In the earliest days of beer, when sweet water was transformed into alcohol, people thought it was a gift from the gods or magic. We now know that naturally occurring yeast, which is always in the air around us, would simply alight on the liquid and begin the fermentation process.
Brewing has evolved and become more scientific in its approach, but tradition is still alive for some. Brewers have refined the process of collecting yeast from the air to create beer and often it comes in the form of a coolship, shallow stainless-steel basins that collect hot wort from the brew kettle.
Coolships, sometimes spelled koelschip, are traditionally used in the cooler months of the year, depending on location, when the ambient temperature is enough to cool the wort and also inhibit the natural yeast, typically Brettanomyces, to begin fermentation. After a day or so, the beer is collected and drained into a fermentation vessel, sometimes stainless steel, but usually wood.
The most common style of beer that is inoculated in a coolship is lambic. Sometimes these are aged on fruits, like peach, cherry or raspberry, or the fruit is blended in later on.
Coolships can be static inside a brewery, drawing from the environment around it. But some breweries use mobile coolships, bringing wort from the brewhouse via totes to fill the container just about anywhere—from the shores of lakes to the middle of vast fields, even just a parking lot adjacent to the brewery. Each location is different and the ambient yeasts can help to provide a sense of place.
A blend of lambics from different years is known as gueuze, which originated in Belgium. Many breweries in the United States, with a respect for tradition, will refrain from using the words lambic or gueuze to describe their beers, opting for lambic-style or gueuze-style. Others use the more formal méthode traditionelle but most just simply call them spontaneous ales.
3 Fonteinen Cuvée Oude Geuze Armand & Gaston; $17/375ml, 98 points. This is wheat-forward, with a soft, country malt aroma that is like getting lost in a vast field shortly before harvest. It is blended from seven different Lambic barrels and aged in oak. This was bottled in September 2017 and the brewery says it is best enjoyed before October 2038. Good luck waiting that long. The intangibles of this beer will have the mind racing and lulled by its grace at the same time.
Jester King 2018 Spon Muscat; $25/375ml, 97 points. A harmonious blend of fruits emerge from this peachy orange colored ale, including nectarine, peach fuzz, white plum, dried apricots and blueberry. Fermented with Texas-grown Muscat grapes, this is a remarkable ale that can be enjoyed anytime but will feel extra indulgent on a mid-afternoon after a morning of hard outside exercise.
Allagash Coolship Pêche; $17/375ml, 96 points. Big, fruity aromas of lemon, peach, white grape, white raspberries and a touch of funk start off this ale that spent two years in oak barrels before it was blended with locally grown peaches and aged for another five months. Hazy straw yellow in color, it is boosted by a lively carbonation. Enjoy whenever the mood for fruity refreshment strikes.
Dovetail 2019 Framboise; $18/375ml, 96 points. This starts off with a raspberry explosion, showing all the fun, puckering tartness that can come with just underripe fruit, seeds and all. Start off an evening of drinking with this beer to jumpstart taste buds, have it in the middle of dinner as a palate cleanser, or have it with a scoop of rich chocolate ice cream, the thicker the better, because this beer can take it.
The Referend Bier Blendery Mont Sainte-Victoire Houblon; $18/750ml, 96 points. Each sip reveals something delightfully new. This is a spontaneously fermented saison that is aged in neutral oak and hopped with Jarrylo and Azacca varieties. It is medium in weight, with light acidity that carries wood and grape characters mixed with raw wheat. These tones eventually yield to kiwi, pineapple and other tropical fruits. It ends in a savory smack.
Muckraker FramBijou Tarte 2020; $15/375ml, 96 points. This offers a bright fruit salad late in the harvest season, where blueberries and raspberries are at their peak. Purple in color, with a rich mouthfeel and medium carbonation, this deftly uses cedar and maple syrups along with Montmorency cherries, raspberries, and Mexican vanilla.
Primitive Moon River Rock; $16/375ml, 95 points. A mix of funky cucumber and watermelon mix with a bunches of iris and daffodil. It is tart and refreshing, with a savory, slightly salty finish. It was aged on fresh melon and in Chardonnay barrels. It all comes together with a pleasing acidity that encourages sip after sip.
Pure Project Lief 2019 Méthode Traditionnelle; $17/375ml, 95 points. There’s a slightly dank earthiness about this ale, with a pleasing waxy sensation, medium carbonation, soft white grape, a touch of wood and salt. The blend offers a terrific sense of place and spent just the right amount of time in oak, pulled just before it became too tannic yet retains a smack of funk. This offers all the elements you want in a spontaneous ale in one convenient bottle. Bottled January 2020.
Yazoo Three Summers; $10/375ml, 95 points. Released by the brewery’s Embrace the Funk program, this pale ale spent three years in oak barrels and emerged hazy orange in color, with aromas of cedar, lilac and black pepper. A slightly funky nose makes this at home during a tailgate or at a Belgian café.
Reuben’s Brews Aeir 2020; $11/375ml, 94 points. Hints of red grape and apple in the aroma emerge from this crystal clear, golden colored ale that was aged in oak for a year before being blended. It has a soft carbonation, some slight hop bitterness and a dry, tannic finish. Drink fresh or let age for a few years to let the flavors mature.
New Glarus 2019 Summer Sour; $15/500ml, 93 points. Brewed in 2015 and bottled four years later, there is no mistaking the 1,000 pounds of fresh organic peaches that the brewery used in this recipe. Peach skin and just-ripe fruit bursts from the glass. It feels like you’re drinking in a peach grove on a warm late spring morning, making it the idea companion to brunch, paired with fluffy homemade pancakes.
Orpheus All That’s Lost; $14/375ml, 93 points. This is a vinous and tart ale, with flavors of apricot, white peach and wheat. A tart smack on the finish keeps the palate at attention until the last drop.