Spontaneity these days is almost as rare as a considered thought from the US President. We exist in a life cycle that orbits primarily around time. Tasks, appointments, be here, do that - everything is scripted, managed and caressed try to extract every last second out of our busy days. I saw this cartoon during the week that (for me) showcased a spontaneous attitude brilliantly.
This week we’ll launch the first of our Australian Spontaneous Ales (Unpredictable Spring & Long Shadows), part of our Wilderness Project that has been slowly maturing at the brewery for the past four years. As I write this, I now recognise some level of irony and hypocrisy with the spontaneity aspect of these beers, given what I’ve just laid out in the paragraph prior (with regard to the time and effort we’ve invested and managed leading up to this release)
Spontaneous beers have a long and rich history in their motherland - Belgium. Whilst we’re inspired and guided by those who have come before us, we have not adopted the term Lambic for our new beers, preferring instead to describe them as what we feel they are more accurately are - Australian Spontaneous Ales.
The processes used to make these beers, especially its spontaneous inoculation in a vessel known as a coolship (koelschip), reflect practices that existed long before most of the techniques used by modern brewers. This is not to say that this is a primitive beer, in fact, lambic is one of the most sublime and complex beer styles one can try. But tradition and now the law has made of this Belgian ale a lens through which one can peer back into the history of brewing both in brewing methods and in the qualities of the final product.
Two aspects of the production of spontaneous ales make them unique today. First and most famously is its spontaneous fermentation. During a spontaneous production run, we do not pitch a carefully managed yeast strain from the lab into the wort as we would one of our core range beers (Pale, IPA etc). Instead, we’re leaving the wort open & exposed to the air and invite, even direct, their region's microorganisms into the sugary feast. This process occurs in our coolship - a large, shallow vessel in an isolated room at the brewery, into which we draw external air into the room over night. Second, after fermentation and barrel aging the various batches are compared and blended. Often old and new brews are combined giving the spontaneous beer its characteristic depth and complexity. The result (after a fair chunk of time) is a wild, funky, and expressive beer that can vary wildly from batch to batch, influenced by heavily by seasonal climatic conditions on the night of brewing.
It is impossible to define the mix of wild yeasts and bacteria that are used to ferment our spontaneous brews, because it changes from batch to batch. The other ingredients are more precisely prescribed and in their way as interesting. All of the malts & grains used in our Wilderness Project beers have been grown on our brewery farm. Our Pilsner spec barley malt (variety is Planet & Westminster) provides the large quantity of base malt. As is traditional with many other Belgian ales, our spontaneous brews contain a minimum amount (>30%) of unmalted wheat. This provides some heft to the body, something not always shared by other soured beers. We also include around 5-10% raw barley into the malt bill. The hops used are Estate varieties (SuperPride, Pride of Ringwood and Cascade), grown on-farm and used stale - aged for years in bags in the brewery, losing almost all of their aromatic qualities. This is why there is practically no detectable hops quality in these styles, stale hops lose the more common traits of the herb but retain its preservative qualities.
To the initiated, these beers can be startling. The spontaneous fermentation creates a beer unlike any other in its sour, funky, and bright flavors. Beneath these in-your-face flavors lurk dusky, earthy notes that bring a complexity to the beer that keeps it interesting. Garrett Oliver describes lambic as a riot of flavors and we do not know of a better way to put it.
As a companion to food, we find it helpful to think of these spontaneous beers like champagne. A dry champagne character is the ultimate palate cleanser, & it's easy to see that there are a few foods that cannot work with this style.
To drink a well-brewed lambic is not just to taste a great beer but to take a trip back through time. With this statement in mind, this is where we feel our spontaneous beers offer something unique and special.
So, here are the beers…….
AUSTRALIAN SPONTANEOUS ALE
Unpredictable Spring is a blend of this one-, two-, and three-year old spontaneously fermented beer. The finished beer has bold fruit aromas that develop into a crisp, citrus acidity and an enjoyable level of tart astringency and inspired by young Lambic beers.
AUSTRALIAN SPONTANEOUS ALE
Long Shadows is a blend of four spontaneous barrels ranging in age from 1 to 2 years, that has been aged in bottle for 8 months. A dry Brettanomyces driven character presents savoury oak, earthy malt and a subtle mineral acidity across a rustic farmhouse base.
FRUITED WILD ALE
The Medlar fruit provide this beer a bright stone fruit backbone with a subtle fruit-induced tartness. With a very low bitterness and minimal malt character, the acidity plays the lead role in keeping this fruited wild ale in balance. A little sweet and a little sour with equal parts fruity and fun; Medlar is a beer as weird as its namesake fruit, stuck in a state of perpetual internal conflict – with rewarding results.
BARREL AGED IMPERIAL STOUT (10th Anniversary Beer)
What better way to celebrate our 10th Birthday than with a monster of a beer. Building upon our incredibly popular Giblin Stout from a few years ago, we upped the anti by throwing a stack more malt into the bill, cold steeped a massive amount of Roast Barley malt to extract colour & flavour, without bitterness, & forcibly acquired 4 recently emptied Portuguese Port barrels in which to occupy for 12 months.
We’ll be launching these beers from this Wednesday (7/8), with an event at Preachers Bar in Hobart, and then in our hometown of Launceston at Saint John Craft Beer on the following Friday (16/08). Bottled stock will begin to filter out shortly (we’re just waiting on new boxes to arrive) to your favourite indie beer retailer.
We’ll also have these available at BlobfishFest in Melbourne later this month.
Oh, and one further little teaser for those that have made it this far, we’ve got a third Australian Spontaneous Ale in bottle now and maturing, and I’d expect that to be released before the end of the year……