Some brewers describe these extraordinary beers as spontaneously fermented; others call them wild ales; still others prefer the term mixed fermented. Regardless of the language on their labels, all six owe a debt to the specific place where they were brewed—some through the inclusion of native microbes, which invisibly creep into the beer as it rests in coolships, or through the quality of yeast that results from time in open fermenters. The payoff: beers that you literally can’t find anywhere else. (Those interested in the ongoing discussions surrounding beer terroir will find these especially compelling.)
Saint Somewhere Pays du Soleil
Tourist-clogged Tarpon Springs, Fla., seems an unlikely place for the alchemy of open fermentation, but brewer Bob Sylvester wants to incorporate “as much Florida as possible” into each Belgian-style farmhouse beer. This ale claims to be a dubbel, but its fruit character is more tropical, with tart notes of apricot and peach wrapped up in a truly sour sip.
Jester King Le Petit Prince
The wild yeast that thrives in the Hill Country outside of Austin, Texas, contributes beautifully to this 2.8%-ABV table beer that packs more flavor than its alcohol level implies. White pepper spice, light melon flavors and a clean finish make it a nearly foolproof food beer.
Ale Apothecary Sahati
If you can’t walk through the dark forests of Bend, Ore., where this beer is made, a bottle of the piney, tart ale is the next best thing. The wood of a 14-foot spruce tree from Ale Apothecary’s property acts as a mash tun; the beer is a rush of Christmas tree resin, white pepper and sweet orange undertones. With a cigar? Perfection.
It’s hardly a farmhouse brewery, tucked as it is in the basement of a busy Portland, Ore., office building, but Upright manages to make old-school open fermentation methods work in its controlled environment. This hop-forward saison showcases both hop bitterness and a touch of dank flavor that adds an earthy floor to the sip.
Trinity Koelorado 2015
Brewed like an American version of a lambic, Trinity’s golden sour is spontaneously fermented by the special mix of “feral” organisms that float through the fresh Colorado air and land in the brewery’s mobile coolship. It tastes bright, young and very tart, with some white flower and tobacco notes that funnel into a dry, fresh oak finish.
De Garde Oude Ruin
Tillamook, Ore., lends the ideal climate for De Garde’s coolships, where the wort rests overnight to pick up native yeast and microbes. This rum barrel-aged sour brown ale exemplifies why the brewery is at the forefront of American wild beer: Tart, dark cherry marries warm vanilla bean spice on the swallow. It’s lovely today, and an excellent candidate for the cellar.