Karen's Wild Ales: Fermenting Raw Materials since 1960
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
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
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, 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
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
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 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
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
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
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!
Yeast Counting with Nate Panek. 6/22/2013
I met Nate through the Clone Wars, a brewing contest sponsored by Keystone Homebrew in Montgomeryville, PA. He won the show, and this is no wonder. Whether counting yeast cells, studying malt analysis, or making finely calibrated water adjustments, Nate dials it in with an elegant scrutiny. Terry and I are ready to start counting yeast, and Nate invited me over to see how he does it. In this photo, Nate counts Brett Trois cell density and identifies 100% viability.
Barley fields of eastern Slovakia. July, 2012
Our Slovak family and friends have never lost touch with the barley. We visited their farm last summer during harvest. I come from a long line of Slovak herbalists and brewers. My cousin is a chemical engineer in charge of formulation at a distillery in northeastern Slovakia.
Brew Buddies at the Homebrew Club. September, 2010
As an educator, I've always loved the learning process. But I don't think I've ever had so much fun learning before. From mechanics, kegging, and thread measurements to diacetyl, chilling, and fermentation temps, the boys at the Berks and Bruclear Homebrew Clubs are outrageously and indefatigably enthusiastic and smart. I have learned so much from them. After spending hours of reading, research and formula development, the best thing is to go geek out and talk about brewing with these guys- homebrew in hand of course!
Our logo, based on one of my sculptures. It is a six color screen printed decal printed by Nu-Art Graphics in West Chester, PA.
Brewing Wild and Sour Ales 101 with Karen
Here are notes from my presentation "Brewing Wild and Sour Ales 101" to the Berks County Homebrew Club, given on 9/13/2016. It covers all aspects of brewing with brett and bacteria including GABF and BJCP categories, historical examples, sanitation, and brewing techniques.
- Brewing Wild and Sour Ales 101110.61 K | 9/28/2016
Bottle Conditioning with Brettanomyces
Here are notes from my presentation "Bottle Conditioning with Brettanomyces" given to The Bruclear Homebrew Club on February 3, 2016. It covers commercial examples, cell counts of commercial Brett packs, recommended numbers of cells to pitch for bottling, yeast variety characteristics, and troubleshooting.
- Bottle Conditioning with Brettanomyces449.89 K | 9/28/2016
- Letter to the Editor of Zymurgy magazine
My letter was published in the March/April 2016 issue. It reviews the causes of under carbonation in bottle conditioned beer and explains how to diagnose and fix a problem when it occurs.111.48 K | 3/2/2016
March 1, 2016: Perpetuum Solera Sour Ale
It's ready! This is a farmhouse ale aged for 13 months, Solera style, in a 60 gallon red wine oak barrel. Teeming with brett varieties and pediococcus, the first pull is bottle conditioned, and ready to drink. Here's hoping for many years of wild, wonderful fermentation.
November 14, 2015
Sour Saison #57, released in November, 2015. This is the beer that just won Gold at the Stoney Creek competition. It is our Rustic Saison base beer fermented with saison yeast, McKenzie dregs, and my own lactobacillus cultured from fresh raspberries. It is a tribute to Nate Walter and his care of the famous barrel microbes at McKenzie’s.
November 16, 2014
I will be pouring my Sour Saison with Wildberries at the Funk N' Sour Festival at the Gables in Chadd's Ford, PA on November 16th, 2014 from 1-5 pm. Kerry Watson, hosting the event, writes:
The next installment in the In My ExBEERience event series is gonna be a FUNK'N SOUR one! Sour and wild ales from some amazingly talented professional and home brewers will be featured.
May, 2014: White IPA with Brett
This is a thirst quenching and juicy beer, brewed with alot of bitter orange peel, bottled with Brett C for a little funk and dry-hopped with a bracing dose of Southern Hemisphere hops including Galaxy, Nelson Sauvin, and Mosaic. FYI, as of 2015, the beer is called Bitter Saison with Brett.
Karen and her handmade ceramic fermentation vessels.
Another win in Belgian Specialty! November, 2015
The Stoney Creek Homebrew competition was held in Phoenixville, PA on November 14, 2015. It was a small competition with only 324 entries. But I won 1st and 3rd place in category #16E- Belgian Specialty. First place was for my Sour Saison, batch #57 and third place was for Bitter Saison with Brett (formerly know as White IPA with Brett.) Funny- as soon as I changed the name of that beer, it won!
Our Beers: Alive and Unfiltered
Karen's Wild Ales are artisanally crafted in the tradition of the Belgian Farmhouse where it's all about the yeast. Simple grain bills, subtle hopping and months of aging allow the yeasts to shine in all of their floral, spicy and funky glory. We are also working on the brave new world of ceramic fermentation.
Sour Saison with Wildberries
This is our Rustic Saison base beer soured on pounds of fresh, wild raspberries with an extra dose of lactobacillus and pediococcus. Bright, light, tart and refreshing.5.5% ABV.
Farmhouse Gold- American Wild Ale
With a base of pilsner and vienna malts, these ales are mixed fermentation, or in some cases 100% Brettanomyces. Strange, beguiling, and ever-evolving, these brews offer complex flavors and aromas from barnyard funk to citrus and peaches. 7.5% ABV.
Like the true farmhouse ales of old Belgium this beer features a varied grain bill of barley, wheat, rye, and oats. Subtle oak and dry hopping give this session ale a very complex flavor. Mixed fermentation with brett, lactobacillicus and pediococus make a refreshing, tart, and refined finish. 5% ABV.
Combination of fruity and spicy flavors supported by a soft malt character, a low to moderate alcohol presence and characteristic dry finish. Pilsner and wheat malts; noble hops. 6.5-7.5% ABV.
Strong Golden Ale
Classic marriage of fruit and spice with a soft malt character. Moderately bitter, very dry finish, highly carbonated. Pilsner and wheat malts; noble hops 7-8% ABV.