When the weather warms up, beer drinkers can look forward to a local sour ale. The makings of a gueuze, or aged, Belgian-style beverage, are currently barrel-fermenting inside a Weston barn. The first bottles from Backacre Beermakers should be on sale next summer.
Erin Donovan and her husband, Matt Baumgart, began brewing sour beers inside their Denver home six years ago, with occasional trips to Belgium for research. As they perfected the style, Donovan’s dad, John Donovan, suggested they produce some wild ales commercially in his Weston barn, which offered more space. “We wanted to make a high-quality, artisanal, handcrafted beer,” he says, though they’re keeping production light at first. “We won’t make any money at the size we are now.”
Gueuze is a blend of lambic ales — or ones fermented in open, shallow vessels that capture ambient yeasts and bacteria. To render gueuze, one mixes lambics of various ages in bottles so they undergo a second fermentation.
Baumgart and the Donovans built a “very, very small” blendery in June 2010 and created their first batch using wort from a commercial brewer. They placed it in barrels and added their own cultivated yeasts.
Despite their fidelity to tradition, “We won’t be able to call ours a gueuze,” says John Donovan, because a true gueuze must come from southern Belgium. He and his partners will find another label for their 750-milliliter bottles.
With only six barrels for the first release, the brewers expect to distribute solely in Vermont for now. “We’re going to do it locally through a number of craft-beer retail outlets and find restaurants who are willing to have something strange on their menu,” says John Donovan.
He notes that sour beers, though perfect with food, are an acquired taste. “They’re refreshing and tart, and some people say there is a funky component.”
They shouldn’t have any trouble finding a home for their ales — sour beers are coming into vogue.