Karen's Wild Ales: Fermenting Raw Materials since 1960

karen studio2 Karen's Wild Ales: Fermenting Raw Materials since 196

I have been brewing and fermenting raw materials most of my life. In 40 years of making herbal medicines, botanical body care products, artisanal cheese, bread, sauerkraut, pickled and smoked fish and meat, wine, pottery and sculpture, the process has become pure alchemy. While I dabbled with beer in the 1980's, I became serious in 2009, when my husband, Terry, and I were bitten by the taste for Belgian Ales.

While we love a good IPA, Pils, or Stout, we found no point in brewing them- there are too many great and affordable examples out there already today. For the time, cost, and effort involved in brewing a few of cases of IPA, I'd rather be hiking or making art and getting beer from my local brewery.

But Belgian Farmhouse, Trappist, and Lambic ales such as Cantillon, Orval, Duvel, Saison Dupont, Rochfort are a different story. These imported beers are expensive in the USA, and quality varies due to shipping and storage conditions. In 2009, there were just a few American breweries producing these beers and today, in 2016, there are hundreds! The brewers who have most inspired me are Chad Yacobson at Crooked Stave; Michael Tonsmeire, the Mad Fermentationist; Gabe Fletcher at Anchorage; Ron Jeffries at Jolly Pumpkin; Jason Yester at Trinity; Nate Walter formerly at McKenzie's, now at Free Will; John Stemler at Free Will; Dr. Lambic at The Sour Beer Blog; and my friends and teachers from the Berks County Homebrew Club especially Matt Vardjan, Colin Presby, Mike Kuhns, Matt Kennedy, and Joe Moran.

As a business person, I saw a nitch in providing Wild and Sour Ales for the local market of eastern PA. In 2009, I began home brewing these beers with a joyful obsession. In 2011, I sold Karen's Botanicals (manufacturer of organic, plant-based body care products) and exchanged the herbs, flowers and roots in my kettle for barley malt and hops. In 2013, I began to enter and win homebrewing contests. I like brewing the same beers over and over dialing in subtle variables. The goal is to one day, commercially produce a focused line of American Wild and Sour Ales for lovers of these beers in our region of the northeast. For now, I am a seriously enthusiastic, non-commercial home brewer.

To consider, then gather the clay for the body of a pot, the grains for the grist of a beer, the plants and oils for the formula of a cream, to meld them then in flame and time, the hops as handles, spice as glaze, and always above and beneath, the creative, procreative force, the spirit that defines its being as life force, as art, as yeast, as the divine.

News and Developments

No new posts but lots of excitement. September, 2017

Karen's Wild at Hidden River No new posts but lots of excitement. September 201

Even though there are no new posts here, I have been busy this year. We moved to a new home in Oley, PA in at the start of the year and I have a beautiful new brewhouse and ceramics studio. In the meantime, I have been teaching numerous courses on Ceramic Crock Making and Vegetable Fermentation at The Goggleworks Center for the Arts in Reading, PA.

Registration is still open for my upcoming course at the Goggleworks "Introduction to Cider Making."

I have also been collaborating with Hidden River Brewing in Douglassville, PA. The 60 gallon oak barrel that I started inoculating with Brett and bacteria in 2014 needed a temporary home during our move. The beer I'd been producing from it, Perpetuum Solera Sour, had gained some attention. It's a consistently deep, rich, vinous, oaky, balanced Sour dream of a beer. Kevin, Josh, and I brewed in April 2017 and filled the barrel with a rustic saison. They served several versions of the beer, culminating in "Potter's Field," a 6% wild, funky saison served for their second anniversary celebration. We filled the barrel again in August and bottles will be released in a few months.

Ceramic Fermentation Crocks

ceramic fermentation crocks Ceramic Fermentation Crocks

July, 2016. The first round of prototypes for ceramic fermentation crocks are ready. They are designed for vegetable fermentation, especially for pickles, kimchi and sauerkraut. They are about 12" tall, fired to cone 6. They come with beautiful cast glass weights.

