Sour and Wild ales in Ireland

With sour beers enjoying a renaissance amongst the keener craft brewers and in trendy beer bars its only right that Irish brewers aren't resting on their laurels and attempting some of their own.

First Out of the Blocks
Galway Bay were perhaps the first (in recent times) to launch soured beers on to the market place. J18 months ago we were treated to a dry hopped berlinner weisse style "Desperate Mile" and more unusually a black sour. (Shane has more details on his blog here.) Both of these and a more recent collaboration with Begyle were kettle sours, "we have cultured from everything from lab pitches, grain husks and even probiotic pitches from the health food store!".
Head brewer Chris Treanor first discovered sour beers whilst backpacking around Belgium, being warned by locals "tastes like 'vomit, but it tastes great really!'. Oddly enough, I wasn't perturbed by this and unknowingly, I did open up a whole world of flavours that I would be trying to replicate as a career not 5-6 years afterwards".
He has grander plans however "I'm spending this week at the Oslo, restarting the kit there for a sours program". For Chris its important to keep this segregation to minimise the very real threat of contamination of other brews.
The beers have been generally well received, with demands for re-brews; so the expansion should be well received. On designing recipes - "we do tend to err on the side of simplicity. When simplicity leads to complexity, that's when the best beers result." Chris also plans to go for barrel ageing in a big way, with a number of wine barrels purchased in a job lot with Boundary at the start of the year.

"tastes like vomit, but it tastes great really!"

Sour in Belfast
Speaking of Boundary, Galway Bay have also collaborated with them on a kettle sour, Berliner Vice. This low strength tart wheat beer was the first beer to sell out at the recent smash festival ABV and will be re-brewed to varying strengths. Brewer Matthew Dick explained "Its important to think about body with berlinner weisse style ales as they can get quite thin. We're also going to do a series with added fruit; the first is likely to be lemon and coconut".
We also saw a soured table porter "Sour Bake", a very intriguing suggestion of how staled beers could have tasted. Sour bake was brewed from the second runnings of a batch of the export stout with lactic bacteria. The culture was then back-dosed in to a barrel of export stout in a neat full circle and is maturing nicely fr release in a year or so.
 Matthew first discovered sour beer on a football trip to Belgium in his mid-teens; "we had a whole day to kill before our flight home and a friend took us around a number of what I now suspect to be lambic brewers. I wasn't the biggest fan but the friend described the taste as 'like an angel pissing on your tongue'...I'll probably use that as a beer name." After that living in Reno meant regular trips to Russian River to try American Sour beers.
What else can we look forward to? Well Matthew intends to produce further soured beers, and plans on dosing wild yeast into some of those aforementioned wine barrels to develop some aged special "dirty" beers alongside the unaged clean versions, the first of which will be another Galway Bay collaboration on a wild IPA. "I'd love to get a coolship but that's not going to happen any time soon!"

"like an angel pissing on your tongue"

Keeping it local
New brewers on the scene White Hag also plan to go for sours in a big way, being big fans of the flavour profile. They're inspired by the Flemish oud red/bruin brewers but also Jolly Pumpkin, a well-regarded American mixed-fermentation brewer. White Hag's first release was a kettle sour Imperial Red whose flavour profile was up there amongst the best Flemish reds. The kettle sour process is beneficial for consistency because according to head brewer Joe Kearns "potential off-flavours from other souring agents. Plus, the other main souring strains of yeast and bacteria need much long contact time to produce the desired effects." Kettle souring also eliminates the risk of cross-contaminating other beers. "When souring in the fermenter, the issue of cross-contamination is very real. Good cleaning processes and complete sterilization, or replacement of all soft materials (rubber hoses, gaskets, etc.), is vital to protect your standard beers from 'infection'."
 They've stepped it up a gear for their new release, Beann Gulban, using wild heather as both a flavouring agent and source of yeast - a spontaneously fermented brew, "We wanted to emulate the flavour of a beer produced in the Neolithic times, and at the same time create something completely new". There is also an intriguing hint about use of oak wine barrels...stay tuned for more!

"The idea was to provide a little pH tickle rather than a kick"

Mixing It Up
Serial gypsy brewers Brown Paper Bag Project have brewed not one but four different sour/wild ales. Digging deep in to the brewing archives they've created four beers in styles not yet seen elsewhere in Ireland, a gose, a grodziskie an oud bruin and a berlinner style. They've all only been brewed once; so if you come across any do grab whilst you can!
Their gose (a collaboration with Fano) was first up. Brewer Brian somehow got in touch with someone at Fano through online forums whilst researching gose brewing recipes, which resulted in an invite to brew in the remote brewery in Denmark. Launched via a blind twitter tasting it was great to see it was well received, before people had realised it was soured with added seasalt and coriander no less. Colin of Brown Paper Bag Project and L.Mulligan Grocer pub in Dublin said; "The great thing about a blind tasting is that you have no precocnieved ideas of the flavour, you're waiting for them to come to you rather than pre-empting and pushing your own opinions on to it"

