Back to the Wilderness
Traveling has always been a big part of To Øl. There is no better way of getting inspiration or catalyze the urge to develop and challenge “beer”. A fluent substance based on simple ingredients like water, grain, hops and yeast. A liquid that so many people around the world relate to in so many different ways and which is experiencing an ongoing revolution as we speak. Small breweries are popping up all over the world. Breweries with extremely different approaches to beer. Who constantly tries to upper the level of quality in beer. Who tries to push the boundaries and challenge peoples understanding of beer. For me, however, more importantly they are putting a question mark at what being a “brewery” is actually about. Everywhere we go, everywhere we travel all these new ideas and approaches gets integrated consciously or unconsciously to To Øl.
A recent journey we had, which has already inspired us a lot, was to the state of Arizona, USA. Here lies a brewery, which within its short existence has shown whole new approaches to brewing and being a brewery. It’s called Arizona Wilderness and is run by Jonathan Buford, and Patrick Ware and their business partner Brett Dettler. Their approach is simple. Instead of looking at the west coast, east coast or at Europe for inspiration, why not look at Arizona itself and use the wilderness as the foundation for brews? Using unique crop varieties, wild honey or other endemic ingredients from local suppliers or just going to the wilderness yourself and forage whatever the landscape presents. Then bring that loot to the brew house and let the wilderness define the beer being brewed.
We went to Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. to make a collaboration brew as two breweries with their own quirky approach to being a brewery and together celebrating this fact.
After arriving at Gilbert, AZ an idea suddenly arose. Instead of bringing the wilderness to the beer, what if we could bring the beer to the wilderness? Normally breweries endeavors super clean environments and try to keep any wild yeast or bacteria away from the brew kit. Thus, to get clean and precise fermentations and keep away infections that would ruin a beer.
But what if we turned this process upside down and tried to expose the wort as much as possible to the wild yeast and bacterias of the wilderness – like the Belgian lambik traditions. Then we would have the life and buzzing of the wilderness to ferment the actual beer.
The result would be impossible to predict, as you never know what bacteria or yeast strain would go in to the wort. Most likely the beer would get an acidic touch and would need time to develop as wild bacteria and yeast often has a latent quality, so we would have to build a base beer that could do well with a low pH beer.
There are different ways of approaching a recipe for a wild yeast project like this. Keyword for us is “balance”. How could you create a balance in the beer, which would fit the fermentation? As the aromas of a wild fermentation can be very subtle, we decided to create a base beer that function as the best possible canvas for showcasing the aromas of the whatever yeast.
We therefore did a session ale recipe that contained a bit of oats as we then would get some mouthfeel without using caramel malts, that normally would oxidize over time in an un-beneficial way for a wildly fermented beer.
Plan was to take a few gallons of the wort, put it back in the truck (more a tank in Danish measures) and take that with us camping in the mountains.
After a hot brew day, we loaded the truck in the afternoon and drove to the mountains where we found the perfect spot to set up camp and expose the beer to the air for the night.
After a few beers, a lot of Vikings songs and prayers to Odin (Not sure what it is with Americans and the old Nordic gods…) we woke up to a beautiful sunrise and a completely dead truck. Apparently American cars can’t start if it is below 10 degrees Celsius, but with a little luck and again a lot of prayers to Odin (and of course 2 hours of waiting for the sun to heat up the gasoline) we managed to get down the mountain and back to the brew house with the now sealed and inoculated wort.
Now often it can take weeks before wild yeast starts fermenting for real, but the prayers to Odin must have worked as the wort was fermenting like crazy already two days after.
The wort was then pitched in to the rest of the wort and put in a nice 600L puncheon barrel, so it can rest over the next year and develop in to hopefully a beautiful complex, rustic and tart spontaneously fermented wilderness ale.
It was an extremely exciting brew date and we can’t wait to see how the Wild Wilderness yeast will develop in the barrels in its own non-stressful way.