Where the Wild Beers Are
As sour beers grow in popularity, local brewers are helping beer-lovers put their pucker on.
A burgeoning trend on the STL beer scene, wild beer—rustic, tart and flavorful—is created when brewers expose the wort to spontaneous fermentation by whatever yeasts and bacterial microbes are floating in the air. It results in a funky, sour beer that’s coveted by beer geeks and is gaining more mainstream appeal.
Because the success of the brew depends on the microbial terroir (the airborne yeasts and bacteria) of the area, it can be a risky endeavor—the resulting brew might be undrinkable and have to be tossed. Worse, the strain of yeast that creates wild beer (Brettanomyces) doesn’t die easily and can contaminate everything it touches—barrels, aprons, tanks and whole batches of beer. Once a brewery is contaminated, good luck brewing anything except sour beers.
Fortunately, there are ways of making sour beers that reduce (but don’t eliminate) the risk. Some of St. Louis’ more adventurous brewers are replicating and riffing on the style by inoculating their worts with special “wild” yeasts and bacteria to produce sour beers without the disappointment.
Perennial Artisan Ales recently created Savant beersel, a Belgian-style pale ale inoculated with a strain of Brettanomyces wild yeast native to Belgium, that incorporates Missouri-grown grapes and is aged in cabernet barrels. The small-batch release didn’t last long. Luckily, brewers Phil Wymore and Cory King are making another batch of the funky, fruity, slightly tart Savant to debut in February. 8125 Michigan Ave., 314.631.7300, perennialbeer.com.
Morgan Street Brewery is taking its own walk on the wild side with Lactovision, a classic Belgian-style dark strong ale soured with Lactobacillus (the stuff of yogurt) and tweaked with tart cherries. Lactovision is hitting beer festivals nationwide and has even taken a gold medal in the Beverage Testing Institute’s World Beer Championships. Most recently, Brewmaster Dustin Chalfant has been holding some of the brew back, allowing it to really put on the funk. The final release of this dark red, super-tart brew with a smooth and nutty finish is at Morgan Street now, while supplies last. 721 N. Second St., 314.231.9970, morganstreetbrewery.com.
Schlafly Tap Room is working toward creating a signature sour beer that’s always available on tap and bottled. But that’s a long way off, says brewer Brennan Greene. For now, three full batches are aging patiently, the oldest at two years old and “just starting to get funky.” Inoculated with various cultures of wild yeast and bacteria (mostly Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus and Pediococcus), look for the first batch of draft to hit the Tap Room sometime in 2013. 2100 Locust St., 314.241.2337, schlafly.com/taproom.
Urban Chestnut Brewing Company is creating a beer that’s very close to being truly wild. In a separate space to eliminate the risk of infecting the brewery, brewmaster Florian Kuplent is “wrangling” wild yeast and bacteria. By allowing just a small portion of a master batch to collect the airborne funk, Kuplent can identify and extract the good stuff, then add it back to the master batch along with similar bacteria to keep it true to the brewery’s bacterial flora. The resulting brew, flavored with different fruits, will age in whiskey and wine barrels. Look for the finished product next summer. 3229 Washington Ave., 314.222.0143, urbanchestnut.com.
Photo credit: Matt Strom