It seems to those that know me or observe my various writings, musings and app check-ins that I have a reputation for not liking sour beer.
This is partly true, but not completely so, because I really do enjoy sour beers — but not all of them. It just isn’t possible to like every beer.
Kettle sour beers are where I waver between love and hate. There are some nice sour beers around, they’re much more mainstream and persistent than other fleeting styles, and I’m always willing to have a glass if I see one on tap on my travels over the latest IPA. If a brewer wants to put one up, I’ll put one down.
I am rather partial to, enjoy and actively seek out the traditional sour beer styles such as Belgian Lambic styles, Gueuze and Flanders Red, and to a lesser extent the German Gose and Berliner Weisse styles. I’m a member of the Craftwork Brewery Societe, and look forward to my biannual delivery of sometimes member-only beers in a variety of traditional styles.
The sour element in sours, particularly the traditional styles, should come from wild bacteria and yeast. Whereas what you see mainstream now is beer that uses the technique of kettle souring, or quick souring, where lactobacillus (a lactic acid-producing bacteria) is added after the mash and before boiling to lower the pH of the wort before it’s fermented. This should result in a clean light sourness.
The amount of time the lactobacillus is left in the wort defines the pH level of the resultant — beer the amount of ‘pucker’. Kettle souring is a technique that allows brewers to sour wort in a day or days, rather than over months or even years. It’s a different type of craft.
What almost seems to be too obvious, now I’m really having to think about it, is that kettle sours often seem to be mostly fruit bowl concoctions with additions of lactose and vanilla, such as raspberry milkshake; strawberry, miso & black pepper; dragonfruit & pineapple; strawberry daiquiri, pina colada (pineapple and coconut).
The list of sometimes mysterious ingredients can be daunting and it’s easy to have some distrust as to what might pour from the can — what indeed is dragonfruit?
If, however, you’re partial to the sharp tang of lemon, a squint of raspberry, or a zing of lime — then just by reading the label you’re going to get an idea of what the flavour delivery might be. And this is where I might have been doing it wrong.
And there is a spectrum of tartness from the super-puckering, grimace-inducing to the soft, refreshing and somewhat quenching, Sometimes you have to drink a lot of beers to find the right one, so whilst I might profess not to like sours I don’t avoid them because to do so would rob me of a sensory experience. And those experiences, I hope, will result in me being a better judge of labels and buying more of what I like than not.
It’s a challenge but one that I’m up for in 2023.