Revolver brewmaster Grant Wood was once asked if he thought he would ever make a sour beer. “Not until I build a second brewhouse” was his response.
You see, sour beers play by a different set of rules.
Sour beer brewers embrace qualities that many brewers would identify as flaws. They can be challenging, but when done well, they can be some of the most rewarding beer experiences you can have.
Austin’s Jester King has become world-renowned in recent years for its experimental sour and fruit beers, and beer geeks around the country salivate for the next new offering. But Jester King didn’t start out making sour beers. It originally hit the market in late 2010 with Commercial Suicide English Mild, Black Metal Imperial Stout and Wytchmaker Rye IPA. Then, toward the end of 2011, Noble King Hoppy Farmhouse Ale arrived.
Since then, almost all of Jester King’s original beers have gone through multiple transformations.
All of its original beers ended up becoming “Farmhouse” versions as it switched the yeasts used to ferment them from standard English ale yeast to the aforementioned proprietary yeast strain, which fundamentally changed beers like Black Metal and Wytchmaker. Depending on who you talk to, this was either a great decision or a colossal mistake.
Eventually, Jester King started producing special-release sours with a fury. Then, in January, a funny thing happened. It announced it was releasing a new version of Commercial Suicide that was fermented with — you guessed it — wild yeast. That announcement included the bombshell that all of Jester King’s beers would be fermented with “a blend of dozens of different strains of Saccharomyces, Brettanomyces, native wild yeasts, and souring bacteria.”
So, back to Noble King. Now that it’s fermented with the new yeast cocktail, it’s a completely different beer. Before calling for anyone’s head, know that the new Noble King is quite good. Bright citrus and tart lemon with a little barnyard funk mixed in erase any memory of hops that were the main feature of the original Noble King. The resulting beer is as refreshing and dry as the original, just in a completely different way. It’s complex, easy to drink and a great starting point for sour-beer newbies.
Ultimately, it’s best to respect wild yeast because it’s just that: wild. While most breweries avoid it like the plague, some breweries embrace it with open fermenters. However, once you’ve started down the path of using these types of yeast, they can spread to all parts of your operation whether you want them to or not (which is exactly what Wood was referencing). If you don’t want to party with the wild boys, don’t invite them to your house.