Wild Beers, Oak Barrels, and Microbes at TEXSOM

Posted on: August 10th, 2015 by

Howdy from Dallas where I’m at TEXSOM, a most excellent beverage conference with a strong wine focus.

But one cannot live on wine alone.

Which is why I decided to get wild with beer. Not wild like pool-party in the 105 degree heat wild. (Well, it’s actually just a few people chilling and drinking beer and Margaritas. While I blog away. Le sigh.) More like wild in the manner of bacteria and yeast. Fermentation-type stuff.

orval trappist beer

This all happened at an excellent seminar (Wild Beers: Old and New World) led by two Master Sommeliers: Thomas Burke and Melissa Monosoff. The beers tasted, as Monosoff explained, were like the crazy relatives of typical brews with “tame” productive yeasts that facilitate predictable outcomes. Burke continued this familial comparison, noting that regarding these relatives, “Sometimes they’re super fun and sometimes they crash the party.” In other words, it can be a risky business to make beer this way.

What followed was a PowerPoint presentation with possibly the best title, ever:

Know Your Microbes: Bugs, Barrels & Beer

10 beers were in front of us in groups of two. One Old World, one New World. And both wild in the same way. Let’s start with lacobacillus! It’s a bacteria that makes beers sour, explored via a duo of gose. What is gose? Monosoff explains in terms we can all understand:

The beers:

  • Bayerischer Bahnhof Leipziger Gose, Bottle Conditioned Ale, Liepzig, Germany
  • Destihl Brewery “Here Gose Nothing”, Leipzig-style Gose Wild Sour Ale, Bloomington, IL (5.2% ABV)

The Bayerischer Bahnhoff was livery and tart, the Destihl incredibly sour and salty.

Round two involved acetobacter, the bacteria that creates acetic acid. Which can add a not-so-lovely nail polish remover smell to wine. (Monosoff noted that she recently taught a wine faults class and everything she mentioned shows up in this beer seminar.) For beer, it adds some puckery vinegar characteristic. Beers tasted:

  • Verhaeghe-Vichte Duchesse de Bourgogne, Flanders Red Ale, Vichte, Belgium (6% ABV)
  • 2015 New Belgium Brewing Company La Folie, Wood-Aged Sour Ale, Fort Collins, CO (7% ABV)
know your microbes

You think I was joking? KNOW YOUR MICROBES!

The Duchesse de Bourgogne was very balsamic-y, the La Folie less so.

Moving on to Brettanomyces, a yeast. It can add barnyard, horse blanket, and bandaid qualities. (YUM!) Which, actually, some people enjoy having show up in wine. Others see the presence of Brettanomyces as a tragic flaw, like one you’d find in a Shakespearian character. But Brett, as it’s affectionately (?) called, is quite the survivor. It’s pretty badass, actually. The two beers we tried with Brett did not have any horsey flavor, sorry (?) to say. Brett just added some additional intrigue and complexity, a little earthiness, to these brews:

  • Orval Trappist Ale, Abbaye Notre-Dame d’Orval, Belgium (6.9% ABV)
  • Victory Brewing Company Sour Monkey, Brettanomyces Tripel Ale, Downington, PA (9.5% ABV)

Then, it was lambic time. Defined on one of the slides displayed as:

Yup, a real boy-meets-girl type of tale. The lambics:

  • Boon Brewery Framboise Lambic Ale, Lembeek, Belgium (5.5% ABV)
  • Jester King Barrel-Aged Sour Ale with Raspberries (Atrial Rubicite), Austin, TX (4.9% ABV)

That Boon was awesome! And I really enjoyed the photo of someone from Jester cramming whole Washington raspberries into a barrel full of beer via a funnel placed in the bung. (!!!)

The final two beers were examples of those you’d cellar. You know, like wine. But much cheaper.

  • 2014 Fuller’s Bottle Conditioned Ale, London, UK (8.5%)
  • Stone Brewing Company Stone Farking Wheaton W00t Stout, Escondido, CA (13%)

I dug the Fuller’s but was not in love with the Stone, which tasted like a liquified oak barrel. My neighbor thought it akin to teriyaki jerky. But then I spoke to a couple people after who loved it. So what the hell do I know? I would, however, be very curious to see what it tastes like after 5 and 10 more years in the bottle.

Anyway, hats off to Burke and Monosoff for a seminar that inverted wine flaws and brewed up something fascinating, instructive, and liberally dosed with geeky fun. Cheers to beer!

I was comped registration and accommodations for this event.

Orval image via Wikimedia.

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