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Sour beer proves oh so sweet at Dutch festival; BEER.


BEER blogger Andrew Mitchell has just returned from an innovative and unusual beer-lovers' event - Brett Will Eat sour beer festival, held in Amsterdam. Andrew, from Gateshead, who gives regular talks and tastings across the North East, experienced the best of wild yeast sour beers - and here gives us a flavour of what went on.

"Eat, eat!", exclaimed the fish man, pushing another plate of pickled fish in front of me.

Seemingly pork scratchings aren't the bar snack of choice in Amsterdam. Instead it's all about the soused herring; a portion of preserved fish with a side order of chopped onion and gherkins. However, it's safe to say that the herring's palate-puckering sourness played second fiddle to the beer in my hand.

The hilariously-named Salty Dick from Amsterdam's Oedipus Brewery was a delicious sour wheat beer, brewed with salt, lime and grapefruit peel. And this was one of the more sedate beers on offer at the unique Brett Will Eat festival; a weekendlong celebration of sour and vintage beer styles in the Dutch capital. Perhaps I ought to explain...

Sour beers are possibly not the go-to drink of the masses, but there's a lot of science going on in the glass that give these lip-puckering brews their character. Brettanomyces, or Brett, is a type of wild yeast occasionally used in brewing and not always on purpose. This cheeky yeast is often found in unlined wooden fermenting barrels and some strains of Brett can slowly eat the sugars in the wood that other organisms can't process. In short, Brett will eat everything, given half the chance, hence the name of the festival.

You've had the science lesson, now time for some history. In the 18th and 19th centuries, English porter was the most typical beer of choice. To keep up with demand, the breweries of the day built enormous unlined wooden vats for storing and aging their beers.

Beers would age for up to a year and those kept in these wooden vessels began to take on a somewhat of sour note, which became so desirable that a sour porter could be worth up to three times as much as the fresh equivalent.

Brett would've played a major role in the souring process and some breweries have continued this historic practice. Brett-infused beers take on a funky farmyard-like aroma and flavour and in Belgium, traditional farmhouse beers and lambics such as Cantillon depend heavily on Brett for their unique character. In recent years many forward-thinking breweries have added this pongy yeast to their beers to completely change their flavours.

Brett Will Eat was held over four sites in Amsterdam; the Beer Temple, De Prael, t'Arendsnest and In De Wildeman - the undisputed four best bars in town. And the drinks on offer did not disappoint.

Beers made from a blend of seven different vintages lined up next to those aged for a year or more in bourbon or Bordeaux barrels and all had been given a sublime sour twist thanks to this hard-working yeast strain.

Many breweries looked to the past for the festival. Dutch brewery Oersop resurrected a 170-year-old recipe for a London imperial brown stout, adding a sour flair of course, while Oedipus turned their skills to recreating a practically extinct German beer style called Kotbusser from 1850.

A particular highlight came from closer to home; Watford to be precise. Brett Will Eat marked Pope's Yard Brewery's first foray beyond Greater London to serve up an 11% porter, brim full of English hops and plenty of Brett. The beer was sour, savoury and smokey, which on paper sounds like a triple threat of awful, but instead proved to be a tasty trio. As complex as any red wine and brewed with real passion. Wonderful stuff.

With the incredible array of microbreweries springing up in the UK I have my fingers firmly crossed that such an innovative festival will eventually happen on local turf. Until then there's never been a better time to get your ferry or flight tickets booked to Amsterdam for the last week of June 2015, when Brett Will Eat rolls back into town.

Sour beer has never tasted so sweet. Hope to see you there.


One of the beers sampled by Andrew Mitchell

One of the beers at the Brett Will <BEat Festival in Amsterdam
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 19, 2014
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