Trends in brewing tend to feel about as firm as an empty beer can. From what beers we find on the shelves to the way they're packaged, the trends come and go like the seasons of fashion only to resurface years later as old-made-new. Even the IPA, one of the longest running and most consistently popular styles in American craft beer, has undergone dramatic changes in mood and weight (see the current issue of Imbibe) over the decades.
It's not just marketing, either. We're talking about changes in the most fundamental aspects of brewing: the basic ingredients of malt, water, yeast and bitter herbs like hops. Partly it's a fascination with the historical. Plenty of ancient trends arose due to scarcity or necessity, only to die with the winds of fortune. The explosion of interest in brewing over the last few decades has led some to an atavistic obsession with obscure additives, like mustard or salt. And with so much possible, with so many potential combinations of ingredients, with so much buried history waiting to be rediscovered, why not play around?
This seems primary for the brewers at The Wild Beer Co., a Somerset, England-based brewery with a penchant toward spontaneity. Here we're focused on two things: yeast and fruit. Wild beer refers mostly to the yeast, in that the yeasts themselves are not cultivated in a lab but native to the elements (the malts, the added fruits, the containers, the room) of the brewing process. It's a trend now, but the roots of "wild beer" are as old as beer itself. And while lots of brewers are experimenting, not all do it well. The Wild Beer Co. does it very well.
We first encountered The Wild Beer Co. this spring at the East Nashville Beer Festival when we had a keg each of their Iduna and Bliss, two spontaneously fermented beers that use fruit to soften and expand their flavors. We fell in love. So much so we've tripled our selection of the line. These beers do something that's hard to find and even harder to name. They take a complex idea of a beer and, through an honest and well honed craft, create a beer that dazzles with a purity of flavor.
The Wild Beer Co. draws from a long tradition and a growing demand for riskier beer, and with an effortless touch has managed to emerge as one of the best. Influenced equally by the Flemish/Belgian schools of brewing and the breakneck pace of modern brewing trends, their beers combine the best of both worlds, old and new. It's pretty damn impressive, actually. And as skeptic, we didn't fall easily. We were drawn in by the simplest of impulses, drinking the beer and giving in to its allure. Beautifully done, well worth a try. Careful, it's addictive.