Friday, April 20, 2018

Spontaneous Spontaneity

Lambic, noun:
A type of Belgian beer brewed with raw wheat, aged hops and wild yeast in wooden casks, and fermented for at least a year with yeast added through spontaneous fermentation.

That's the traditional definition as defined by the Senne River Valley lambic brewers. But, if we do it, what is it? Is this just for fun?

In the wild west of the current craft beer market, one is most likely led to wonder: What’s going to happen next? Peering around the corner of the new market, through the dusty canyons with monolithic distant vistas, your gaze will most likely fall on some new creative endeavor that seems very captivating. It’s a catchy tune, this one. Then, propelled by social marketing “it factor”, the new style of beer is catapulted into a realm so meteoric that it suddenly goes into a tail spin that sends it sputtering to its fiery conclusion. Is this a problem? Well, not exactly. Things come and go, and I get that. Trends are trends. Truthfully, we at AZWBC too are enamored with the nagging “what next?” quest that has, at times, made us a bit anxious about it. Even with our “Wilderness Way” parameters, the ones that ensure that we utilize ingredients sourced from Arizona and to build a stronger community, we feel that at times we may have crossed our own ethical barriers. We have frequently fallen into the, “Brew what’s in right now” category. It can get a bit obnoxious to create beer this way. This introspective notion has created a desire in us to reach into the soul for direction and for truth. For beer, dammit!

Having said that, we know it’s all good. Brew on baby! Seriously, it’s all good. With one caveat. One important notion to remember: We adore Belgian brewing history which tends to contradict the willy-nilly approach that some of the current trends are following. We admire the philosophical approach of not having a philosophy. That substance can create sustenance.  Truthfully, we just really like Belgian ales.

In Wallonia’s hay day, the saison was a reaction to having the raw ingredients to create beer and the farm hand’s desire for a thirst-quenching beverage.  In many instances, these rustic ales were more potable than the local water supply. The monastic monks brewed with a methodology that has stood the test of time. Even during a horrible dismantling of many monasteries during WW2, the lore of monastic brewing carried on. There are a plethora of beautiful styles, such as the Belgian pale and witbier, with a lineage worthy of a book.

So, where does lambic stand with its Belgian cohorts historically? I feel like it’s possibly the most scientific/unscientific beverage in history. It is a style that has a background with ebbs and flows similar that of Belgian politics. It’s a confusing style to place a marker on and, to say the least, has been both extremely popular and extremely unpopular over the decades. It’s a style of beer that is relatively inexpensive and easily found in Brussels.
What’s crazy is it’s the same style that is expensive and pretty damn hard to find in the U.S.

 As I digress, I must proclaim that this is not a history lesson on lambic brewing. It’s an ode to the notion of it. It’s an honoring of the serendipitous inspiration which caused us to embark on a journey of spontaneity. I continue to the point….

For Pat and I, creating spontaneously fermented beer was inspired by the like of legendary brewers such as Cantillon’s Jean Van Roy,

 Arman Debelder, Frank Boon and Pierre Tilquin. So, we embarked on Belgian travels to delve into the art of lambic brewing, understand the science and meet these purveyors of the lambic craft. We pulled nails, visited the historic first town which originally made lambic, Lembeek, partook in blending sessions and shared inspirational stories with some of the current cast of lambic brewing. We haven’t been accepted into the Senne River Valley lambic brewers club by any means, but nevertheless we feel much more confident approaching the subject of making spontaneous beer in our home state.  

With a few trips, books, home experiments and microscopic cell counting parties under our belts, we decided we couldn’t simply make these beers at the brewery. Not with our desire to tell the story of how amazing Arizona is! I must mention: Creating a mobile coolship was something we had been inspired by from brewers such as Gabe Flethcer, of Anchorage Brewing Co, Shaun Hill of Hill Farmstead, Jeff Stuffings of Jester King and Chase of American Solera. There were many skilled brewers who led this creative endeavor and we admire them and thank them for the inspiration. We too had a desire to take this project mobile…so, WE DID!

To begin the mobile coolship project, we contacted our welder and after a few different design attempts, we were ready to take off. It just so happens that our good buddies from Brooklyn, Other Half Brewing, were set to come to AZ and hang with us. Before we could get the question out of our mouth’s to the 3 OH boys, they emphatically said, “YES!” We greatly admire Other Half’s desire to spread knowledge of craft beer. They had a healthy sour program and we wanted this project to be brewed as collaborations with breweries who made a commitment to creating sour beer.  They were the perfect “First”.

That initial brew day consisted of a turbid mash made of pilsner malt and Sonoran White Wheat. A 2-hour boil, boiled with aged hops and transfer to barrels which were fastened beneath the coolship and voila! We were mobile!

We love showing out-of-towners the Mogollon Rim, so that was the destination. That evening our camp was filled with a magical energy. A void of chaos. Seriously, it was bliss.
The temperature dropped…40F….35….30..28. After we demolished a cooler of beer and a handle of bourbon, right about when that overdue moment of squeezing deeply into my sleeping bag hit, I leaned over the shallow 120 gallon vessel to peer at the cooling wort. Shit, it was frozen! What does this mean?!?! How will this effect it? That’s what I love about this project. You see, to brew spontaneous beer, we shouldn’t do it just to do it. 

We must remember this old time, legendary brewing style is still evolving. It still needs to be a learning lesson to the consumer and the brewing industry. It isn’t a novelty at all.

  Sure, much of the history of lambic brewing may consist of folklore and tales based on un-provable minutiae, but the action of partaking in spontaneous inoculation should be held sacred. We hope we did justice to the world of craft beer in our actions.

Currently our sour room is fully inundated with the Arizona “bugs and critters” and we are thrilled with that (which is one of the big secrets in spontaneous brewing). As we monitor each rendition (currently there are 5), we want to inform the consumer of the happenings. I’ll admit, like many Belgian brewers are admitting, these historical styles aren’t very lucrative these days. So, between lactose beers and hazy IPA’s, we plan to commit to brewing spontaneously fermented ales and showcasing what we find. It’s the least we can do.

This series of beer, determined at that first joyful camp, will be called, “Camp Coolship”. The renditions will focus on isolating areas of Arizona in their cooler season, which is prime for capturing yeasts and bacteria needed for spontaneous fermentation.  The first vintage will be bottled this week, naturally conditioned and ready in June. June happens to be just in time for Other Half’s annual festival held in Brooklyn so get yo’ palate ready NYC!
Obviously, we will release it in Arizona as well.  The beer, which aged in neutral French oak barrels for 24 months, is what the universe delivered us.  It’s where it must be. The tasting notes are, well, it’s quite beautiful!! 

And so, the story continues.

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