The kettle sour category has become a catch-all term for brewers who want to describe any number of styles, including Berliner Weisse, gose or simply a sour ale. Kettle sours are also a blank canvas for brewers to highlight ingredients that play well in a lower-alcohol space.
Typically these beers get their acidity, often perceived as sourness, from an addition of lactobacillus. The bacteria is added to cooled wort to kickstart a fermentation process and will consume the sugars in the brew within a matter of days. Some breweries have shaved this process down to mere hours.
It is that quick turnaround time from wort to finished beer that is so appealing to breweries who are often trying to keep up with consumer demand. The ability to brew, package and release a beer within the span of a few days is appealing to the bottom line and customers line up, eager for each new release.
A Berliner weisse is a German wheat ale that is low in alcohol and refreshingly tart. A gose (pronounced Goes-UH) is also a low alcohol German wheat ale, but with an addition of salt.
Historically Berliner weisse was served with a sweet flavored syrup like woodruff or raspberry. That combination led brewers of the modern age to add fruit to their beers. From syrups to purées to whole berries, what is offered now creates a kaleidoscope of colors in the finished beer depending on the fruit used.
Sometimes the fruits are used in combination to re-create familiar recipes like Key lime pie or Hawaiian Punch. Other times the fruits are more seasonal in nature or try to evoke a time and place.
While sour might be a word that turns off some drinkers, it is best to think of this style as tart—which can be pleasing. These beers, thanks to the heavy fruit additions, have introduced scores of drinkers to craft beer and can be as much fun to drink as they are to look at.
Dogfish Head Sea Quench Ale; $10/12oz 6 pack, 94 points. A soft combination of vanilla and lime zest makes this a pleasing, mellow ale. Tart citrus builds over a few sips but never overwhelms. This beer would be perfectly at home served cold, under the shade of a tree on a hot summer afternoon.
Ivanhoe Park Guavacation; $14/16oz 4 pack, 94 points. This bright pink ale starts off with a sweet-tart smack and quickly reveals candied blackberry, raspberry and a slight green strawberry flavor. Refreshing and effervescent, there is a soft, salty finish that perks up the taste buds.
Springdale Razz Hibby Tart Ale; $12/16oz 4 pack, 94 points. This ale starts off with with aromas of just ripe raspberry backed by a little acidity and tartness. The fruit is the star here in all its berry complexity, down to tasting the seeds and feeling the fuzzies. Hazy pink in color and thin in feel, it’s brewed with hibiscus that adds a touch of dryness.
West Sixth Tropical Sour; $15/12 oz 4 pack, 94 points. Ripe guava, mango, passion fruit and all the tropical feels are in this ale. Cold, frothy and refreshing, it’s like a mixed drink poolside in a resort. It won’t weigh you down and the fruit character continues to build as the glass empties. It winds up being a lip-smacking, satisfying experience.
Proof Key Lime Pie Evil Kiss; $10/12 oz 6 pack, 93 points. This is a beer that delivers on its name. Lime meringue and sweet honey are dominant alongside a vanilla character that builds over time. Medium in weight, with lively carbonation, this gives the impression of a whipped topping. It would pair beautifully with ginger snaps.
Ratio Major Nights Lime Gose; $11/12 oz 6 pack, 93 points. This offers flavors of lemon meringue and lime zest, with touches of vanilla and graham cracker lending sweetness. All together it is vaguely reminiscent of pie and might be well served against a small dish of the same thing. Slightly hazy gold in color, this is a real treat.
West Sixth Valencia Berliner Weisse; $12/12 oz 6 pack, 93 points. Golden yellow in color, with low fluffy head, this is a spritzy citrus-forward ale brewed with Valencia oranges, but offering flavors of tangerine, clementine and sweet lemon. It is thirst quenching while still inviting and fresh.
Mikkeller Raspberry Blush; $12/16 oz 4 pack, 92 points. This coffee kettle sour will bend the mind and confuse the palate a bit, but it is worth it in the end. The flavor coffee is rich and oily, with a touch of candied raspberry. It’s a boundary pushing beer, in a good way.
Transmitter PH2; $18/16 oz 4 pack, 92 points. This ale offers a tart experience, with aromas and flavors of pineapple, kiwi, passion fruit and mango. It is funky in a way that is lively and evokes warmer climates and state of mind.
Yazoo End of Summer Gose; $10/12 oz 6 pack, 92 points. This is a gose to while away the long summer afternoons. Brewed with wheat, coriander and sea salt, it offers aromas of earthy pine needles, a touch of citrus and ripe fruit blossoms, all rounded out by pleasing acidity.