The American Wild Ale or American Sour Ale style refers to a wide range of beers brewed using wild yeast or bacteria. The flavors of these beers ranges from a slight sour tang to a complex Brettanomyces barnyard flavor, and often a wood-aged character as well.
History of American Wild Ale
When beer making began, open fermentation was the only style of fermentation available, and in some parts of Europe, sour beer styles survived well into the modern era, including some extreme examples such as the lambics of Belgium.
American home and craft brewers first began experimenting with wild yeast and bacteria while attempting to reproduce, or put their own stamp on, traditional Belgian beer styles such as lambic and gueuze. However, they also used these tools to develop a wide range of beers that were nothing like the Belgian originals.
While there is a wide diversity among American wild beers, many of them tend to be higher in alcohol, with stronger hop character than the traditionally lightly hopped Belgians, often featuring distinctly American hops. Many are wood-aged.
Brewing American Wild Ale
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Because the American Wild Ale style really caught brewers' imaginations after the 2004 style guide revisions, there is not yet a BJCP style for these beers, which must be entered either as a Specialty Beer or a Belgian Specialty Ale in BJCP competitions. The GABF does recognize the style.
GABF Style Listings
American-Style Sour Ale
|American sour ales range from golden to deep copper to brown in color. These beers may or may not be fruit-flavored. Fruit flavors will be evident in fruited American-style sour ales; these fruit flavors will be in balance with other characters. Acidity from lactic, acetic and other organic acids are naturally developed with acidified malt, in the mash or in fermentation by the use of various microorganisms including certain bacteria and yeasts. Acidic character can be balanced by characteristics of age. The evolution of natural acidity develops balanced complexity. Horsey, goaty, leathery and phenolic character evolved from Brettanomyces organisms and acidity may be present but should be balanced with other flavors. Residual flavors that come from liquids previously aged in a barrel such as bourbon or sherry should not be present. Wood vessels may be used during the fermentation and aging process, but wood-derived flavors such as vanillin should not be present. Wood and barrel-aged sour ales that exhibit these qualities would be more appropriately entered in another category. In darker versions, roasted malt, caramel-like and chocolate-like characters should be subtle in both flavor and aroma. American sour ales may have an evident hop aroma, medium hop bitterness, low to medium hop flavor and low to medium body. Estery and fruity-ester characters are evident, sometimes moderate and sometimes intense, yet balanced. Diacetyl and sweet corn-like dimethylsulfide (DMS) should not be perceived. Chill haze is allowable at cold temperatures. To allow for accurate judging, the brewer must list what fruits (if any) are used, and may also list a classic style of base beer, or any other ingredients or processes used (for example, bacterial or Brettanomyces fermentation). Beer entries not accompanied by this information may be at a disadvantage during judging.||