Not all sour beers are created equally. Literally. The traditional way of the Belgian brewers was to leave the wort in avessel that was wide and shallow, in a room with windows open to the elements. The natural yeasts and bacterias in the air would “infect” the wort. After primary fermentation, the resulting beer would be transferred to wooden barrels, and be left to let the critters do their work. Often it would take years for the beer to get to the point where the brewer was happy with the results. Such was the case with the recently reviewed DooLittle Sour from North Fork.
In the modern brewing world however, most breweries don’t have the time, space, equipment, or money (in the form of lost opportunity costs) to devote to these processes. Yet, we, the beer-loving consumer (and the breweries customers) love our sour brews. What’s a brewery to do? The answer is a method called “Kettle Souring”. Some purists dismiss kettle sours as a lower quality shortcut. And certainly, in the wrong hands, some terrible beer can be produced. The rise in popularity of sour beers has led to a growing base of experience and knowledge that brewers are willing to share with each other, so most kettle sours you’ve likely tried have turned out well.
The short version of the kettle brewing process is that brewers will brew a batch of wort (and, any style can be soured, although some lend themselves better than others to the process) and leave it right in the brew kettle, at relatively warm temps. They then intro a souring bacteria to the wort, quite commonly a little bug known as Lactobacillus. The brewer will leave his little friend Lacto in the wort for a couple days, say maybe over the weekend while the brewer is off shredding at Baker, or out salmon fishing. Lacto will quickly acidify the wort, then the brewer can ferment with a more common yeast to eat the sugars and create alcohol.
The kettle souring approach is the one taken by Atwood Ales from Blaine. Kettle One Blonde was obtained directly from the brewers at the Bellingham Farmers Market last weekend. It came in a 750ml bottle, dated 07/08/16, with an ABV of 4.2%. I poured it into a 13oz tulip glass (which is my favorite glassware style), and my over-enthusiastic pour resulted in over two inches of fluffy, bright white head. Subsequent pours ended with more reasonable amounts of head. The head had good retention, and dissipated at a laid-back pace, and left light lacing on the sides of the glass.
The aroma had a very light tartness at the front of the scent, which was backed up by a gentle and earthy grain scent. The tartness seemed to grow a bit the more I focused on the aromatics, and a bit of lemon scented yeast played around the edges. The taste profile was very similar; an ambient tartness that grew with each sip, pleasant, almost summer field-like grains, a noticeable lemon flavor, and a secondary sourness at the back of the palate that was a bit more solid. That’s an effect I rarely notice, and it makes for an interesting contrast.
The mouthfeel was light-medium, with a crisp presence, and a dry finish that left the lemony tartness lingering for a few moments after each sip. Drinkability was very pleasant, you could either quaff a glass of this beer quickly as a refresher, or sip it languidly in your hammock with your favorite summer reading.
Overall, this is a crisp, clean, light, refreshing beer that managed to hold my interest throughout the whole bottle. There are enough different aspects to it to hold ones attention, while not being so overpowering or bossy so as to demand all your attention. I think it would go well with a plate of pan-fried oysters; the tartness would would cut and contrast the oceanic elements, and it would also fit nicely alongside a slice of lemon meringue pie for dessert. This enjoyable brew earns a nice 6.6 on my 1-10 scale.