Jason likes his Tribute Beer!

Jason Yester Tribute Beer Jason likes his Tribute Beer!

Jason Yester, of Trinity Brewing, liked drinking the beer I brewed for him so much that he used the photo on his Facebook profile! That made me so happy. The Saison Brett is made using the Saison yeast ratios that Jason likes: 60% Dupont, 10% French, 10% Brett, along with his bottle dregs of course. Very dry. Bottle conditioned with Brett. Brewed 09/2014. Bottled 01/2015.

Karen's Wild Ales Perpetuum Solera Sour Project, March 2016

Perpetuum Solera Sour Ale Bottle Karen's Wild Ales Perpetuum Solera Sour Project March 201

In November of 2014, I purchased a 60 gallon oak barrel that had previously fermented red wine. In 3 back to back double brew days, I filled it with a rustic farmhouse ale- pils, lots of unmalted grains, and a little special B to match the hardiness of the red wine oak. The barrel was innoculated with Brett Bruxellensis and Lambicus. Once they were established, I added pedioccocus hoping for a richer, deeper sourness than Lactobacillus usually gives. In December, 2015, I pulled the first 10 gallons. 5 gallons were bottled as is and 5 were dry-hopped with amarillo, galaxy, and mosaic. The new beer is called Perpetuum Solera Sour. See the label art on right. My friend Josh Darnell brewed the replacement beer and we hope for him to pull again in a couple of months. I love the Solera method!

Nate Walter and McKenzie's Barrels. Fall, 2015

Nate Walters Hallowed Ground Nate Walter and McKenzie's Barrels. Fall 201

Here is Nate on Halloween with a jeroboam of Hallowed Ground. Sour Saison #57, a new beer, is a tribute to his care of the famous barrel microbes at McKenzie’s.

Karen's Wild Ales wins another Gold at War of the Worts. February, 2015.

Karen War with Deer Creek Malt Karen's Wild Ales wins another Gold at War of the Worts. February 2015.

Karen won the gold medal in the Saison category at this year's War of Worts- a huge homebrew competition sponsored by Keystone Homebrew Supply. She and Terry chose 25 pounds of Deer Creek Malt as a prize and can't wait to brew another Saison with it soon.

Time to make Elderberry Blossom Liqueur. July, 2014

Karen harvesting Elderberry flowers Time to make Elderberry Blossom Liqueur. July 201

It's the almost 4th of July which means Independence and Elderberry Blossoms! I'll use these to make an extract which will become an Elderberry Blossom Liquer (like St. Germain)and a possible addition to some future brews. Blueberries and raspberries are ripe and ready as well.

A Visit with Jeason Yester at Trinity Brewing. June, 2014

Jason Yester at Trinity Brewing A Visit with Jeason Yester at Trinity Brewing. June 201

Terry and I visited several breweries on our recent trip to Colorado. The most important one was with Jason Yester at Trinity Brewing Company in Colorado Springs. Jason's approach to food, to architecture, to community, to business planning and growth is inspiring in its beauty, function and intention. The place is very, very cool. But Jason's beer, especially his Saisons, is pure genius. With a combination of extensive professional brewing experience, deep roots in art and the natural world, and a fearless creative streak, he is making some of the best Farmhouse Ales we have ever tasted. Check out his article on Saisons in Zymurgy (July/August 2014.)The photo shows Jason, Terry, and Julia in the barrel room at Trinity.

Karen's Wild Wins at War of the Worts 2014. February, 2014

War of Worts Winner Karen's Wild Wins at War of the Worts 2014. February 201

The War of the Worts is the east coast's biggest homebrew competition. Run by Keystone Hops Homebrew Club, and sponsored Keystone Homebrewing Supply and lots of other wonderful companies, it's a terrific event. I won gold and silver medals in the Belgian Specialty category this year. The gold was for my Rustic Saison, the silver for Farmhouse Gold. The Rustic won gold last year too. Shown in the photo is one of the prizes- a brand new Blichmann Beer Gun to join my first for double barreled bottling!