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The Beer Reporter Sounds Off On Beer !
Intrigued by Belgian Brewing
Chris Marchio - sounds off on beer!
I’ve always been intrigued by Belgian inspired brewing, however, being
almost stuck in an IPA confusion, I only looked for hop forward beers
and that was it. I didn’t take the time to break down and explore the
world of international brewing, which kept me narrow minded in the world
of craft beer.
Over the last few months, I have been experimenting with tasting as
many Belgian styles as possible; Lambic’s, Geuze, Flemish Red's &
Brown's, Saison’s, Farmhouse Ale’s, & Blondes . I have been especially
drawn to the use of “wild yeast” cultures such as “brett”, which is short
for Brettanomyces. Other souring agents common in this style of
brewing are Pediococcus, and Lactobacillus which help contribute to the
tart, acidic, and drying qualities these styles are known for. These
strains of yeast and bacteria are found on fruit skins, which were
common on farmhouse breweries, where the yeast strains would
infiltrate the beers naturally and create the sour funkiness after years of
maturation in oak casks.
These styles shift the focus of the beer from the intricacies of the hops
and the boil to yeast and fermentation. Belgian brewing is more of an
art form, rooted in experimentation and curiosity; it doesn’t have a strict
interpretation of “what beer is…” a common trait in places like Germany.
German brewers are like machines, working under regulated conditions
with pristine accuracy and churning out crystal clear lagers known for
their crispness and clean qualities. This play’s into the need for
consumers to define a “style.” Belgian brewers still use these styles so
consumers get an idea of what they are getting, but there is much more
variation within these styles and willingness to explore. Patience is also
a key factor to this style of brewing, with beers being aged for up to
three years in oak barrels from wineries & distilleries.
Breweries in the United States are now taking on this approach to
making their craft ales. They make beer with American ingenuity through
a Belgian lens, practicing barrel aging and “wild” yeast with open &
spontaneous fermentation. Fermenting in open vessels is a tricky
game, but well worth it if pulled off correctly. Esters in the brew become
more pronounced, especially with higher temperatures, which lend
extreme fruit characteristics to the beer. The beers are then bottle
conditioned and are best aged.
One of the most experimental breweries using open fermentation and
wild yeast is Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales out of Dexter, Michigan. One that
I was lucky enough to find was, Calabaza Blanca, an artisan white ale
brewed with orange peels and coriander has traces of licorice, grape,
clove, orange, and (you guessed it) coriander. With an effervescent
head and beautiful lacing, this beer is extremely carbonated and drinks
similar to a dry white wine. A perfect blend of malt & wheat
characteristics works well with a tart, lasting flavor from the yeast. If you
can find anything from this brewery, don’t even think about it, buy as
much as possible.
I have decided to be adventurous and take my first stab at this style of
brewing with a sour saison, which I named C’est la Saison, meaning
“Such is Saison.” It is an apple, honey, ginger ale focused on heavier
aromatic hop additions. The hop variety used was Belma, a newer strain
known for its tropical mango, lemon, and black pepper notes, and was
fermented with French Saison yeast.
After two weeks in the primary, I transferred the beer to a blue corn
whiskey barrel and added a Lambic blend of yeast. This strain has
traces of the wild yeast cultures that will contribute to the funky, tart
flavor I am hoping to achieve. Brettanomyces works slower than
traditional brewers yeast and takes more time to fully develop the
desirable flavors, so the first sample will be tested after 5 months of
aging in the barrel. I am hoping to achieve a mellow smoky flavor from
the bourbon & the tropical fruit notes from the Belma hops, with mild
sweetness from the apple and spice from the ginger. These strains of
yeast take time and are focused for secondary fermentation. Time will
tell and failure is a major possibility, but this is how you learn and I am
very excited for summer to try this. My goal is not have one flavor stand
out, but create a unique blend of flavors that lend to one another, rather
than drown out the others.
The brewing was the same as any other brewing sessions, the only real
differences being a slightly lower mashing temperature (148 degrees F)
and the use of orange blossom honey at flame out. The real fun began
a few days into primary fermentation after high krausen. I made an
apple honey ginger infused syrup by boiling water, honey, raw cane
sugar, fresh ginger and apple slices. This solution was then cooled and
added to the fermenting wort over a span of four days. This extended
primary fermentation as it gave the yeast some more sugar to ferment
and it raised the gravity. After two weeks, the yeast has all dropped and
I then transferred it to secondary fermentation.
Once in secondary, I introduced wild yeast cultures from the Wyeast
Lambic blend, mostly brettanomyces & lactobacillus, with other cultures
& bacteria’s found in sour styles. One aspect of barrel aging with these
yeast cultures that is confusing to traditional brewers is that oxidation
actually helps with the souring process. In “normal” beer, these
characteristics do not lend well and are meticulously avoided, now,
brewers are figuring out how to work with oxidation and use it to their
And now all I have to do is wait!
"The Beer Reporter"
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