Wild vs. Sour Ales

Hello, beer-lovers!

Welcome back to the Growler! I hope that you enjoyed the holiday season. Long-time readers will not be surprised that I spent mine gallivanting through the United States. (We hit up a brewery, distillery, and cider mill/winery all on the same day. It was awesome.)

But now I’m back, and looking a little closer to home. I was reading this article about Bar Volo’s new offspring, Birreria Volo, when something caught my eye: “Sour and spontaneously fermented beers are the focus…”

“Hold up,” quoth I. “When I visited Pen Druid Brewing a few weeks ago, they talked a lot about wild fermentation, but I don’t remember them being particularly sour.”

Tasting at Pen Druid, in Sperryville, VA.
Tasting at Pen Druid Brewing (Sperryville, VA).

The difference between wild and sour ales is not one to contemplate when the beers in question are 7.8% ABV (their . However, it is a good topic for the Growler.

The wonderful Urban Beer Nerd blog reminds us that “…there are no concrete definitions of sour beer and wild beer.” I think we can all agree that sour beer tastes…well, sour, but “wild beer” is a little trickier. BeerAdvocate defines American Wild Ales as “…beers that are introduced to ‘wild’ yeast or bacteria…” while Jeff Alworth’s Beer Bible says, “The category of wild ale includes any beer that derives its central character from wild yeast and bacteria” (p. 528).

But see, I have to agree with Urban Beer Nerd: every definition distinguishes between “wild yeast” and “bacteria.” Both play roles in fermentation, but they’re different microorganisms that result in different flavours.

Take Pen Druid’s “Golden Swan” Wild Blonde. It’s a blonde ale made with a wild yeast culture (genus Brettanomyces, rather than Saccharomyces). While it’s certainly got a “funk” to it, it doesn’t have the sour tartness of a lambic or a Flemish ale. Compare that to their “Saturnalia,” an “all-Virginia soured Blonde.” That one had a sour bite.

So in the end, I think UBN and The Oxford Companion to Beer have it right:

Brettanomyces yeast strains = Wild Ale

Brettanomyces yeast strains AND/OR bacteria = Sour Ale

No matter what you call them, though—they taste pretty good to me. And with Pen Druid now so far away, it looks like it’s Birreria Volo for me!

To Queen and Country!

Katie

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Twelfth Night Lambswool Recipe

Hello, beer-lovers!

We hope you had a happy and restful holiday season! If you’re still yearning for festivity and good cheer, don’t worry! Today is Twelfth Night – that is, the twelfth day of Christmas. We may not have any lords-a-leaping for you, but I do have a traditional recipe!

Poet Robert Herrick (www.poets.org)

Lambswool is a drink customarily consumed around Twelfth Night. It’s related to old wassailing traditions, in which apple trees are serenaded and alcohol consumed to ensure a bountiful harvest. This stanza in Robert Herrick’s poem Now, Now the Mirth Comes (1660) paints a good picture of lambswool:

Next crown the bowl full
With the gentle lamb’s-wool
Add sugar, nutmeg, and ginger,
With store of ale too;
And thus ye must do
To make the wassail a swinger.

Essentially, it was a mulled ale, called lambswool either for white froth scudding over the bowl’s surface, or as a corruption of the Irish celebration “La Mas Ubhal.”

Curious to try lambswool for yourself? There are many on the internet, but I think that this example from the “Miss Foodwise” blog sounds particularly tasty:

  • Bramley or Cox stewing apples, 500 gr (peeled and cored about 300 gr)
  • water, 100 ml
  • sugar 100 gr
  • freshly grated nutmeg, 1 teaspoon
  • ginger powder, 1 teaspoon
  • a good ale, 750 ml

Method 
Peel and cut your apples in small pieces and place in a pot along with 100 ml of water and the sugar and spices. Stew until soft and puree so there are no bits left.
When ready to serve, heat up the apple puree and add the ale while whisking. You should get a nice froth while doing so. Serve at once.

An earthenware wassail bowl from the late 1600s. (Courtesy the Victoria and Albert Museum)
An earthenware wassail bowl from the late 1600s. (Courtesy the Victoria and Albert Museum)

Check out her post in its entirety here (there’s even more interesting historical background)! And waes hael!

Katie