Sour Cellars Interview Featured in Beer Zen Issue #20
In the current state of beer trends (i.e. hazy IPA’s reigning king), a few beloved beer styles are neglected – forgotten in the mist. Thankfully, some brewers choose to tread on their own path and reject the status quo of the fleeting cravings of the crowd. One such humble brewer – Bryan Doty – has thrown his full-throated support behind the art of the sour. Aging his sour beers in rustic oak casks for as long as they take to mature (12 months is not uncommon in the least), he sources local, eclectic ingredients (and makes his own natural yeast to boot!). Sour Cellars has become a focal point for sour beer lovers.
Explain the core values of Sour Cellars. . .
BD: To explore different methods of making sour beer for the most flavorful outcome, whether it be from the process, yeast or ingredients.
Tell us more about your foraging adventures. . .
BD: Every area has a unique terrior based on microbes, plant species, and climate. I hope to make Sour Cellars a mix of our native California terroir with Belgium’s. I purposely use a mix of malts from SoCal and Belgium for this purpose. By bringing these malts in, I am also bringing in microbes from these regions. As far as foraging, I have been wandering around the mountains by our place looking for fruits and other edibles for our beer, So far though, most are still in the experimental stage. I am hoping to integrate these flavors into our beers in the future to create a SoCal terroir flavor into our beers. It is also possible that I will isolate yeast from these fruits for our summer beers. So far I have only used wild invasive blackberries for our beers. We have several wild nut, berry, and herbs available to choose from that I plan to experiment with.
What inspired the conception of Sour Cellars?
BD: The possibility of new flavors of beer from wild strains of yeast. At the time I started homebrewing, most brewers were only using the few Brettanomyces strains available from the yeast labs. Also, most if not all of their available Saccharomyces were harvested from European breweries that obtained their yeast around one hundred years ago. It seems like the search for new yeast had gone dormant. Three months from the start of home brewing I bought a microscope and started looking for new strains of wild yeast.
Where do you draw your inspiration?
BD: I really enjoy what the traditional Belgian lambic brewers do. I have yet to taste an American sour beer that tastes like a lambic. I don’t claim that mine does, but that is part of what drives me. I want to know what makes them different. That is why I have run analytics on their bottles, isolated and propagated the yeast from lambic and have traveled to Belgian to see their processes.
There are many breweries who don’t produce their own yeast; instead, they rely on sourcing it from outside of their brewery. Why do you feel this is vital to do and how long does this process take?
BD: It’s said that yeast makes a brewers make wort and yeast makes beer. With the growing number of breweries and competition, brewers need a way to stand out and innovate. Innovation comes from finding some new, not just adding adjuncts that you normally find in pastries and sweets. It takes a few months to know if a new yeast strain might be usable. Maybe a week to isolate. Maybe another 2 months at minimum to know if can ferment maltose and produces suitable flavors. It should be noted that I think the flavors in spontaneous fermentation are my primary focus and yeast isolates are my secondary.
Who are some of your greatest mentors in the industry?
BD: I love Cantillon for being the most accessible traditional Belgian brewer and blender. Chad Yakobson from Crooked Stave and his site brettanomycesproject.com. Sam from the Blackwell Brewery /Eureka Brewing (eurekabrewing.wordpress.com) blog out of Burgdorf, Switzerland deserves a huge shout out for doing awesome things.
What do you consider the most undervalued style of beer?
BD: Real lagers. Although they are the exact inverse of what I do, they are should be appreciated for the simplicity and technology that has put into this style. The yeast that makes them is an accidental natural hybrid, in which the parents were only recently discovered. When a 100% pilsner malt bill is mashed and lagered properly with an ample amount of hops, it makes a tremendously flavored sessionable beer.
If you were omnipotent, what would you change (first) to improve our beer universe?
BD: To teach all the new American brewers that decoction mashes are superior to single infusion. The single infusion should be the last case scenario.
Favorite beer and food pairing?
CD: Toasted baguette with Boursin (garlic & herbs) and strawberry jam with Jammiest Bits of Jam
BD: Sourdough bread with Dupont Saison
If you had to pick a favorite beer from a brewery and offer it to a stranger, which one would it be and why?
BD: Dupont Saison. It’s a great example of yeast can do. It’s so different from what most people consider a normal beer to taste like. It is believed to be a mutated red wine strain that has adapted to making beer.