If 2018 was the year of falling in love with natural wine, I'm predicting 2019 will see the arrival of a wild beer boom right here in Sydney. If minimal intervention is your jam, this is the next frontier. Fun fact: you definitely don’t even have to be a beer drinker to enjoy it.
The owners of new Darlinghurst bar Odd Culture, self-proclaimed beer nerds Josh and James Thorpe, are staking their success on the idea that there’s a wild ale and a sour beer out there for everyone.
Not your typical swill—this ancient, varied and unpredictable drink is absolutely worth a try —and, as the home of the largest sour beer list in the southern hemisphere, Odd Culture is the place to do it.
Given the rarity of wild ales on the Sydney beverage scene right now, you’d be forgiven for not having tried, or even heard of, one before. What is wild ale? Why should you care? We spoke to James to get the low down.
OK, so what is wild ale exactly?
Wild ale describes a beer in which the yeast element occurs naturally during the brewing process, instead of being an added ingredient.
“Usually when you’re making beer at a brewery, the brewer will have a little sachet of yeast culture that’s been made in a lab somewhere that performs a particular function in terms of flavour or aroma etc,” James began.
“[Wild ale] beers, however, are soured naturally. It goes back to an ancient way of making beer, back before there were laboratories. The old Trappist monks, for instance, would open the top of their fermenter, open the window and let all the wild yeast in the air interact with the beer.”
Are sour beers and wild ales the same thing?
“Wild ale is a sour beer, but not every sour beer is a wild ale,” James explains.
Essentially, a wild ale is defined by its ‘wild’ brewing process. One result of this is the sour taste. However, there are some sour beers that are deliberately manufactured to be sour and aren’t considered ‘wild’.
Will I like it if I don’t like beer?
Quite possibly. Don’t be fooled by the term ‘sour beer’. It may sound like you’re in for an even tangier version of your typical lager, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Sour beers are indeed “funkier” – as James would say – but the types of flavours vary significantly.
For example, some beers currently on tap at Odd Culture are brewed with fruits like passionfruit, apple and Shiraz grape skins, the result of which are sweeter and more like a wine or cider.
I tried a delicious Belgian Cherry Lambic beer, which was fruity, sweet and sour. I would highly recommend starting here if you’re not a beer drinker.
A quick chat with the bartender should help guide you towards something to your taste.
How should you drink it?
James says wild ales aren’t served in the same volume as regular beer due to its strong flavour. You might compare it to drinking a glass of wine instead.
“If you’re serving schooners of some of these beers, it’s just too much,” James said. “We offer a wine pour for the beers as well, so we serve them in 150ml pours and 330ml.”
Not only that, but due to the process involved in making these brews, and the rarity of each one (no two brews will taste the same), wild ales tend to be more expensive.
While most on the menu at Odd Culture sit around $15 a pint, some can reach above $20. The smaller pours are obviously less expensive, and it is recommended you start here to get a taste before you dive in.
What food pairs well with wild ale?
Naturally, the answer to this question will vary according to what you’re drinking. At Odd Culture you can make your own grazing platter with a variety of cheeses, meats and tinned seafood. Chat to the staff for the best pairing opportunities.
Brace yourself. Here's where you can drink wine for $2 a pop.
Image credit: Bob Barrett.