Naturally Wild

BYOB by | Jul 2013 | Issue #78

Illustration by Ellen Crenshaw

At this year’s 2013 Southern California Homebrewers Festival, lurking among the hundreds of beers being poured, there was one special beer with a festival connection.  From the Ventura Independent Beer Enthusiasts (VIBE) and Justin Butler came a festival sour beer. This beer was brewed at the fest in 2012, allowed to cool naturally and exposed to the natural flora that floats in the breeze off Lake Casitas. It was awesome. Many a crazy homebrewer has talked big about letting their neighborhood critters run rampant in their beer, harboring romantic images of the Senne River Valley.

Usually, the dreamer makes a batch of beer, cools it down, leaves the bucket open for a night, closes it and waits patiently only to find that his or her experiment has yielded a horrifying, gloppy mess of awfulness and disappointment. But sometimes, you get lucky. If you want to go naturally wild, here are two tips:

Nature helps
I think part of why the VIBE experiment went so well is that they chose an agricultural area as the site of their open fermentation. Sure beats the tire and brake dust of my neighborhood. No nature? Got fruit trees? Try fermenting when they’re blossoming.

Start small
Borrowing from fellow homebrewer Ryan Merlin, try inoculating a growler, either at home or in nature. If you capture good critters, enjoy your small sour batch or add it to the remaining wort. Is this in violation of wild brewing? I don’t think so—most of the bugs in your favorite Lambic come from the barrels.

For 5.5 gallons at 1.053, 20 IBU, 4.3 SRM, 6.5% ABV

10.0 lb. Pilsner malt
0.25 lb. biscuit malt
0.25 lb. crystal 8L (Caramel Pils)

Single infusion mash at 154°F for 60 minutes.

0.4 oz Magnum (pellets) | 12% AA | 60 minutes

Wyeast 1214 Belgian Abbey

Brew the beer. Pour a half-gallon, hot, into a pot. Allow to cool overnight, covered with only a cheesecloth. Treat the remaining beer as normal. After 24 hours, transfer the exposed wort to a sanitized growler and cover with foil. Allow to ferment. If the results of the wild fermentation smell and taste decent, inoculate the remaining beer with the sour starter. Add sugar or additional wort to give the critters something new to chew on. Age for 3–6 months, package and enjoy.