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American Wild Ales

If you went to an eco-event sponsored by Patagonia Japan this summer, perhaps a beach clean-up or a sustainability study session, you might have received a cold Shuzenji Heritage Helles by Baird Brewing Company. As part of Baird’s partnership with Patagonia Japan, Baird donates one percent of this beer’s profits to 1% For The Planet, an alliance of companies that benefits environmental causes co-founded by Patagonia founder (and climber) Yvon Chouinard.

Shuzenji Heritage Helles was formerly a summer specialty, but was recently made Baird’s newest year-round beer. Helles are golden lagers that differ from pilsners in having less hop bitterness, more pronounced malt flavors and a softer mouth feel. This style of clean, slightly sweet lager, named after its bright color (helles means “bright ” in German), is the most common beer in its native Bavaria, but is not so common elsewhere. That said, several small Japanese microbreweries make good helles, and Maui Brewing Company’s Bikini Blonde Lager is a tasty import.  

Shuzenji Heritage Helles has an especially rich malt flavor created through decoction mashing, a traditional process in which a portion of the mash (a mix of malted grain and hot water) is removed, boiled and then re-introduced. This process produces compounds called melanoidins, which contribute to malt richness and aroma, and increased protein, which provides a richer, softer mouth feel. Outside of Patagonia Japan events, Shuzenji Heritage Helles is available at the five Baird taprooms and select retailers.

Update from Orange County: California brewer The Bruery, as discussed in Beer Buzz (Issue #56, Summer 2015), recently received its first shipment of beers from The Bruery’s side project Bruery Terreux, which specifically focuses on funky and sour beers. Sour in the Rye (7.8% ABV) is a classic, complex Bruery offering, in which rye malt contributes spice and full mouth feel, which interplays beautifully with the sour cherry and earthy funk contributions from the bacteria and brettanomyces in their house barrels.

One of Terreux’s new beers is Beret (9%), a tart wheat ale that is unusually strong for a funky beer. The brewers begin fermentation with a Belgian white ale yeast and then transfer the beer in oak wine barrels, where it is aged for a year and undergoes significant secondary fermentation with their house culture. Before bottling, the beer is aged on a small amount of pureed raspberry for further complexity. How wonderful that Japan is able to get some of these great American wild ales.

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