Sunday 30 August 2009

A Wild Time

Somehow, in a short space of time, I managed to accumulate quite a collection of wild beers. By wild I don’t just mean crazy-ass beers with high octane hops or hell-straddling booze, what I mean are beers brewed with wild yeast. Now I’ll be frank, my first few experiences with lambic and gueuze summoned responses such as: fuck off, what the fuck, and just fuck. Now I’m on to fuck yeah. You see, drinking a glass of salmon pink vinegar is not a natural thing to enjoy. But then drinking a glass of gold hop juice isn’t either. My fledgling wild experience was in Croydon’s Beer Circus where the barman informed us it was flat as a witch’s tit. Unsure of whether this euphemism was good or bad, I was soon to discover that it was not good and promptly ordered another Kwak to be able to drink from the cool glass. The next time was a similarly puckering experience. As was the next. But then things started to change… To really throw myself into a sour endeavor I decided to have a wild night in on my own. For this wild night I opened four beers which use wild yeast. Since then I’ve had even more and got to try a few more at GBBF. My mind has been opened and it’s letting in a beaming, acetic ray and I can’t get enough of it and, long story short, I now love them. But onto my ‘wild night’, which consisted of Mikkeller’s It’s Alight, 3 Fonteinen Oude Kriek, Goose Island Matilda and Orval. It was a tame wild night, I’ll admit, but still... The Mikkeller was spritzy and lemony with a lovely fragrant sweetness and a kick of tart. It’s a little spicy, nice and crisp and very drinkable, although not all that wild. Not all that wild can be applied to Matilda which was essentially a spicy, tangy Belgian beer with only subconscious hints of brett. It was interesting but not really for me. Orval, which I wrote about here, is now one of my favourite beers and I’ve got a garage full of them. The 3 Fonteinen was altogether different and absolutely bloody lovely. Clean, easy drinking, tart but not too tart, cherries, a dry bite at the end… wonderful. Beyond this night I’ve since had Oude Geuze Boon which I wrote about here and loved. There was Cantillon Kriek 100% Lambic which I’ve had before and hated but this time I really enjoyed it’s woody/savoury quality and the quenching cherries and lemon. There was Ramsgate Brewery’s Reserve red wine barrel aged barley wine which is just remarkable. Plus there were the GBBF beers: Harvey’s Imperial Stout (day before GBBF, shared with Woolpack Dave and Jeff, but close enough), Allagash Interlude and Montegioco Mummia. I’m really intrigued by wild and sour beers. There’s something raw and elemental about them which fascinates me. And they are fascinating beers because they challenge what our minds think beer is and what it can be. More US breweries are going wild and I really hope that more UK breweries start experimenting with brett and other wild yeasts as it could be a pretty big thing (Reluctant Scooper thinks so too).
Bad picture at the top. My bad. I must've deleted it from the camera before saving it. Thank god for twitpic.


  1. I love sour beers, and have since first sip of a lambic about nine years ago. Boon Framboise I think it was. I then took a liking to Geueze, but it wasn't till earlier this year that I tried the Cantillon Geueze, and the Kriek. Lovely, lovely beers. But I also love the likes of sour Flanders Red Ales like Rodenbach Grand Cru, which has some crazy cocktail of sour, wild flavours. Have one down in the cellar now that I think of it. Hmmm...

    I'll be bringing some sour beers back from Amsterdam with me next week if I have enough bag space :P

  2. I seem to be alone amongst the beer fraternity (and sorority - let's not get all sexist about it) in not enjoying Cantillon's beers. I understand them, I just don't enjoy them that much. I find them too acidic. I prefer the mellower offerings of Girardin and Oude Beersel.

    Mikkler's It's Alive! (the bigger-boned version of It's Alight!) is a splendid Orval clone that almost eclipses Orval.

    It's probably worth making the distinction between spontaneously fermentng beers and those that are innoculated with cultured Brett. Now, let me just refill my pipe, and get comfy....

  3. Zak, you are not alone, I pretty much agree with you about Cantillon's beers especially the younger releases.

    Harveys Imperial Stout 2003, am I the only one who thinks it has gone past funky and become faulty?

  4. Send me a bottle of Harveys Imperial Stout 2003 and I'll let you know ;o)

  5. Funnily enough, I cracked open a bottle of Cantillon's Gueuze 100% Lambic Bio last night. Gorgeously tart stuff - perfect drinking for a hot late summer evening.

    There are certain flavours that (how shall I say?) require a certain maturity of taste to appreciate. It's something that you have to develop over time. A friend has a theory that we all have to make a progression from an adolescent liking for sweet flavours to appreciating, for example, the more challenging sour taste of lambics, the phenolic flavour of certain malt whisky, or the bite of green olives. The Allagash Interlude and Montegioco Mummia at the GBBF certainly hit that sour 'sweet spot'. I'd love to see more U.K. breweries experimenting with the Brett.

    BTW, your mention of Croydon's Beer Circus (R.I.P.) brought a tear to my eye. A. and I spent many a a happy Saturday afternoon there, working our way through the beer fridges and chatting to Graeme. A fantastic bar.

  6. Next May will see another Weekend of Spontaneous Fermentation, where you'll be able to try all the base lambics, Kriekenlambics, Frambozenlambics, Gueuze the organisers can find, as well as a tidy array of vintage and special gueuze. It's inbetween Antwerp and Brussels, and is one of the best beer festivals in the whole world. Certainly the friendliest, as the locals all muck in together to bring punters from the various train stations. If you want to stay the night there's a riding school with bunk beds. However, there's trains back to Antwerp and Brussels. Beer list from last year: -

    I've been twice. So there.

  7. Zak, my first experiences with Cantillon were all hideously bad but then this changed when I started drinking them very cold on hot days and suddenly it started to make sense! I do much prefer the mellower versions still.

    Nicholas, I haven't had the 2003 yet so it may well be going that way. It was the fresh 2008 stuff that I drank a few weeks ago and I loved it. 5 years older and it might be different...

    Barry, I'm afraid that won't be in the box I send over!! And won't you need to fill your bag with US beers in Amsterdam for the bar opening?!

    Andrew, I agree that young palates like sweetness and it takes 'training' to develop the liking for tastes - same with spice, hoppy beers, etc. And yes, Beer Circus was a fantastic place!

    Dominic, I will hopefully make it over to the Weekend of Spontaneous Fermentation next year. And great to meet you yesterday!

  8. I'll certainly be drinking a lot of US beer next Wednesday, but I've no idea what delights will make it into my large, wheeled suitcase (at least one lambic though!) :D nI have a hard time planning beer purchases, so will go where the muse takes me. The muse being TheBeerNut probably :P