Barrelworks is one of the craft beer industry’s most influential wild ale programs. But what is a wild ale, and how is it different from the commonly known term “sour beer?”

The term “sour beer” is used across the beer landscape, and yet it’s a tough category to understand. We call our Barrelworks beers “wild ales” instead. We want to unfold why we like wild more than sour and give a little insight into the flavors of Barrelworks beer that go beyond the world of just sour flavors.

While “sour” might be a clearer initial flavor definition then the word “wild”, there are several reasons we refer to Barrelworks this way.

The first is that sourness, or acidity, is an element of these beers, not the overall characteristic. Tartness is just one aspect, and it doesn’t describe the full experience of the beer.

The second reason is that not all wild beers necessarily taste tart or sour.

Most beers are brewed with a traditional beer yeast. We think of wild beer as something that’s brewed with additional or different yeast, such as Brettanomyces. Traditional brewers yeast is Saccharomyces. Brettanomyces is often found on fruit skins, and it is different in a few ways. It takes longer to ferment (convert sugars to alcohol), it can eat up more of these complex sugars over time, and it creates “funky” flavors often described as leathery, barnyard, and horse blanket.

While these might not sound extremely appetizing, in the right beers these funky flavors are stunning. A beer brewed with “Brett” doesn’t necessarily taste sour at all. In fact, in many of these beers, tartness is enhanced by added beneficial bacteria such as Pediococcus and Lactobacillus.

These two bacteria strains are very common. Lactobacillus is what makes yogurt tart and provides a similar tartness in beers. Pediococcus produces a more intense tartness as well.

Some wild beers also implement Acetobacter, which produces vinegar-like sourness. We find Acetobacter and its associated flavors a little too intense for the balance we seek in our Barrelworks creations, but we do happily employ these other wild “bugs” or “critters” – Lactobacillus, Pediococcus, and Brettanomyces.

While we use the term “wild beer,” we acknowledge the term loosely. Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus and Pediococcus were elements that used to find themselves in beer naturally, having crept in from the brewing environment. Yeast and bacteria exist all around us in the air.

Today, these yeasts and bacteria have been captured, harvested, and implemented for years. We almost force mother nature to unleash its wild flavors onto our beers.

Well, we truly think that our Barrelworks beers are a wild experience. There’s much more to them then tartness.

We think these are some of the most exciting, unusual, and rewarding beers in the large landscape of beer today.

While these beers are extremely complex, difficult to produce, and employ nature’s yeast and bacteria, there is something so gratifying and satisfying about them.

There will always be passionate individuals interested in the mosaic of wild flavors, and we are thrilled to tickle their fancy.

To explore and pick up some of our Barrelworks Wild Ales – click here to our online beer store.