Wild yeast and bacteria – Why is it in my beer?

Sour beers are starting to become a craze on the West Coast. Originating in Belgium with the sour ales, such as the Lambic, Gueuze, Flanders Red Ale, and Oud Bruin (which I wrote about previously, here), a lot of the local breweries have decided they want to make their own sour beers.

Let’s talk about first why we’re calling it wild in the first place. The origin of sour beers from Belgium would be produced in what’s called “open-air fermentation“. This means that rather than using a yeast where it is measured, carefully selected and used in a controlled environment, the tanks in this case were left open. This would allow yeast and bacteria to enter the tanks, leaving behind a sour flavour. While this type of fermentation can leave behind “off-flavours” in other types of beer, this type of fermentation is actively trying to re-produce these wild conditions to develop a unique flavour.

Next, let’s talk about what yeast and bacteria are considered among the wild class:

Four Winds Berliner Weisse

Only lacto. German style sour wheat beer.

– Brettanomyces (aka “Brett”) is a wild yeast that is used in fermentation of many sour beers. It can take weeks, months, or years before the yeast is finished fermenting. It can be a slow process and you won’t necessarily get the same results every time. This is why people may purchase the same beer from year to year and then cellar it (remind you of wine enthusiasts, doesn’t it?). Any time you think of a beer tasting funky, you have Brett to thank for that!

Driftwood Gose-uh label

Only lacto. Gose German style sour.

– Lactobacillus is a bacteria that will consume the sugar and impart lactic acid. This is where the sour of sour beers come from. Since this bacteria is going to be occupied making lactic acid however, the yeast has to be added at a different time so that the increasing acidity doesn’t kill all the conversion of sugar into alcohol. (Thanks again, Brett!If the lactobacillus is used without the Brett however, the flavour left behind is a clean sour taste. Nothing funky or barnyard-y about it!

– Pediococcus is another bacteria that functions similarly to lactobacillus except that it imparts sourness and funk into the mix. I personally haven’t seen it listed on any beer labels, but the Belgians tend not to label their beers, either.

Moon Under Water - Hip As Funk label

Only Brett. Farmhouse IPA.

Since the West Coast beers are relatively new to producing sours, they like to include what they used to make it sour. Which is great, if you know which of the sour flavours you like and don’t like. Sour beers are polarizing; just like IPAs, people either love them or hate them. Knowing what aspect of the sourness one likes or dislikes, they can choose more wisely. Perhaps you like the sour and not the funk? Or perhaps you like the funk or not the sour? Or perhaps you are a sour fiend such as myself and you love all of it!


Links for further reading:
The Brettanomyces Project – someone’s Masters dissertation on Brettanomyces, in addition to the beer they are producing
Pediococcus on Wikipedia
Lactobacillus on Wikipedia
Gose beer on Wikipedia
Four Winds Brewing Company – in Delta, BC
Driftwood Brewery – in Victoria, BC
Moon Under Water Brewery – in Victoria, BC


VCBW – An Insider’s Look

I have to admit, I was little sad that I didn’t make it to any of the Vancouver Craft Beer Week special tasting events. Had I been able to attend any of the special nights, I would have gone to the “Rookies vs. Legends” event, which compared 3 “Rookie” and “Legend” craft brewers side-by-side, and the “Cicerone vs. Sommelier” event, which compared a chef-prepared 3 course meal with suggested beer and wine pairings. At the end of the meal, the attendees got to vote on if the Cicerone or Sommelier “won” – that is, who chose the best food and beer/wine pairings.

Alas, I did make it to the grand tasting hall on the last day of the event, and seeing this was my 3rd or 4th time attending, I thought I would “give back” to the community by volunteering. This meant that for relinquishing 4 hours of my afternoon, I would get into the hall for free and be given 5 free tasting tokens (about a $40 ticket + token value; essentially the equivalent of working for minimum wage).

Volunteering to keep you hydrated!This was a fantastic deal to me, and my job was really easy. All I had to do was fill the water jugs outside of the brewer’s tasting stations (and occasionally, empty their slop bucket), and since the place was massively sized, my section was only about 12 brewers all in a row. It was really hot outside that day, but even still, people were not drinking all that much water. It was fun getting a chance to talk with the brewery reps – it made me happier to know which craft brewers were getting my money, and which ones I was less enthused about supporting based on our conversations throughout the day. One of the horrible head-shaking moments was watching one of the breweries get told to pack it up and leave because the VCBW staff caught the booth operators drinking on the job, not even an hour after the festival had opened. Since that compromises the event’s liquor license, they were sent home immediately.

VCBW mapThe only challenging part of this benevolent endeavour was, after my shift was finished, I only had under 2 hours to try all the breweries that I wanted to check out! I also bought some tokens, knowing I would run out of 5 tokens quickly, and a friend I ran into also gave me 2 of their tokens, so now I had 15 tokens to spend in record time. I’m not at all a fast beer drinker, and I didn’t have much food in me, but away I went! One token got you one 4 oz tasting glass, and drinking 60 oz or 3-4 pints in such a short amount of time was asking for trouble!

