Death to kettle sours.
It’s a sentiment that a percentage of the beer nerd population has come to adopt thanks to the recent spike in the process of fast souring beers. While I understand the genesis behind the movement I don’t necessarily stand behind it personally. There is a group of sour beer-loving folks that feel that the act of kettle souring is a false representation of true sour beer.
Let me back up for a second. A traditional sour beer is the product of a lengthy and complicated process that usually takes a year or more to produce and the results when done properly are amazing. Kettle souring is a process where acidity is produced in a matter of days and has been a shortcut for many brewers to produce sour beers without the commitment of the more traditional method.1 What could be wrong with putting sour beers into the hands of the people that want them in a fraction of the time?
While fast souring produces acidity it does not provide the complex array flavors that come from the longer more complicated method. Kettle soured beers tend to have an acid profile that is much more one dimensional that lacks the complexity one would come accustom to in traditional sour beers. Does this mean that fast soured beers are inferior and should not be purchased? No. When a good brewer performs the kettle sour process properly the acidity can be used in conjunction with other flavors from yeast, grains, hops, fruit or other adjuncts to create fantastic beers.2 Tart saisons, Berliner weiss and gose are all examples of styles that are exploding in popularity that show what kettle souring can do.
Geyser Gose from Two Roads and Evil Twin is a perfect example of a beer that uses a layer of acidity in conjunction with other ingredients to create a delicious and interesting brew. Rye, herbs, moss, kelp, smoked sea salt and skyre (Icelandic yogurt) are all used in the brew process. The beer pours an expected hazy gold reminiscent of straw with a carbonation level that is spot on for the style. The aroma subtle yet interesting. The lactic acid character is there but subdued enough to not overpower the nose. Notes of lemon and lime are the first to be noticed followed by a funky brett character that really adds to the bouquet. Add in the layer of salty sea air and a bit of wheat and you have a great smelling brew.
One of the big complaints against kettle sours is that the acidity can tend to be very one dimensional and sharp. I have had more than my fair share of quick soured beers that fit that mold but I would not lump Geyser Gose in with them. Like the nose the lactic acid is there but in low enough levels to let other flavors come through. The citrusy notes blended with the salty sea kelp combine to make a refreshing combo that is the first thing to come from the sip. The lactic sourness lasts throughout the sip then slowly fades into the finish. I get a touch of the wheat and the earthy funk from the brett but the salinity and the citrus are the star of the show. The beer finishes very dry and is crazy drinkable with no signs of alcohol.