Kearny Mesa’s Council Brewing Company and Vista’s Toolbox Brewing Company share an affinity for tart and wild ales. The brewing minds from these outfits have wanted to collaborate on such a beer for a long time, but found their schedules unaccommodating until a confluence of seemingly unfortunate developments provided ideal teaming conditions. First, a shipment of bottles Council had ordered was delayed, forcing them to push back the packaging date for one of their beers. Then, news came of a week-long stretch of cold, stormy weather. Council owners Liz and Curtis Chism contacted Toolbox head brewer Ehren Schmidt to see if he was free to brew on their would-be bottling day. He accepted and they were off to the races—all they needed was something to brew. Fittingly, this spontaneous collaboration yielded a spontaneous beer…a spontaneous fermenting beer, that is.
Yesterday, Schmidt, the Chisms and Council’s wild-yeast aficionado, Jeff Crane, brewed the wort for a beer that will ferment based solely on the airborne microorganisms occurring within their Kearny Mesa business park. Doing so loosely follows the age-old Belgian tradition of brewing Lambic beers. In Europe (and a small number of breweries in the U.S. such as Allagash Brewing Company, Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project and Jester King Brewery), this is done by allowing wort (unfermented beer) to cool in open, shallow metal vessels called coolships, which allow wild yeast full access to the wort. Unlike domesticated yeast used to produce the vast majority of the world’s ales and lagers, wild yeast and bacteria such as Brettanomyces, Saccharomyces and Pediococcus, are extremely unpredictable and bring forth a host of tart, dry, earthy, funky flavors and aromas. These are desired traits by connoisseurs of these beers, but they are challenging to produce and the Council-Toolbox crew has no idea how their finished-product will turn out. It’s as much about experimentation as anything else, and they look forward to learning from this batch as well as a second, identical batch that they will brew tomorrow at Toolbox’s brewery.
Since neither company has a coolship, they are utilizing large plastic bins. The wort racked into them incorporates under-modified Pilsner malt, flaked and unmalted wheat, as well as Crystal hops Toolbox has been aging at its facility for nearly three years. Those matured pellets are nearly brown in appearance and have a scent similar to that of ripe blue cheese. After transferring the wort to the bin, that receptacle was transported across the business park to the suite the Chisms refer to as their “Magic Factory”, where they house their oak foudres and barrels. That is where it will ferment and age for at least a year. That spot is home to a host of “bugs” that will have their way with this beer. During warmer times of the year, there are typically too many undesirable microorganisms in the air for this process, which often leads to spoiled beer, making the upcoming week of cooler weather favorable for this project.
Because of it will ferment in a different environment, the Toolbox-brewed version of this beer is bound to taste different. The team plans to check in on both beers at the six-month and one-year marks but figures it likely won’t be finished for at least 18 months. At that point, they will coordinate release events at their tasting rooms where they will sell bottles of the individual beers as well as a blend of both. Additionally, provided the beer meets their standards, they will hold some back and continue brewing this recipe on an annual basis so they can produce a Gueuze, a term used to describe a blend of one-, two- and three-year-old Lambics. It’s a grand undertaking made entirely possible by a delayed delivery and the biggest series of storms to hit San Diego since 2010.