Issue 30

Beer Chat: Wild Ales

Beer Chat: Wild Ales

Wild Ales are among the most mystical of all beers. Distinctively sour, utterly complex, and made from strains of yeast and bacteria shunned by most breweries, these beers rank among the most fascinating and flavorful of styles. Wild ales’ roots are primarily in Belgium where brewers to this day still use primitive brewing equipment and rely on indigenous wild yeast and bacteria to drive the fermentation process. A Belgian wild ale can contain hundreds of strains of these organisms, producing a beer that is incredibly unique. These Belgian wild ales are the often aged for years in oak barrels and later blended to taste.

Although the sourness of wild ales do not appeal to all palates, the experience of their lush fruitness and acidity have often been compared to wine tasting. Those that do enjoy the complexity and crisp sourness of wild ales often find themselves increasingly drawn to the style (cravings and favoritism have been reported). Since the production of these beers is both time and labor intensive, be prepared for fine wine-like price tags as well.

Although wild ales have an immense historical background in Belgium and the surrounding region, many American breweries have begun to produce expertly made versions of their own. If you have never experienced what positive aspects Lactobacillus and Brettanomyces can contribute to your favorite carbonated adult beverage, may I please introduce you to the lively world of wild ales.

New Belgium Brewing Co.- La Folie (Fort Collins, CO) – 6.0% ABV

Appearance 3/3: Pours a very clear ruby red color with a large ivory colored head made of tiny bubbles, which leaves a blanket of lacing on the walls of the glass.

Aroma 9/12: The nose is dominated by a sharp tart cherry aroma with a crisp note of acetic sourness. Other dark fruits come through as the beer warms including ripe plum and lemon citrus.

Flavor/Mouthfeel 19/25: The flavor again leaps into tart cherries with an additional black cherry complexity. The sourness is bracing initially, but balances mid-palate with bready malt sweetness. Vibrant notes of ripe stone fruit (plums and dates), berries, lemons and a faint bitter chocolate-like character create intense complexity. Acetic acid lends a vinegary quality. Medium in body and moderately carbonated with a dry finish and lingering acidic bite.

Overall 8/10: An expertly crafted version of the Belgian style Flanders Red Ale. The tart fruitiness paired up with the crisp acidity creates a symphony of complex flavors. This is one of the great examples of an American made Wild Ale.

Total score 39/50, A-

Upstream Brewing Co.- Grand Cru (Omaha, NE) – 9.4% ABV

Appearance 1/3: Presents a hazy coppery orange color with a small bright white head. Lacing was minimal, but left a web of jagged shaped foam clinging to the sides of the glass.

Aroma 10/12: Oak aged white wine and sour grapefruit aroma pound through, leading to notes of barnyard funk and a mild sweetness of fresh candied apples.

Flavor/Mouthfeel 18/25: A fruity and malty sweetness builds in the flavor which was undetected in the aroma, but is welcome and pleasant in balancing the acidity. Sourness is moderately high with a tart citrus character complimented again by candied apple but with the addition of orchard fresh peach. A horse blanket quality from the wild yeast adds to it’s depth and complexity. The finish is moderately dry, partially due to the tannins of the barrel, with an oak and citrus character lasting long into the finish.

Overall 7/10: The sweetness of this beer shines through more than most Wild Ales, and seems to balance the acidity nicely. The complex fruit flavors blend well with the barrel characteristics.. This beer was made quite some time ago, and may continue to develop even further, but I suggest grabbing bottles for your cellar now, as this one will not be on shelves much longer.

Total score 36/50, B+

Odell Brewing Co.- Deconstruction Ale (Fort Collins, CO) – 10.5% ABV

Appearance 3/3: Pours a slightly hazy and vibrant golden orange color with a huge bright white mousse-like creamy head, lasting virtually forever and blanketing the glass with thick lace.

Aroma 10/12: Sweet pineapple, fresh citrus zest, and passion fruit dominate the nose with a soft and subtle spicy yeast character. Oaky notes from the barrel give this a rustic feel.

Flavor/Mouthfeel 23/25: A wallop of luscious fruit starting with ripe yellow pear and apricots, moving into sweet pineapple, mango, and red grapefruit. A hint of Bourbon comes through with an oaky vanilla-like barrel character, and seems to have a drying effect that helps balance the sweet fruit cocktail. The wild yeast adds a slightly tart acidity that is only complimentary, not overpowering. The finish is dry, with spicy white pepper and oak lasting into the aftertaste.

Overall 9/10: Incredibly complex, this can be picked apart for hours. The high alcohol content is hidden well, and can sneak up on you. The wild yeast plays an amazing roll in creating endless amounts of fruit flavors and aroma. This is a wonderful Wild Ale, and will develop well over time.

Total score 45/50, A+

Cantillon- Kriek 100% Lambic (Brussels, Belgium) – 5.0% ABV

Appearance 2/3: Presents a brilliantly clear and deep apple red color with a three fingers of thick bright pink head that quickly dissipates, leaving sparse lacing around the edges.

Aroma 8/12: Tart cherries seemed to burst out during the pour, turning into dark berries and currants. The sourness stands out with no sweetness on the nose. Subtle notes of horse blanket and peppery spice.

Flavor/Mouthfeel 20/25: The acidity is instantly gripping, but mellows as the taste buds adjust. The tart cherry flavor is more currant-like, and leads the way to lemon, vanilla and leather notes. Oaky character is subdued but present, as well as a grape vinegar quality that cuts through the fruitiness. The sourness stays front and center throughout, with no sweetness to speak of. The finish is very dry and the crisp sourness lasts long into the after taste.

Overall 8/10: Intensely sour, this is a display of how far the style can be taken. Fruits are deep and dark, but the balance falls far into the lap of the acidity. For those who love sour ales, this is the far end of that spectrum. If your taste buds can hang, this is the top of the hill, put you may want to check that you still have some enamel left on your teeth.

Total score 38/50, A-


Jason McLaughlin

Jason McLaughlin

Jason is a Certified Cicerone, ranked National as a BJCP judge (Beer Judge Certification Program), is a craft beer aficionado, a writer for the Nebraska Beer Blog, and award winning homebrewer living in Lincoln. Jason spends time traveling around the country judging beer competitions, and attending related events. Beer tasting and evaluation is his passion, and he can appreciate a great example of any style regardless of hype.

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