Meet the B.C. breweries venturing into wild, sour, and aged beers
Back in the 1990s, B.C. beer drinkers were just getting used to a newfangled thing called a “microbrewery,” and were shocked by some crazy new styles—like the India Pale Ale. 25 years later, IPA is standard and beer drinkers are still looking for new flavours.
Today, some of B.C.’s most cutting-edge craft beers are actually traditional styles, like saisons, oud bruins, and lambics. These styles are, according to Garrett Oliver’s Oxford Companion to Beer, part of “a brave new world of beer flavor.” The two main categories are “sour beer,” which is any beer brewed with acidifying bacteria, and “wild beer,” which describes “beer that displays the earth characteristics of Brettanomyces yeast, regardless of whether the beer is a light golden ale or a strong dark stout.” The bacteria, the wild yeast, and the aging all contribute to the unique quality of a wild or sour beer.
Recognizing a demographic eager for these styles, some breweries are now specializing in them. So take a walk on the wild side and visit one of B.C.’s wild beer breweries!
B.C.’s newest wild/sour brewery will be opening in Fall 2023 on Pemberton Avenue in North Vancouver. Brewer Octavio Pauley and his wife Morgan Miller, a certified Cicerone, are ready for the challenge of opening a craft brewery that focuses on wild and blended beers.
“I think it’s probably every brewer’s dream to start their own brewery, and I was lucky enough to have friends to support me,” says Pauley, referring to his business partners. While spending years brewing at home, then for R&B, Dogwood, Studio, and others, Pauley had his own brewery plans in mind. And he knew that wild, mixed-ferment beers were what he’d pursue.
Beva will have beers for all tastes, but its specialty will be wild and sour styles. When the taproom first opens, lagers, IPAs, and some fresh mixed-fermentation saisons will be pouring. As the months go by, more aged and sour beers will be available. Pauley has a stock of barrels, some for souring and some for developing the wild flavours. His passion is blending beers from different barrels to create different taste profiles. “One of my goals is to make more lambic-style beers,” says Pauley. “I see myself eventually making gueuze, which is produced by blending one, two, and three-year-old [lambic] beers together.”
North Vancouver’s other aged/wild brewery, House of Funk, is excited to have Beva join the community. House of Funk founder Darren Hollett opened his brewery in 2019, after years of longing for more funky, wild beers in the market. House of Funk focuses on mixed fermentation styles and offers local organic coffee as well.
“Lots of breweries have things like a porter, blonde ale, kolsch, IPA,” says Hollett. “Nothing wrong with those, but if you want to be unique you have to specialize.” Hollett makes sure his brewery stands out by following one main rule: each beer must either spend time in wood, or be made with a wild yeast like Brettanomyces, or a bacteria like lactobacillus.
To keep up with demand, they brew efficiently. About 80-90 barrels are going at a time, and five large foeders age golden sour stock continually, receiving top-ups of fresh wort to feed their living yeast. Each foeder has a unique flavour profile, opening up all sorts of blending possibilities. The priority is to balance acidity (the sour) with funkiness (the wild). “It’s a bit of an art,” Hollett laughed.
House of Funk still offers more recognizable styles like pilsners and pale ales, although they’re tweaked to follow the brewery’s main rule.
Interested in trying House of Funk? If you like tart beers, Hollett recommends the Cydonia Golden Sour aged on Saltspring Island quince. If you like funky, go with Loki, a foeder-fermented West Coast IPA with wood character and dank bitter notes.
Mitchell Kehoe and Theresa Cashen took their passion for traditional European beer styles from the East Coast to the West Coast. When Kehoe started making sours, saisons, and fruit beers at their home in Halifax, the couple realized that they might be able to do something more. Cashen had business know-how and Kehoe had a product they could sell. What was next?
Cashen’s family was in Kelowna, a hotbed of fruit, vineyards, and wine barrels—all useful to their brewery concept. Kelowna only had three breweries when they started planning, and eight when they finally opened their doors in 2018. Wild Ambition was offering something unique in a market that was about to explode.
The brewery quickly became popular; the couple found that Wild Ambition’s local character appealed to the locals. “We wanted to do beer with a sense of place,” says Cashen. “We emulate styles that were cottage industry, rural styles that depended on what ingredients were on hand. It felt right to do a modern interpretation of that.”
As Wild Ambition’s popularity increases, Kehoe continues his beer research. “Really, you’re making beer the way it was 120 years ago!” he laughs. His current favourite style is oud bruin, a wild Flemish ale. He plays with it, adding local ingredients and adjusting the tartness. It’s his approach to most beer: learn how it was traditionally done, then have a little fun. When you visit, make sure you ask them about your beer’s story—there’s always more to it!
Tristan Stewart may not have a brewery, but he’s created some of the most popular aged and wild beers in the Lower Mainland. Using other breweries’ equipment and licensing, he’s managed to develop his own program of aging and blending beers. Word-of-mouth, private liquor store contracts, and pop-up sales soon built his reputation.
Stewart currently brews his aged and strong beers at East Vancouver’s at Container Brewing (the aged/strong beers) and his wild and sour beers at House of Funk (the wild or sour beers, sold through Slow Hand). All told, he usually has about 80 barrels going at once, which gives him a choice of what to blend—and when. “Time is important for developing complexity,” Stewart says. “I spend a lot of time tasting through the barrels and making sure everything is proceeding nicely. Leather, funky, earthy—they can blend well with a sour beer that might be more simple otherwise.”
Unlike many breweries, Stewart uses pediococcus, an aggressive souring bacteria, in some of his beers. He managed to propagate his strain using a bottle from Cantillon—a famous Belgian brewery. “I have a good network of beer nerd friends!” Stewart laughs. “I can access some unusual beers.”
Some new beers from Temporal’s sour/wild program are being released in the coming months. One to look forward to is Spectral Rhubarb, a saison-style blend of barrel-aged beers, fermented with fresh organic rhubarb and gentian root.
“Île Sauvage” means “wild island,” a nod to the Vancouver Island home of this Victoria brewery. Founder Stephane Turcotte brings his expertise as an Advanced Cicerone to Île Sauvage, which he opened in 2018 with two friends.
Île Sauvage has been famous for its sour and wild Belgian styles since day one. “We generally choose stuff that’s a little bit funkier or wild with a lot of different strains that a lot of other breweries don’t use which we’re excited about because it helps us drive flavour,” said Turcotte in a 2019 interview with the Victoria News. Even if customers have never tried a sour or wild beer before, Turcotte urges them to come in and give it a shot. “We’re pretty confident there will be one beer that you’ll really like.” So if you find yourself in Victoria, or near any of B.C.’s growing number of breweries specializing in wild, sour, or barrel-aged beer, make sure to stop by for a flight!