Take a Drink on the Wild Side: A look at ‘Wild Ale’

Posted on August 11th, 2009

wildAles3One of the newest and most exciting areas of brewing at the moment is what’s know as ‘wild ale,’ that is beer made with certain bacterium that impart a distinct sour or tart taste to the brew. Generally speaking, as with most things, the last thing you want in your beer is bacteria. Most bacteria that would find it’s way into beer will do terrible things to it, ranging from making it taste bad to making it poisonous.  Brewers however have isolated certain strains of bacteria (such as Brettanomyces Bruxellensis, Brettanomyces Lambicus or Brettanomyces Anomolus, Pediococcus or Lactobacillus) that are perfectly harmless to humans, and can actually give beer wonderfully refreshing tart and sour flavors.beerprocessWILD2

Beer with bacteria added to it for flavor traces its roots back to the Flemish ales of southern Belgium. Traditional beer from this area is often allowed to ferment naturally. What that means is that instead of adding yeast to the brew it’s left out in the open air and yeast which grows naturally in the area finds it’s way into the beer by itself. These yeast strains frequently include the bacterium mentioned above, allowing the beer to develop the tart edge it’s now know for.

Until recently, Flemish ales were the only brews made with bacteria at all. In the last several years however American brewers have begun to experiment with these curious strains, creating all sorts of new beers and styles that simply never existed before.

interlude_french_oak_barrelBecause the special techniques and equipment necessary to make wild ale, there are still only select craft brewers able to make such beer, but it’s certainly something to keep an eye on as American brewers continue to explore a whole new dimension for beer.

Some wild ales from noted American craft brewers:
Ommegeddon by Brewery Ommegang
Allagash Interlude from Allagash Brewing Co.
Temptation by Russian River
15th Anniversary Ale from Avery Brewing
La Roja by Jolly Pumpkin

What do you think about wild ale? Have you ever had a tart beer? Next time you try one of these wild ales tweet what it is and add the #mybeer hashtag to it to let us know what you’re drinking and what you think about it.

  • BlondesNB

    Also on the list:

    Dogfish Head's Festina Peche, which uses lactobacillus to get that extra-tart flavor.

    It's my beer of the evening.

  • Also on the list:

    Dogfish Head's Festina Peche, which uses lactobacillus to get that extra-tart flavor.

    It's my beer of the evening.