I prioritized trying beers from breweries that we carried at the liquor store I work at, as well as other ones I just wanted to try. I did stop half way through to eat from one of the food trucks, and thankfully, the wait for my order was not very long. I wouldn’t have been so adamant to spend all my tokens, except that last year, we were allowed to cash in any unspent tokens. This year, they told us we could only use our previous years’ tokens the following year. I became so determined to spend all my tokens and TRY ALL THE BEERS that I ended up dumping half my taster glasses in the slop buckets. This filled me with some shame of wasting beer, but I needed to preserve my brain cells for the hot bus ride home.

Of the many beers I tried, none of them were particularly outstanding, but they were all above average in tastiness. I would definitely try them all again, and keep my eyes peeled for more styles from the same breweries.

My “local” brewery recommendations to check out:

1) Category 12 Brewing (Victoria, BC): The brewmaster has a PhD in microbiology and biochemistry and makes some yummy beers. I recommend trying the Insubordinate Session IPA or the Disruption Black IPA.

2) Dageraad Brewing (Vancouver/Burnaby, BC): Fantastic Belgian-style beer, made locally! I recommend the De Witte, if it’s still being made. It’s a wheat beer brewed with passionfruit, which is only noticeable in its finish. Very refreshing and not overbearing on the Belgian yeast flavour. The first one I had ever was their Amber, which was tastier than most amber beers I’ve had.

3) Tofino Brewing (Tofino/West Coast Vancouver Island, BC): I have never had a beer from Tofino Brewing that I didn’t like. Their smaller facility forces them to be more choosy on what they produce. Their year-round beers comprise a blonde ale, an IPA, and a pale ale, but if you can get your hands on one of their seasonals, I highly recommend their stout and spruce tips pale ale.

Best part about volunteering: the volunteer appreciation party in a couple months. Free and we can bring a friend for the all-you-can-drink extravaganza! I hope to be able to return to volunteering from them again next year and get a chance to check out their other events during the week.

Cider (local and import)

Working at a private liquor store has taught me that I know nothing about cider. Wanting to understand this craze was my mission and I have since discovered a few things about myself, as well as opened up my palette. ;)

First things first, most ciders are divided into dry or sweet categories, similar to wine. This makes sense because wine is made from grapes and cider is usually made from apples or pears. The thing that I like the most about cider is that it has a more “grown-up” taste to it than coolers (or BC “Growers” ciders, yuck) and also, it does not leave you feeling bloated like beer tends to. A drier cider will taste somewhat like a dry white wine, without the acidic taste sometimes found in the finish (obviously, that’s going to depend on the quality and varietals used to produce the wine but need a base of comparison for those who have not adventured into ciders, yet), whereas a sweeter cider can range from tasting like a light soda to fruit juice.

I purchased 6 ciders from my liquor store, 5 were local and 1 was an import. From L to R, the ciders are:

  1. Tod Creek Apple Cider (Vancouver Island, BC)
  2. Rekorderlig Elderflower Pear Cider (Sweden)
  3. Leftfield Big Dry Apple Cider (Okanagan, BC)
  4. Leftfield Little Dry Apple Cider (Okanagan, BC)
  5. Tod Creek Apple Cider “Bamfield Bound” Semi-dry with Maple Syrup (Vancouver Island, BC)
  6. Tod Creek Apple Cider “Mala-hop” Dry with Triple Hops (Vancouver Island, BC)

I did a side-by-side comparison tasting at home and these are my tasting notes:

  1. Smells like apple juice but has a dry, simple, clean flavour.
  2. Smells like pear, tastes very sweet, reminds me of a more sophisticated Growers.
  3. Has no discernible smell, rich apple flavour, dry, slight tartness, complex.
  4. Smells like sweet apple juice, tastes sweet apple juice and more tartness than the LF Big Dry.
  5. Does not have a strong maple syrup flavour but does taste like a “semi-dry”, as it tasted equally as dry and it did sweet.
  6. Smells like hops, tastes dry, has a gentle hop aftertaste.

After this endeavour, I decided I greatly preferred sweet ciders to dry ciders, and that I also prefer pear ciders to apple ciders (if you are anywhere near Montreal, there’s a fantastic ice pear cider made by a couple living on a rural Québéc farm, which they sell at Marché Jean-Talon!)

To further quench my thirst for (mostly pear) cider, I also tried the following ciders after my home sampler:

  • Magner’s Pear Cider: dry, simple flavour, tasted like slightly flavoured soda water
  • Sir Perry Pear Cider: tasted fine at first but had this awful aftertaste that tasted slightly sour and made me think I was drinking effervescent urine. We poured it down the drain.
  • Kopparberg Pear Cider: YUM. Sweet without being as sweet as the Rekorderlig, had a bit of a cream soda aftertaste.
  • Rekorderlig Apple & Blackcurrant Pear Cider: Very sweet, complex fruit flavour, pairs with desserts nicely.
  • Sea Cider Bramble Bubbly: Slight berry flavoured cider, medium sweet/dryness.

I may not enjoy cider as much as I enjoy beer or cocktails, but if I am looking for something cold that requires no preparation, I might reach for a can of cider in with my beers for a summer’s eve.