taste, with a good starting point being 10% of the total beer volume being fruit juice.

It really depends on the fruit you’re using. The best place to start is doing small trials. Say adding a known volume of fruit juice to 300ml of finished beer. When you’ve a preferred level, scale up from that, for your pilot/main brew.

Furthermore, the pH of the final beer will often rise with the addition of the fruit juice. So, it’s good to do a final tasting after the fruit has been added. A target pH of 3.5 after the fruit addition, will give a pleasant sourness without being puckering.

Like many beers, sometimes simplicity is key. Don’t overdo it with too many types of fruit. It’s hard to get the balance right and can confuse the drinker. Most Catharina sour beers use one or two different fruits.

We said earlier these beers are made with an addition of fruit juice. You don’t want the skin, seeds or stem in the beer as they can impart tannins in the beer, giving a harsh bitterness.

It’s best to use fresh fruit juice rather than juice made from concentrate, as they often add sweeteners to these products.

Catharina Sour Beers – Conclusions and Additional Notes

This beer is essentially a stronger version of a Berliner weisse with a fruit addition.

Now with any fruit additions post fermentation, be careful. If the beer isn’t kept cold, the beer may begin to ferment again from the sugars in the fruit.

This has been a craze in the US, with the juice added being 20%+ of the final beer. This has led to some careless breweries creating can bombs, with fermenting fruit juice leading to exploding cans.

In commercial brewing, there are ways around this issue, with pasteurization being one means. So, please be careful when storing this beer after adding the fruit if you’re homebrewing.

Now to look at recipes at actual recipes…

Here is a good recipe, as a starting point. It seems to be a recipe straight from Brazil too. As is this one too. If you can’t get Guava then use another fruit.

As this is a regional beer from the Southern states of Brazil. I couldn’t find a commercial example to base a recipe off. Like when Brewdog its shares its recipes.

There are other recipes shared online to start from…so, Google is your friend.

Anyway, this ends our post about Catharina Sour beers. I hope you found it informative. If you decide to make this beer at home, then please let me know how it goes by commenting below.

Thanks for reading and happy brewing everyone.



Neil Playfoot

Neil is a brewer with 25 years international brewing experience. Based out of China (first came in 2010) he works as a brewing consultant helping brewers with their projects and brewing processes. To find out what services Neil can provide your brewery please click here. If you'd like to contact Neil you can email at neil@asianbeernetwork.com.
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