Wild Brews: Beer Beyond the Influence of Brewer’s Yeast
In the often-trendy brewing industry, it is rather ironic that venerable beer styles are rediscovered and brought to the forefront from time to time and given their due. Such is the current situation with Belgian beers. Quirky, with an air of mystery, Belgian beers are a world unto themselves, but none carry more mystique than the wildly fermented styles, Flanders Red, Flanders Brown, and Lambic. Jeff Sparrow, author of the new book, Wild Brews, takes us on an undaunted journey through the life and culture of the these rustic, revered brews in both the old and new world.
Seemingly produced by the unfettered influence of wild organisms other than typical brewing yeasts, Sparrow makes very clear the irony of this notion where the most anachronistic of beer styles is considered new by so many. Developed over centuries, and shaped by local agricultural and biological conditions, he points out that for quite some time, their production has been very carefully controlled. The complexity and depth cannot be dismissed as simply a case of letting nature take its course, but is instead an artisanal, culinary masterpiece in every sense of the word, in each of the three styles.
Sparrow’s dedication to detail and thoroughness is manifested through nine fascinating chapters. He launches the treatise with a concise, descriptive summary of the intricacies of each classic style, including the delineation between Flanders Red and Brown, and clarifies the often-confusing family Lambic and its blended, sweet, or fruity siblings.
Subsequent chapters delve into the stylistic history, methods of production, fermentation, maturation, and microbiology, all of which are unique to these Wild Brews. In fact, each step in the lifetime of these brews is unlike any other style of beer, as Sparrow deftly points out. This dovetail effect from start to finish creates a superbly idiosyncratic product. Even the presentation and consumption of the beer is unusual. For those who want the real experience at the source, Sparrow provides a simple guide to the brewing towns of Flanders and Payottenland that are the home of these inimitable brews.
In the US and Canada, there are many brewers that specialize in Belgian-style beers that may have a Wild Brew in its lineup, so a trip to Belgium may not be a necessity, thanks to Sparrow’s direction. For the adventurous brewer, plenty of recipes are provided, also.
Wild Brews are rife with unusual character that is not normally associated with beer, as influenced by a myriad of organisms, whose footprint creates a surreal panoply of nuance. They are certainly not for the tenuous. If Flanders Red, Flanders Brown, and Lambic are your obsession, or if they are just coming onto your radar, then there is no better guide through the realm than Sparrow’s book. He unravels the riddle of these beers in a fashion that should satisfy both veteran and rookie fans of Wild Brews. It’s an unusual world, and one worth exploring, especially with wide-eyed wonder.