|Sour beers are trendy, but they aren’t new. In the 19th century, poor sanitation and
naturally occurring bacteria made most beer taste a little tart. Belgians have been deliberately
infecting their beers for more than a century, fermenting trademark styles
like gueuzes and krieks with wild yeast and bacteria. In the right doses, these
microorganisms add levity and complexity to the brews. Lose control of them, and the
ugs act as spoilers. More US brewers are borrowing from that tradition, concentrating
their efforts on these atavistic beers as an important part of their lineup. Often times it's the
type of yeast used in the brewing process that creates that wonderful taste.
Beer at its most basic is made up of four ingredients: water, barley malt, hops and yeast.
Each one contributes to the overall taste and character, and they fuel the brewer's creative
palette. But yeast is the only still-living, organic organism in the classic lineup, and it wields
a lot of power. Since medieval days, many brewers have relied on wild yeast that floats
in and ferments the wort. Over time, brewers and microbiologists have captured,
isolated and cultured many wild strains.
Today many breweries go to extreme lengths to nurture carefully controlled house strains
of yeast purchased from a commercial lab. The most common is Saccharomyces,
and brewers spend their days sanitizing every hose, clamp and piece of equipment
to keep their processes lab-pure. But sometimes Brett, which is all around us, infects a
beer designed for Saccharomyces. A much dreaded result can be undesirable
off-flavors that ruin an entire batch of beer. Brett is typically said to evoke clove, goat, horse
blanket, and sweaty saddle but just as often it brings lucious tropical fruit.
Many top breweries age their wild beers for one to three years in wood casks sequestered in
buildings separate from the main brew house. Still, most US brewers admitted they dump
nearly 10% of their wild beer because it's undrinkable — Brett can do unpredictable things,
and sometimes it doesn't ferment or interact with the other ingredients in the best way.
Brett fans acknowledge that while Americans' palates are becoming more adventurous and
sophisticated, plenty of people wrinkle their noses, pucker their lips and even send their
orders back when they first taste a wild or sour beer made with Brett. It's not for everyone.
My thought is that if someone throws one in front of you for the first time without
explanation, it could be a shockb ut once you discover them — when they're done right —
they're a great and unique taste experience!
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|Wild Yeast Makes Wild Beer
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