On the eve of September’s Beavertown Extravaganza, GBH had the honor of hosting Colorado’s New Belgium Brewing—plus a select few friends—at our Into the Wild event. Our aim: to celebrate the spectrum of fermentation quality, and where the lines between the worlds of wild and sour beer, natural wine, and low intervention cider begin to blur. Hint: at the top of the heap is where.
The event itself was a physical extension of our Into the Wild series of features on GBH, underwritten by New Belgium. These stories are all about investigating the evolution of wild and sour beer in America—and beyond—and how these beers challenge and inspire the brewers and drinkers who seek them out. With this in mind, we saw fit to invite a range of U.K. producers—and one from New Zealand—who are creating some of our favorite beers, ciders and natty wines within this genre.
Along with an incredible selection of bottles, we also celebrated the world of fermentation through some of our favorite foods. Namely: cheese, charcuterie and sourdough bread—all expertly curated by my GBH colleague (and award-winning food and beer writer) Claire Bullen. We also had the privilege of welcoming Ned Palmer of the Cheese Tasting Company to talk our guests through an incredible selection of cheeses from Neal’s Yard Dairy. Along with meats from The Charcuterie Board and loaves from Bread by Bike, we had the perfect foil for all the wonderful drinks we were pouring. Leave the antacids at home.
This event was the first time New Belgium’s foeder-aged wild and sour beers were poured in the U.K. And in charge of the pouring was none other than wood cellar manager and master blender Lauren Limbach. In bottle was the dry-hopped golden sour, Le Terroir, Transatlantique Kriek a cherry sour produced in collaboration with Belgian Lambic producer Oud Beersel (which incidentally picked up a gold medal at this years GABF) and the flagship sour brown, La Folie. All packaged in their new corked-and-caged 375ml bottles, which are also now unpasteurized for the first time since 2009.
Putting together an event of this nature can be challenging, especially when bringing together so many producers from all walks of the industry. Thanks to Beavertown’s coinciding Extravaganza, enough phenomenal producers were coming to town that a few rare bottles tucked carefully into suitcases was all we needed to add to our collaborator’s burden. Jonathan Hamilton—who manages Beavertown’s Tempus barrel-aging and wild beer program— brought along Battle of the Trees, a three year old Brett-fermented sour aged in Burgundy barrels. If this is the shape of things to come from Hamilton’s wood cellar, then we all should be very excited indeed.
I first met Matthew Dick of Belfast’s Boundary brewing when I traveled to cover his brewery in 2016. Back then he had already begun filling barrels with various saisons and wild cultures, but this project was still very much in its infantile phase. At Into the Wild, we were able to taste his first-ever blended and barrel-matured mixed-ferm Saison—and what a beer it was. Two beers in and we’re already projecting an incredibly bright future for this style within the U.K.
Our next guest, Burning Sky, has been leading the way for wild and sour beers in the U.K. since they were founded in 2013. In 2017 they were reportedly the first brewery in the British Isles to commission a new coolship since the 1930s. Founder and head brewer Mark Tranter brought a real favorite of mine to our event—Saison Anniversaire. This special edition of Burning Sky’s house Saison is entirely fermented and matured in French Chardonnay barriques, bottles of which are only released once a year. And yes, it’s as good as it sounds.
Cloudwater has made a name for itself by being at the forefront of a lot of brewing innovation, whether that’s through one of its highly praised hazy IPAs, or one of its crispy little lagers. Now it’s sour project is also beginning to bear fruit, and founder Paul Jones, along with barrel manager Jeremy Stull were keen to showcase this. They brought with them Spirit Animal, a collaboration brewed with Jester King that had been matured in an ex-Amarone foeder, before spending the better part of 5 months resting on 440kg of Opal Plums.
We first broke the news of New Zealand brewery Garage Project’s foray into the world of “Natural” Wine back in November 2017. In a region known for its classic expression of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay, Garage Project aims to stand out using fermentation qualities and techniques that are uncommon and jarring to the casual wine drinker. Guests were able to taste a spectrum of wines from the Garage Project’s “Crushed” series”—ranging from super juicy whites to tannic and flinty reds. The gap between mixed fermentation beers and natural wines is a small one, and hopefully for the drinkers present that evening, it had become yet smaller still after tasting these wines.
Our last guest needs little introduction—cider and perry maker Tom Oliver. Sadly, due to touring commitments with The Proclaimers (for reals) Oliver was unable to make it himself, but was able to send Felix Nash of the Fine Cider Company to represent him. Nash poured a medium bottle conditioned Perry and The Mayflower, a blend of cider maturing in rum, red wine and whisky barrels, intensified and sweetened with ice cider—all while being fermented ambiently by wild yeasts. As with the wines, these incredible beverages demonstrated just how close the link between wild and sour beer is with cider, and how they all deserve to be treated with the same care and respect by drinkers and producers alike.
Without New Belgium however, none of this would have happened. So thanks to them for agreeing to send some of the wonderful foeder beers, along with Lauren Limbach, over the Atlantic for folks in the U.K. to try. Thanks also to Beer Merchants for kindly allowing us to host the event within the back room of their Hackney Wick bar. Be sure to pay them a visit sometime if you’re ever in town.
We’ll be back with more events in this vein in the not-too-distant future. So be sure to come head Into the Wild with us next time around.