Brown paper bag project Shmoake was next,  of the less common Grodziskie (Gratzer) style,a tart, smoked wheat beer. As with the gose, an old recipe was found whilst perusing online forums and an idea of the flavour forms which they try to reflect in the beer.
Perhaps the best received of the sour styles has been Aul Bruin Bagger (an oud Bruin aged on cherries). "Its gone down well. some people taste the sweet and tart cherryness and find it amazing and others can't stand it an dthink its disgusting.  A polarising beer but lots of good feedback"
A star of the show at the Irish Craft Beer and Cider Festival (ICBCF) this year geuzeberry (a collaboration with Kinnegar). Brewed with gooseberries and live yoghurt culture, its a fruity, tart and complex kettle sour that stops just short of enamel-stripping. "I wanted to brew something with a local provenance, both myself and Rick are from the North-West [of Ireland]; I'm not sure who came up with the idea to use yoghurt but we just ran with it. Brian travelled up there and brewed it over 2 days. The idea was to provide a little pH tickle rather than a kick" Colin & Brian hope to produce more collaborations along guezeberry line. "Brewers love to make sour beers because they love drinking sour beers, its basically a massively ego-maniacal cycle where the more sour beers that get brewed the more brewers can drink". If that results in more for the rest of us t drink I'm all for it!
(I did send some questions to the team, but have been unable to get responses in time, will update article when I do!)

"Its a vision, I can see the beer in my head, I can taste it...I just need to wait to release it into the world"

The Elder statesmen
Cuilan Loughnane at White Gypsy has always been interested in offering a diverse range of styles as evidenced by the bottle line up of dubbel, doppelbock and Imperial stout. Last year's ICBCF saw the launch of Scarlet, a wood aged sour and pretty much a statement of intent of things to come. Preferring to do things properly, he had some virgin oak barrels made up to his specifications in both American and French oak about four years ago. "Each barel has its own character, if you have the wrong type or at the wrong time it can affect the quality of the beer. You need to learn about the beers and develop them through natural progression to the taste you want".By feeding the barrels with beer they have been seasoned over time and developed their own micro-flora to allow for the secondary conditioning of beers already fermented.
Obviously these barrels are stored in a separate part of the brewery to avoid cross-contamination. The actual mixed culture Cuilan is keeping close to his chest but he's had discussions with ex Guinness employees and seen papers relating to the past ageing of Guinness with both brettanomyces and lactobacillus mentioned. "I was missing a few technical pieces of the jigsaw, which they helped us put it together. There used to be Brett in Guinness but no one would admit that any more"
Why go to all the effort? Put simply Cuilan believes to get the complexity and balance into a sour/wild beer requires time, premium ingredients and plenty of patience. Premium ingredients like floor malted MMAris Otter for example "Those maltings are over 100 years old, they have their own micro-flora, that gets on the malt and comes to the brewery and ends up in the beer, that's important" Whilst faster produced sours may be tasty and refreshing in their own right they can't hold a candle to the best in Belgium, Boon Mariage Parfait Oude Gueuze for example, which Cuilan holds as a prime example of blending done well. Blending is about "finding a balance between old and new beer. The blending is the art, you need to hold your old stock and use portions from different old barrels in to fresh beer. I found our scarlet a bit much, too sharp a bit curt back in October, but by its second outing (in March at St Patrick's Festival) it had rounded out and tasted  beautiful."
Cuilan's no fool however, he's not just producing soured beer for kicks but knows it will form a flagship brand for the brewery. "I've learnt that a) you need to be unique, b) you need a good shelf life c)it needs to taste good and at a good price". On that last point that's obviously important that it can sell for a good price too, given how much has been invested in the wood and a new bottling machine for corked and caged bottles. Soured beers have intrinsically better shelf life, allowing for ageing, storage and most importantly withstanding the rigours of export. "Its a vision, I can see the beer in my head, I can taste it...I just need to wait to release it into the world".
So what is this vision? Well without giving too much away it will be a keeping stout, "the fantastic Irish stout of old" with a soured component that will taste great on release but only get better as its aged. It should be ready in early 2016. "I want to brew something that you can't quite put your finger on it but you know its damn good. The minute you drink it you can tell its ready. I'm not interested in releasing an unbalanced beer. It might have a certain proportion of beer drinkers  drooling over it, writing good things about it but the general population will be like 'what the fuck is this?!' I'm not going to release single barrels as specials, this beer needs to be suitable for everybody" I think we can all raise a glass to that!

A Tart Future 
Fermanagh brewer Gordy Fallis at Inishmacsaint has also been experimenting with spontaneous fermentation, producing some test batches that certainly show promise. With Blacks also beginning to delve into the sour styles and a good showing at the recent Irish Craft Beer and Cider Festival we'll certainly have plenty to choose from in the coming months and years, long may it continue!

*As an aside Guinness used to age a portion of beer for 9-18months in Russian oak all over Dublin, then blend it  back into fresh beer at 2-3%.

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