The recent surge of creativity that has propelled craft beer to new heights has also brought with it hundreds of unique interpretations of the Belgian tradition of mixed fermentations made with wild bacteria, wild yeast, fresh fruit, unique spices, unique barrels, and experimental techniques. Crudely labeled “sour beer” by many a beer fan, recent official recognition of a style the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) labels “American Wild Ales” seems hardly to do justice for the variety of traditionally fermented beverages that, until the mid-19th century, encompassed nearly all fermented beer on earth. Not even a home brew competition recognized style until 2015, the American Wild Ale category is officially made up of three sub categories: Brett Beer (28A) Mixed Fermentation Sour Ale (28B) and Specialty Sour Ale (28C) This essentially divides all American born wild ales into: Brett, Sour, and Fruit/spice sour.
While these subcategories are a good start, they struggle for identity when pushed to the limits. The reason for style guidelines is to be able to compare; both within a given style and against other styles. The ambiguous guidelines for “Mixed Fermentation Sour Ale” describe any beer of any malt bill of any strength which has an acidic character. A large portion of consumers (and even industry people) still believe that Brett beers would fall in this category. No matter what you have been told, Brett beers are not sour. Wild? Yes. Funky? Sometimes, but most definitely not sour. Brett, however, is often a vital yeast in producing the interesting characters that are the hallmark of a well developed mixed ferment sour. The commercial examples set forth in the guidelines for 28B range from Boulevard’s dark, strong Love Child to Jolly Pumpkin’s light and refreshing Calabaza Blanca. It’s ridiculous to imagine that these beers should ever meet in competition or be confused in the marketplace.
Brendan Megowan, “Wild Style”, Beer Paper LA (July 2016), 19.