I am not a fan of kettle sour beer, let’s start with that. I find the vast majority of kettle sours just aren’t appealing to my taste buds, and there’s something about lacto yeast that I can’t get behind. There are of course exceptions to the rule, but for the most part you won’t see me ordering a kettle sour beer willingly.
That being said, as much as I don’t like kettle sours, I am willing to defend their very existence and why they play a vital role in the craft beer industry. Let me break it down.
The first and simplest defense is that drinkers should be given as many options as they can, and if someone were to find kettle sours enjoyable, then that’s another convert to craft beer. I would never say pumpkin beer shouldn’t exist simply because I find the style an abomination. My tastes are not your tastes, and that’s more than acceptable.
The more compelling argument is that kettle sours are at least in part responsible for the growing wave of sour beer available across North America; without kettle sours, we wouldn’t see this resurgence at all.
Because kettle sours are the “easy” option for brewers to dip their toes into the sour beer market. Barrel aged souring is expensive, time consuming, technically difficult and produces wildly unpredictable results. Kettling a sour is the exact opposite of that; it allows a brewer to easily create a sour beer in relatively little time and with a high degree of control. This opens the market up to all sorts of opportunities for experimentation with kettle sours, which means more diversity and more options for drinkers.
Ultimately that means a market exists for drinkers to experience sour beer. Kettle sours can be seen as the gateway to more complex sour styles. If a drinker likes a kettle sour, they may start to look into further sour options like Oud Bruins, which starts to support the brewers taking the long term route of creating barrel sours.
Everyone has to start somewhere; you can’t expect a drinker to immediately latch onto complex sour profiles when they’ve been used to beers that are juicy, hoppy or crisp. We’re talking about an entirely new subset of beers with flavour profiles that are unlike anything else. Baby steps are a necessity for most drinkers to get to that level. It’s kind of like hot sauce, start with the Tabasco and work up to the Carolina Reaper.
Kettle souring is also responsible for the growing interest in styles like Gose and Berliner-Weisse, both old-world traditional styles that are well worth trying if you haven’t had either.
So in conclusion, do I like kettle sours, no not really, but I sure am glad they are around, otherwise there’s a whole category of beer that wouldn’t be as strong as it is today. And that I’m thankful for.