Sour beers. The last bastion of the beer geek. Funky, trashy, acidic, dry and refreshing. Some taste like vinegar, others like old rubbish (in a good way). For those unfamiliar, sour beers (or wild ales) are beers traditionally spontaneously fermented by wild yeast. Without going too much into it, wild yeast can be a sour brewer’s best friend, or a regular brewer’s worst enemy. While they aren’t exactly common in the Australian beer scene, we are about to start seeing more on the market when Feral Brewing moves to their new location and uses their old brewery for brewing wild and sour beers.
In addition to the one discussed below, there are two other sours at the Great Australian Beer Spectapular, one from Moon Dog and one from Wig and Pen, but when the brewer of Australia’s #1 beer is bringing a sour to the table you know there’ll lots of interest. Fortunately Brendan Varis, the man behind the beer, was more than willing to contribute to some words about his beer, a Berliner Weisse style sour called “Watermelon Warhead” (which apparently is some sort of sour lolly? I don’t think we ever had them in NZ).
Most events such as this are a showcase of a range of beers, usually basic styles with the brewery staff selling their wares behind a small table. What do you think the benefits of an event like GABS are in winning people over to craft beer?
I actually see GABS as a reflection of how our regional craft brewing scene is maturing. Just 12 months ago the first GABs saw 20 brewers produce 20 new beers for the event. 2 or 3 years ago that concept would have been unimaginable. Now, one year on we’re looking forward to 40 Aussie and 20 kiwi beers. That kind of growth is probably a fair reflection on how craft beer has progressed in this country in the last year. That said a lot of the beers being brewed for GABs probably don’t reflect closely the type of craft beer being brewed and consumed year round.
With so many other potentially amazing beers all on the bill do you feel any pressure on you and your beer? or are you just like a punter and are happy to be involved?
Nah it’s not a competition its a celebration of all that’s good about craft brewing, but leaving that aside for a moment we always produce beers that we have personal respect for. The beer we present like any other beer we brew will reflect certain aspects of what it is we love about beer. If others enjoy it or not doesn’t really come into the equation when we work on new brews.
Are you attending, and if so, what beers are you most looking forward to trying?
I’ll be at GABs for sure and I’m looking forward to trying everything! Maybe not all in the one session though.
Why did you choose to make a Watermelon Berliner Weisse?
It’s not always easy for breweries to showcase their reginality or location in a beer but wanted to have a go with this one. The refreshing nature of most beer is one of the things really enjoy and cold watermelon is seriously refreshing especially in the hot climate we live. The swan valley grows most of WA,’s watermelons which meant they were in abundant supply, we literally went and picked half a tone from the neighbors paddock. We also carried out primary ferment and maturation in used chardonnay barrels sourced from local Swan Valley wine makers. Hopefully when we are at GABs in Melbourne this beer will remind us a bit of home.
How are you treating and adding the watermelon?
That was pretty simple really. Once the skin was off we purreed it and added directly into barrel near the end of primary ferment.
Not being a style that we are overly familiar with here (to my knowledge it hasn’t been brewed commercially in Australia before), how do you think it’ll go down with the drinkers?
Firstly for the people who are familiar with the style I think it’s important to point out that we didn’t set out brewing this beer with berlinner wiesse in mind. That tag was added because the festival needed to pigeon hole things a bit to help guide consumers. We actually rarely consider style when we develop new beers, for us it’s all about a sensory profile we have in our minds initially, which we then discuss and put down on paper in the form of a recipe and then finally it’s onto raw material and beer. With that out the way the beer is a low abv (2.9%) wheat beer with a reasonable amount of tartness and acidity. We used lactobacillus to achieve this as we find it gives a nice light breezy short pallet length type of acidity which is perfect for a lower abv thirst quenching and hopefully session able beer. The watermelon contributes very little to the beer flavor but is very up front aromatically. We actually named the beer Watermelon Warhead because it reminds us exactly of those sour lollies.
Is this a style we expect to see more from you now that you have more capacity to brew sour beers?
With a new brewery in the final stages of installation we will have much more scope to generally do sour beer on a very regular basis and that’s something that excites us and was a major motivating factor in our decision to install a new brewery
Is there anything else you want to add about your beer, GABS or craft beer in general?
Just that GABs is going to be a great event and will shine the spotlight on what all the passionate craft brewers in our region are capable of. I hope that attendees go away and remember the great breweries whose beer they enjoyed at GABs and support fresh local craft beer all year round.
Check out the Feral website here.
Next interview will be with Steve and Ben from Bridge Road Brewers.