Wild Ales are beers that are fermented in “Coolships” and this way of fermentation was used in almost every brewery at one time. Coolships are long, shallow open-top vats where the wort (unfermented beer) cools and ferments into these unique beers. The wort will collect airborne bacteria and yeast that will ferment the beer spontaneously. This is opposite of how most of today’s breweries ferment their beers by using closed, temperature-controlled sanitized fermentation tanks and cultured yeast.
By using these Coolships, the brewer subjects their beer to the unpredictable forces of nature which produces complex beers with highly nuanced flavors and aromas from the wild yeast and bacteria. Sometimes these Coolships are rolled outdoors to start fermentation or left inside with the windows of the brewery left open. The wild yeast and bacteria will settle into the wort and fermentation will begin. Some brewers will then isolate these yeast and bacteria and culture them in a lab to be used again. This will help to produce a similar beer the next brew but some brewers will allow nature to take its course and produce unique beers with each new batch!
The category in the Brewers Association guidelines is “American Wild Ale” and the flavors of these beers range from sour to citrus, tropical and an unlimited array of funky flavors. Sometimes these beers are barrel-aged in wine barrels for anywhere from one to two years. Most often more than one barrel is used to age the beer and the brewer will taste samples from each barrel and then blend the barrels for an even more interesting beer. These Wild Ales are not for every Craft Beer aficionado but they are becoming more commonplace in Craft Brewing as more breweries purchase these Coolships and start to experiment. If you ever get a chance to try a Wild Ale do so as it will be a unique experience Cheers!
Rob McFerren is the owner of Wolf Creek Restaurant & Brewing Co.