With one of the premier brewing festivals coming up this weekend, I thought it would be a great time to talk about what the concepts behind the name Real, Wild, & Woody really mean.
Basically the real, wild, & woody (R.W.W.) categorizations are determined by how the beer is made and or served. Our “usual” beers are fermented with lager or ale yeast strains, artificially force carbonated, and are served from stainless steel. These r.w.w. differentiates beers from the “usual” techniques. Let’s talk about these awesome concepts. Most come from traditional methods before our industrial equipment allows for ease of use. These older techniques require more skill and patience to execute.
REAL ALE – Sometimes this is referred to as cask ales, cask conditioned, or real beer. Real ale was a traditional British style of serving beer. The beer is brewed then moved into a “cask or firkin” keg before all of the fermentation is complete. The existing active yeast and residual sugars complete their “secondary fermentation” in the cask. Instead of the co2 leaking out during fermentation, the cask is sealed and the carbonation is captured in the cask. After the carbon dioxide has sufficiently been absorbed into the beer then it is ready for serving. A knowledgable cellerman takes care of the process of releasing the excess pressure with porous soft and hard “spiles” in the top of the cask. A gravity pouring tap can be hammered in the front of the cask or it can be tied into a beer engine where the beer is vacuum pulled into the glass. The shelf life of real ales are limited to 24-48 hours on a cooled gravity system, or longer with a cask breather and beer engine. The advantages of real ale are that pasteurized beer loses much of its natural flavors and aromas, cask ale does not. The beer is cellar temperature which allows your pallet to collect more delicate flavors, and lighter carbonation creates a very smooth and pleasant mouthfeel. If you have a chance to go to a cask or firkin tapping party…go do it!!
WILD ALE – Wild ales and sour ales fall in and out of many of the same categories. There are many different ways to achieve this purposely sour, tart, or acidic style of beer. The reason these beers exist is because of historical brewing practices. With all of the different techniques, the catch all category for most is the American Wild Ale category. The traditional categories include; Berlinner Weiss, Gose, Flanders Red, Gueze, Lambic, and Old Bruin. So what is the difference? The main difference that I would like to share is between spontaneous fermentation or purposeful innoculation. It’s an umbrella in the idea that sour ales can be considered the main category and wild ales remain within that sour category. There are many different techniques like we spoke of above, one is the open fermentation technique. After cooling the wort that has just been brewed, it is placed into an open “coolship” that allows wild yeast in the air to activate and ferment the wort. Another way to brew a wild ale is to infect the wort, mash, or finished beer with a funky yeast strain. The main infectious yeast strains are Brettanomyces, Pediococcus, or Lactobacillus. Some brewers create an environment in the brewing kettle or mash tun to drop the ph balance of the wort to achieve their desired amount of sourness. Anyway that you choose to do it, be careful of infecting the whole brewery! Many of these souring agents are extremely difficult to get rid of. New age yeast cultures have had all of the unwanted yeast strains removed. I caution those brewers to be careful and sanitary when diving into the realm of wonderful sours and wild ales!
WOODY – Well this category is one that requires arguably the most patience of all. Adding a “woody” characteristic to impart flavor to a beer is nothing new. Smoky, oaky, vanilla, caramel, burnt, and toasty flavors are just some that can come from BARREL AGING. Some brewers use wood staves and chips to impart flavor. Most brewers are using wooden barrels to age their beer. Some brewers even use wooden vessels to ferment their beer into. The most obvious thing to remember is that the type of wood barrel and what it was used for prior to aging beer is going to dominate the flavor. I use whiskey barrels here at the brewery. I also have a tequila barrel that has been kept hydrated and is ready to age some delicious craft beer into! Other barrels can include but are not limited to rum, bourbon, gin, scotch, plain wood, roasted wood, all various types of red wines, and various types of white wines. Barrels can come to the brewer strait from the cooper (barrel maker) or from a distillery or from a winery. You have to find out from the distributor wether they were only used once or multiple times before coming to the brewery. Each time they are used before you get them will change how long you will age the beer for your desired flavor. I recently aged a 5.5% British Brown Ale on a first time use whiskey barrel, it took less than two months to achieve my desired flavor profile. However, a 10.5% Russian Imperial Stout in a three time use whiskey barrel may take a year or two to achieve that desired flavor profile. Every beer is different, every brewer is different, and every cellar is different and that is what makes us all unique and awesome.
In conclusion, if you are looking for some great flavors and beer profiles to taste, discover what a local brewery around you is doing a little different than the average brewer and check it out!
“There are two reasons for drinking: one when you are thirsty, to cure it; the other, when you are not thirsty, to prevent it.” -Thomas Love Peacock, Melincourt, 1817