Although we already covered some wild beers (those fermented with wild yeasts and bacteria) earlier this year, the category has become so popular and expansive that we just keep getting more new and exciting selections for review. So here we are again, taking another walk on the wild side.
As is often the case, American brewers are leading the charge with playful interpretations of classic European styles and techniques, creating varied, complex and eye-opening alternatives to the classics.
Wild ales are complex selections that are not necessarily for mindless consumption.
Not that there’s anything wrong with the classics, but it’s also fun to try something new.
For instance, traditional Flanders sour reds are typically light- to medium-bodied, with mahogany-like coloring. Conversely, many of the selections reviewed here are quite different, with adventerous base-style experimentation leading to a veritable rainbow of beer colors, from light gold to deep brown (in the case of Bruery Terreux’s Tart of Darkness, which employs a dry stout base).
But regardless of color, the key to a well-made wild ale is balance. Forward sour, tart and fruity aromas and flavors produced by wild yeast strains and bacteria should not be completely overwhelming. A malty core or rich fruit flavors should lend some balance to the bright acidity and funky overtones. A pleasant, subtly tannic texture and dry finish, which also comes from oak aging, helps to round the experience out.
Wild ales are complex selections that are not necessarily for mindless consumption. Often compared to fine red wines in their acidic and textural attributes, they are layered, nuanced and and can often age gracefully for years after release.
If you haven’t already jumped on the funky bandwagon, now’s definitely the time to give these wild things a try.
Bruery Terreux 2017 Sans Pagaie (American Wild Ale; Bruery Terreux, CA); $23/750 ml, 94 points. A sour blonde aged in oak barrels with cherries, this is Bruery Terreux’s take on a Belgian-style kriek. It pours a slightly hazy orange-pink color, with upfront scents of tart cherry and raspberry that are woven with complex notes of lemon peel, green apple, leather, barnyard and hay. The palate is bright and lively, with ample malt to lend weight to the mouthfeel while mouthwatering acidity carries the tart berry and cherry flavors. Additional layers of oaky spice, white pepper, cocoa, bread crust and animal hide weave in and out of the fruity core and linger on the long finish. It’s well balanced, sour without being completely mouth-puckering, and undoubtedly delicious. abv: 6.5%
Avery Botanicals & Barrels Raspberry Sour (American Wild Ale; Avery Brewing Co., CO); $14/22 oz, 92 points. Another addition to the brewery’s stellar Botanicals & Barrels lineup, this is a sour ale with raspberries added, then aged in oak barrels. A brilliant mahogany color, it opens with assertive aromas of tart raspberry, lemon, green apple and barnyard. There’s a noticeable oak presence throughout, though it’s not overdone and doesn’t overpower the fruity core, expressed in well-integrated hints of wood spice and cocoa powder. The medium-weight mouthfeel boasts a solid malt core and clean grain presence, through bright, tart berry flavors pick up the palate and the dry finish is all spice and wild funk. abv: 5.6%
Bruery Terreux 2017 Tart of Darkness (American Wild Ale; Bruery Terreux, CA); $20/750 ml, 92 points. Tart of Darkness is a fun, different wild ale, perhaps best for those that don’t like their sours all that sour. Sure, the wild-yeast tones and lactic acid lift is there, but it’s grounded by a roasty, malty core, thanks to the dry stout-base style. It’s surprisingly balanced throughout, with the bright acidity and rich malts playing nicely together. Notes of red cherry, plum, char, bittersweet cocoa and malted-milk ball flesh out the medium-weight palate. The finish is long and evolving, weaving back and forth between stouty goodness and vibrant, mouthwatering acidity. abv: 6.6%
Deschutes Cultivateur Provision Saison (Saison/Farmhouse Ale; Deschutes Brewery, OR); $17/22 oz, 91 points. Though technically a saison, this new release from Deschutes, a rustic and oak-aged Brett saison, can easily be considered a wild American ale. It boasts intense aromas of barnyard funk, hay and lemon, framed by additional layers of pear, underripe stone fruit, green apple, white melon, biscuit and toasted oak. Those notes continue through to the medium-bodied palate, which offers a satisfying core of pale-malt flavors as well as cracker, yeast and earthy spice. The mouthfeel is smooth, yet appropriately lifted by fresh acidity, while the alcohol is surprisingly barely noticeable. The finish is long, dry and spicy. abv: 8%
Victory Sour Monkey (American Wild Ale; Victory Brewing Company, PA) $12/12 oz 6 pack, 90 points. This bottling is a wild spin on Victory’s Golden Monkey, the brewery’s Belgian-style tripel. A brilliant golden color, it’s a strong and intense brew, leading with scents of fresh citrus, freshly baked bread, dried grass, underripe stone fruit and green apple. There’s a pleasant weight and richness to the smooth palate that’s lifted through the close by bright, lactic acidity. Aside for the mouthfeel, the alcohol is well-integrated and balanced, while light carbonation assists in lifting the stone-fruit and citrus flavors and carrying them through to the dry, herbal finish. It’s not over-the-top sour, and is surprisingly easy to drink. abv: 9.5%