We’ve waxed poetic, ecstatic and, okay, maybe a little sophomoric about Dan Carey and New Glarus’ general unf***withable-ness on prior occasions. Still, Carey’s beers merit such effusive praise, if for no other reason than for the sheer breadth of the stylistic gamut they represent. From the nation’s best traditional lagers to the purest expressions of fruit in beer to be found anywhere in the world, his game is on lock across the board.
If you haven’t already, count wild ales among said game. Whale hunters—ugh—were brought to full turgidity two years running with the release of Very Sour Fruit (Blackberry) in 2013, and then Wild Peach last year; release days were held over the weekend of the Great Taste of the Midwest, which is kind of like setting out bear traps at the Running of the Bulls. If you ever wondered how many times someone can say, “I wonder what this’ll get in a trade” before their jowls atrophy, the answer is “spin kicks.”
Anyway. Since the Wild Fruit Cave—the offsite sanctum that houses New Glarus’ oak barrels, foeders, coolship, and fruit beers—has been operating at capacity for some time now, Carey is not only able to dabble a little heavier in sour beers, but his ultra-specialty R&D series is getting a little more love, with the number of releases quadrupled for 2015. Wild Bitter, the first R&D release, initially sounds like an uncharacteristically kitchen-sink approach: a double IPA base, heavy on the Cascade, Citra, and Sterling hops, the beer is then re-fermented in the coolship before being dry-hopped with Slovenian Savinjski hops (think British Fuggles) and fermented a final time in the bottle. Oh, and it’s 10% ABV. Yup.
The pour yields a stunning, opaque golden-orange, murky with residual yeast, and the soapy white head sticks around for longer than you might think it would for such a strong beer. On the nose, it’s all about the interplay between the bright, complex hop bill and classic brettanomyces funk: orange, lemon peel, bits of pineapple, old rope and leather. It smells fresh, yet musty all at once, like a pine grove after a storm. Carey aged this beer for nine months after the second fermentation, but the hop profile proves sturdy: the taste is still very citrus-forward, though somewhat pithy and bitter. It’s a very full, soft mouthfeel, bordering on oily, though the brett presence helps the finish strike a balance between dry and juicy.
This is a straightforward, approachable beer, at least for the moment. Aging beer is always a crapshoot, but I expect Wild Bitter to exhibit more nuance and complexity over the course of the next year or so as the brett starts to eat away at the beer and the hops oxidize. Treat this like you would Orval: if you appreciate bright, clean hop flavors, drink it now. If you need more funk in your life, have patience.
Brewery: New Glarus
City: New Glarus, Wisconsin
Style: Wild ale
Availability: Limited, naturally