Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Bars & Spirits

At Green Bench's Foeder event, learning about wild and sour ale, and drinking it, too

Everyone loves a good beer festival, and locally we have more than a few great ones, especially during Tampa Bay Beer Week, which wrapped up on Sunday.

You've got the Florida Brewer's Guild Festival, the Brewer's Ball, Cycle's Barrel-Aged Day and, of course, the mega-festival to cap a full week of festivities: Hunahpu's Day at Cigar City. All outstanding events, and with the consistently-growing attendance to prove it.

But for my money, Green Bench Brewing's celebration of wild and sour ale — Foeder for Thought — is the one that tops my can't-miss list. The fourth annual Foeder was Friday night.

A foeder is basically a giant wooden barrel in which beer is fermented. Producers of wild ales love these things because a porous nature allows them to harbor wild yeast and bacteria that adds depth and complexity to beer, often with some funk and a little sourness.

Green Bench is one of a short but growing group of breweries in the United States that ferments beer in foeders, evolving into a real-deal community, with brewers trading tips on experimental and ambitious brewing techniques, and working together on collaborations that push the envelope of complexity in beer.

Green Bench head brewer Khris Johnson travels in these circles, which is the key to what makes Foeder for Thought so compelling. Not only does Foeder bring out a who's who of international wild and sour breweries' wares, it also brings some of the brewers themselves, to talk about their beers and answer questions from fans interested in the whys and hows of the strange world of wild ale production.

"Foeder for Thought is an education-forward festival," Johnson explained as he kicked off the first round of this year's first discussion, with Andrew Hood of Sun King Brewing in Indianapolis. Other guests included Roy Milner of Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tenn.; James Howat of Denver's Black Project: Spontaneous & Wild Ales; and Jeffrey Stuffings of Austin's Jester King Brewery.

Each brewer sat down in a cozy lounge situated in Green Bench's outdoor beer garden for an hourlong panel, led by Marco Leyte-Vidal of craftcommander.com. The brewers discussed their history, their brewing philosophy — Milner's take on farmhouse ales struck me as especially compelling —and the stories behind their featured beers, followed by a question-and-answer session with the audience.

The best way to boost one's enjoyment of beer is to learn about it. Understanding why a beer tastes the way it does has a tremendous effect on how I consume beer, and I honestly don't think I'd be nearly as invested in good beer as I am without a healthy interest in the nuts and bolts of the stuff.

Many people can appreciate a beer like Jester King's Fēn Táo, for example, without knowing anything about it. It's dry, tart and dripping with the flavor of ripe peaches.

But hearing its origin story (it's Jester King's nod to marriage equality, referencing a Chinese story about same-sex partners sharing a peach) and learning about the process by which it was made (fermented for months in oak barrels with local wild yeast and bacteria, then transferred to a foeder and fermented again to dryness with "several hundred pounds of peaches" from nearby Fredericksburg, Texas) makes for a much more memorable experience.

Of course, it wouldn't be a beer festival without lots and lots of beers to drink, and there was no shortage in that regard. There were more than 70 beers available, by my count, some of which would be near-impossible to obtain without attending. I'm looking at you, Cantillon Rhubarb Lambic.

Major standouts, coincidentally or not, included Black Project's Cygnus: Blackberry and Jester King's SPON — Méthode Gueuze. These beers would have topped my list at any festival — having the brewers on hand to discuss them in detail was a very nice bonus indeed.

There's quite a lot to be said about the caliber and popularity of bay area beer festivals. No matter what you're into, you'll find it in abundance during Beer Week. If, like me, you enjoy taking a peek under the hood of some truly exotic brews, then Foeder for Thought should be on your calendar for next year.

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