What’s a Kettle Sour?

kettle sour beer graphic

Kettle sour beer, often referred to as “quick sour,” has gained popularity in the craft beer scene for its tart and refreshing flavors. But what exactly is kettle sour, and how does it differ from traditional souring methods? 

What is Kettle Sour Beer?

As the name suggests, kettle sour is produced in the kettle stage of brewing. Unlike traditional souring methods that involve extended fermentation and aging periods, kettle souring allows brewers to sour the beer quickly and in a controlled environment. 

During kettle souring, lactobacillus bacteria is added to the wort (unfermented beer) in the kettle before boiling. The bacteria produces lactic acid as a by-product, contributing a tart flavor. It is the same “tanginess” you might appreciate in yogurt or a helping of sauerkraut.

But BEFORE you go around touting beer as a probiotic and, therefore, critical to your health, know this: the lactobacilli are, unfortunately, killed off during the boiling process. No intact cultures remain once the beer is finished, only their sour memory. 

Kettle Sour vs Traditional Sours

As you may recall from another very excellent blog post, traditional sour beers get their pucker from a combination of bacteria, wild yeast, and barrel aging. Brewers will often allow their barrels to cool in a pretty spot overnight in hopes of trapping a wild yeast strain (you can collect them all). Probiotics, like lactobacillus, might find their way in as well. This is typically followed by a period of aging in wooden barrels. Sours like lambics are fermented a second time after aging with tart fruit, like cherries or raspberries.

All this is wonderful and traditional sours are truly fun to drink and make. But a) they take time, and 2) they aren’t always a sure thing. Unless you have cultivated your wild yeast beforehand, you can’t be sure any was even introduced into an open barrel. Furthermore, you won’t know what kind and, therefore, what the final product will taste like. 

If you have what my therapist calls “control” and “patience” issues, then kettle sour beer is here to enable you. What takes months or even years via traditional methods can be accomplished in a day or two with a kettle sour. And you have precise control over what goes in, so you can replicate the experiment (scientific method, don’t ya know).

But…Is A Kettle Sour Beer As Good As a Barrel-Aged One?

This is a somewhat controversial subject of discussion among beer enthusiasts. We, for one, think a kettle sour beer is every bit as good as a barrel-aged one. Sure, a kettle sour hasn’t had the same amount of time to develop, but what it lacks in sophistication it makes up for in brightness and customizability. Truthfully, we appreciate both methods of brewing. Both taste good, just different. A kettle sour is very tart-forwardTM and often more bold in its flavor additions. Barrel-aged sours are mellower and boast more subtle fruit notes. 

What Does Kettle Sour Beer Taste Like?

Quick sour beers are characterized by their clean and tart flavor profile, with a noticeable zing from the lactic acid. The taste of kettle sour beer can vary depending on factors such as the type of lactobacillus strain used, the brewing process, and any additional ingredients added. For EXAMPLE:

craft kettle sour beer with cartoon cat dressed as Richard Simmons on the label

In Diebolt’s Richard Purrsimmons Quick Sour, we punch up the tart flavors even more with a kumquat and persimmon puree. Warming vanilla brings out the subtle spice of the persimmons and lends a sweetness for balance and harmony (sorry, we’ve been watching a FAIR amount of Iron Chef). 

FYI, the cat on the label is Aramis, our mouser. He has not yet forgiven us for dressing him up as Richard Simmons in order to accomplish a very forced pun. But he is a cat, so he is always mad about something. Come on, Aramis, you’re becoming MIGHTY!

What Do You Eat With Kettle Sour Beer?

Whatever you want, really. 

Just kidding, we’ll be helpful. They’re sour, right? So think of things that taste great with a punch of citrus. A kettle sour beer goes great with seafood alfredo or fish tacos, for example, or paired with a melty, nutty Reuben sandwich. They also work well with sweets, of course (cuz “sweet n’ sour”). Try the Richard Persimmon with a warm cinnamon roll, a dish we like to call “Percinnamon Roll.” Badum tss. 

Better Beer for a Rockies Game

It’s Rockies Season! Skip the grocery store mass-produced stuff and stock up on your Diebolt favorites instead. We dabble in just about every style, from kolsch to saison, so we’ve got you covered. We are currently having a moment with our Sorachi Ace Japanese Beer and our Rindhouse Vol. 3 Saison. They actually pair up very well. The pilsner’s lemony flavors compliment the intense orange of Rindhouse, while counterbalancing the saison’s sweetness with an herbaceous undertone. Swing by for a taste to see for yourself. The patio is looking mighty appealing these days. 

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