Wild/Sour Beer Starter

Written by Kirk Blackmon 3/17/17

As many a brewer and beer drinker alike are aware, the sour beer trend that was reinvigorated several years back seems to be here to stay. While this is indeed a divisive subject for many in the beer world, this need not be a complicated topic for those that fall on the side of good beer.

Just as with any style of beer, there are many ways to make a true wild/sour beer. I personally am not a fan of hugely pine-forward hops in my pale ales and IPAs, but that does not mean I broadly dismiss all full hopped beers. In fact, one of my favorite beers to brew is a highly hopped IIPA; I simply trend more towards the fruit forward hops such as Citra with a healthy dose of dry hops. Now I know there are some folks that truly don’t like the funk of wild ales or the pungent tartness of a puckering sour and that’s perfectly fine; everyone is welcome to their own opinion (even if it’s wrong ☺ ). For those that don’t fall into the aforementioned group, but aren’t quite sure about the wild and sour ales yet, hang with me for a bit and you might find out a few beer styles that you haven’t tried or brewing processes that will give you great results and a great beer.

First, let’s start with the basics – There are wild ales and there are sour ales and there is a combination of the two. Now you might ask, what is the difference and why does it matter to me. Well, here we go.

• Wild ales – Typically fermented with the wild cousin of standard brewer’s yeast, Brettanomyces.
• Sour ales – Typically fermented with standard brewer’s yeast as well as some form of bacteria (yes, you read that right bacteria)
• Combination ales – These can combine any form of the two "stricter" categories mentioned above

Now that you know the major groups, let’s talk about the details.

Wild Ales

When we talk about wild ales, they often are unfairly lumped into the broader category of sour ales. The reason I say that this is unfair is that many a wild ale isn’t really sour at all, but instead can have flavors such as tropical fruits, pear, smoky, and spicy. These come from the slightly askew wild cousin, Brettanomyces. This is simply another species of yeast, but make no mistake, it is truly a yeast, thus no bacteria is introduced. This is similar to how a standard American ale yeast will produce wildly (pardon the pun) different aromas and flavors when compared to a Belgian ale yeast.
Commercial examples: Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project Wild Wild Brett Rouge, Russian River Brewing Co. Redemption

Sour Ales

Now, the beer deserving of the moniker, the truly soured ales. While there are many ways to make a sour beer, these are most often created with some form of standard Saccharomyces and additions of bacteria. This is where you can range from the slightly tart such as what you might get from a Greek yogurt all the way to the cheek puckering Warhead sour candy flavor. This is produced by different varieties of bacteria being introduced. The ones that are most familiar and readily accessible to the typical homebrewer are Lactobacillus and Pediococcus.
Commercial examples: All Cascade Brewing beers

Combination ales

Exactly as it sounds…a combination of the two above which can yield great beers with some sour and some funk.
Commercial examples: Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project Surette, Russian River Brewing Co. Supplication

Now that you have a basic understanding, and perhaps a little clearer differentiation between these beers, perhaps it's time to try your hand at making one!

Tropical Brett Saison
5 gallon all grain
• 8 lbs Belgian Pilsner
• 2 lbs Flaked Wheat
• 1 lb Cara/Crystal 20
• 4 oz Acidulated Malt
• 1.5 oz UK Fuggles – 60 minutes
• Belgian Saison – Wyeast Labs 3724
• Brettanomyces Claussenii - White Labs WLP645

Mash with 148 degree water for 75 minutes. Sparge with 168 degree water to collect enough to boil down to 5.5 gallons. Boil for 60 minutes. Cool to recommended fermentation temperature for Saison yeast and pitch.

Allow primary fermentation to complete and rack to secondary. Pitch Brett and allow to work on the beer for anywhere from 6 weeks to 6 months. The flavor will change over time, so taste along the way to determine your desired level of impact. Enjoy!