Soaking Up the Suds
By James Crane
Let’s get wild
I find something incredibly interesting about the idea of wild fermentations. While many brewers strive to keep pure strains of their yeasts, which impart distinctive flavors upon their brew, wild yeast is kind of the opposite. Usually when beer is brewing, it’s completely closed off from the outside world to make sure no bacteria or yeasts get in there and tamper with the way the beer is supposed to taste. With wild fermentations, they’re left out in the open. This means anything passing by can just make its way on into the brew.
The most famous of these brews is the Belgian lambic. This beer, frequently flavored with fruits, can only be brewed in the Senne valley. Numerous wild yeasts and bacteria in the air combine there to ferment the beer and give it its distinctive dry, sour taste. It’s sort of like a bunch of micro-organisms get together and have a party in the beer. Lambic is what they leave behind in their wake.
Until recently, that was the only style I knew of that utilized wild yeasts. That was until I picked up Brewery Ommegang’s Biere De Mars. This is an Ale refermented with the wild yeast Brettanomyces Bruxellensis, one of those typically found in a lambic. In this case, however, its used in a Belgian-style amber out of New York. Without question, I bought it as soon as I read the bottle.
The pour itself wasn’t anything too surprising. The beer was a nice, light shade of amber with about a fingers worth of creamy head that left little lacing as it disappeared. The bubbles rising constantly to the surface promised decent carbonation. All in all, there wasn’t anything terribly distinctive about the look of it.
The smell, while not overly prominent, was complex. There was certainly a funk to it, as well as a bit of hay. There was also something a bit like rotting fruit, except without the offensive parts. It was slight sweet and vinegary. Reading over what I just wrote, it sounds kind of gross, but I assure you, it’s really not bad. There’s just no mistaking that it’s a fermented beverage.
The taste was unlike any beer I’d had before. I had a rather difficult time putting words to it. There was something in it that reminded me of a musty cellar. Have you ever had orange juice that was a little bit too old? There was a bit of that feel to it, as well as aged cheese. There was certainly a nice bit of maltyness to it, but that was washed out in the funk. There was also something peppery in it, and some Belgian spiciness that would on occasion make itself known on my tongue. This all oddly blended together well into the floral hoppyness at the end.
Ultimately, I’m not quite sure what I just put in my mouth. To be fair, the batch was from 2008.
The aging very well may have changed the original flavor profile. In any case, it’s a bit like a car crash of strange tastes. If you’re the adventurous type, and come across a bottle of this, get it immediately.
It’s an incredibly interesting beer. It certainly will not be for every pallet, however. Brewery Ommegang’s Bierre De Mars was unquestionably one of the most unique beers I’ve ever had. I’d say it was worth every cent.