Sour Beers Benefit from Winemaking Technique

Towering barrels called foudres have been used for centuries to age wine. Now, brewers are tapping these traditional vessels as an innovative source of yeast to formulate flavorful sours.
New Belgium Brewing Company Sour Saison(left); SweetWater Brewing Co. Cambium(right); Bruery Terreux Frederick H.(top) / Photo by Con Poulos

Brewers aren’t bashful about playing in winemakers’ sandbox. They’ve infused IPAs with Syrah must, seasoned saisons in Chardonnay casks and fermented beer with Champagne yeast. Now, they’ve filled brewhouses with massive wine-aging vats called foudres (pronounced FOOD-ers).

Traditionally, some winemakers (especially those in France’s Rhône Valley) have favored the colossal wooden containers that impart less oak flavor because of their large surface area. For beer makers, though, foudres are storehouses for cultivated colonies of Brettanomyces yeast and souring bacteria. The vessels allow brewers to make bigger batches, so they can craft more consistent wild creations, drawing off fermented liquid and refilling with fresh beer as needed.

Charleston, South Carolina-based Revelry Brewing recently opened a facility, dubbed the Hold, dedicated to aging beer in foudres and barrels.

“The product in the foudre is the steak, and the beers in my smaller barrels are my salt and pepper,” says Ryan Coker, the co-founder and brewer.

What Effects do Different Types of Grain Have on Beer?

Nationwide, you’ll notice numerous brewers sourcing foudres for flavorful experiments. (They’re buying them secondhand from wineries or new from makers such as Missouri’s Foeder Crafters of America.) In Colorado, New Belgium’s foudres are crucial to sours such as La Folie, which ages for up to three years, while Denver’s Crooked Stave uses foudres to fashion rustic, vinous farmhouse ales.

Of course, not every brewery uses foudres for sour beer. In Brooklyn, Threes Brewing makes Kicking and Screaming, a foudre-fermented pilsner with a marshmallow note. Meanwhile, the Illinois-based Two Brothers Artisan Brewing has made several foudre-aged IPAs, like the pleasantly oaky Resistance.

No matter the style, sometimes the tallest oaks produce the tastiest beer.

Recommended Beers

New Belgium Brewing Company Sour Saison

The Coloradans’ veritable foudre forest produces masterpieces like this French-inspired sipper. The blend of foudre-seasoned sour golden ale and fizzy farmhouse ale is a marriage of lemon pucker and fresh-baked bread.

SweetWater Brewing Co. Cambium

With its Woodlands project, the Georgia brewery uses foudres and wild microbes to produce beers like this fizzy crowd-pleaser, available in late January. It’s a tingly tango of stone fruit and funk.

Bruery Terreux Frederick H. 

The Bruery’s wild-focused spinoff uses towering foudres that contain nearly 8,000 gallons of beer like Frederick H. The German-inspired Berliner Weisse is an earthy refresher with enlivening acidity that’s not unlike a lemon spritz.

Allagash Brewing Company Hive 56

To make Hive 56, Allagash brews a dark ale and ages it in foudres for 18 months alongside a strain of wild yeast and honey from the brewer’s beehives. The result: a tart tangle of roast, dark chocolate, raspberries and tropical fruit.

Published on January 22, 2018
Topics: Beer

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