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Wild Brews by Jeff Sparrow

A couple of weeks ago I came across a thread in the Lambic section of Homebrew Talk called Pellicle Photo Collection. It is a thread that is over 100 pages long of people posting pictures of their fermentations that are using wild yeast and bacteria, and after spending some time looking through it, the urge to brew some sour beers took hold.

Upon discussing the matter with some advanced homebrewers, I was told that the place to go next would be Wild Brews: Beer Beyond the Influence of Brewer’s Yeast, by Jeff Sparrow. So over the last week or so, I have read through the book, and my understanding of Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus and Pediococcus has been greatly improved.

While it is a book published by the Brewer’s Association, and it does have some good information on brewing your own Wild Ales, the information presented should be interesting to non-brewers who desire to learn more about the most mysterious styles of beer on earth.

Wild Brews starts off with a look at the classic beer styles that use wild yeast and bacteria, the moves through a history of the beers, and next takes a look at the breweries that currently produce Lambics and other Wild Ales, mainly in Belgium but including others in Europe and the UK as well as here in the US.

Next it takes a look at the wild yeasts and bacteria, describing how they work and the effects they have on beer. Also described is the methods of production, and a look at home the fermentation actually takes place with non-brewer’s yeast. The book winds up with chapters on barrel aging and conditioning of the beer (as well as a look at the available cultures from Wyeast and White Labs).

I was lucky enough to have been a craft beer fan back when you could actually get some Cantillon, and Wild Ales have always been some of the most interesting beers to drink. But prior to reading Wild Brews, I didn’t know a whole heck of lot about how they were actually made, aside from the fact that brett and the lactic acid producing bacteria were in play. After reading the book, my appreciation for what the people who make these great beers are doing has dramatically increased.

All in all, if you are a brewer looking to get into brewing Wild Ales, Wild Brews is a must read. If you are a beer fanatic and want to know more about how some of the most interesting beers around are produced, then this book is also worth a purchase. If you’re a dude or dudette who likes sour beer and wants to spend three minutes learning what the heck “brett” is, well that’s what google is for ya dummy.

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