When I began my career in the craft beer industry, Karl Strauss Brewing Company had just celebrated 18 years of brewing in San Diego. It was 2007; San Diego was home to a close-knit band of breweries, and you could count the number of craft-savvy beer bars on one hand. San Diego’s beer scene was plenty mature at the time, but the cult-like demand for San Diego beers was still a few years away. And while high-octane hoppy beers were putting SD on the international map, a more experimental and lesser-known brewing practice was developing behind closed brewery doors.
Experimenting with different ingredients and techniques is one of the most exciting parts of brewing, especially when a little spontaneity or a happy accident leads to new discoveries and complex flavors. The most exciting discovery of my first year with KARL was sour beers. In my life before beer, I knew nothing about spontaneous fermentation or wild ales; my only real experience was pouring a Duchesse de Bourgogne down the drain because it tasted like balsamic vinegar. That being said, my education began when I discovered a cache of dusty, cobweb-covered oak barrels in a dark recessed corner of the brewery. Curious, I asked around and learned that these barrels contained sour and spontaneously fermented ales inoculated with lactic acid-producing bacteria and wild yeast. At first, I didn’t know what to make of folks using bacteria and wild organisms to make beer, but after reading up on the styles and doing a little bar stool research, I was hooked. (more…)