Inside Somerset’s home of fermentation and flavour.
Though there are many words that would accurately describe Wild Beer Co and their impact on the UK brewing scene – like trailblazing, revolutionary and maybe even a bit weird – if you were to ask me to narrow this down to just one, I would (without hesitation) go with unique.
Wild Beer Co. are unique in their apparent disinterest in mainstream appeal, instead opting for experimentation with wild yeast fermentation, barrel-aging and blending to craft ales that few would even think of, let alone brew.
Wild Beer Co. are also unique in the ingredients they use; they’ve brewed with mushrooms, miso paste and grape must, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg (though they’ve yet to brew with lettuce, as far as I know).
Founded in 2012 by Andrew Cooper and Brett Ellis, this Somerset farmhouse brewery has always done things, as their slogan proudly states, “wildy different.” Perhaps the most different and unique aspect of all, however, is their approach to recipe development and brewing as a whole. It’s rare for the team at Wild to set out to brew a great IPA or their perfect interpretation of a stout. Instead, it all begins with one of their founding principles: Flavour.
F is for flavour
“I remember, even as a kid, spending time in restaurants and I’d always look at the menu and pick something I’d never had before, or I’d never heard of, or that sounded interesting,” co-founder Andrew Cooper tells me. “I’ve just always been fascinated by different flavours, and different food and drink.
“[Brett and I] both had backgrounds in food and drink, in wider food and drink than just beer. Brett’s background was as a chef. My background was in pubs, bars and restaurants. Both of us think about flavour, talk about flavour, are passionate about flavour, built a business about flavour rather than building a business around beer styles.
“It’s always been kind of natural for us. We’ll come into work and say, ‘I tasted this last night’ or ‘I drank that, and it’s given me an idea or thought’. That’s just our mentality, really. We’ve never had to look to do it. It’s always just, sort of, been there because that’s what we’re interested in.
“Some of the beers just come out of eating or drinking something amazing and going, ‘I’ve been inspired by that and I’d like to recreate it’. It might be a visit to a vineyard or it might be a visit to a cheese shop or something.”
This passion for flavour has spawned a range of beers as varied as it is wide, capturing the tastes of their favourite foods and their constituent ingredients as opposed to just making great versions of classic beer styles. Just looking at the selection available in Flavourly Craft Beer Club boxes this month will offer up a pale ale with seaweed, yuzu and Sichuan peppercorns, a sour farmhouse pale with gooseberries and a stout that’s inspired by millionaires’ shortbread. Beyond this selection, they’ve made beers inspired by cocktails, shellfish and even a Mexican soft drink.
It’s a fascinating way to approach brewing but flavour is just one of the F-words you’ll hear at the brewery with regularity. No, not that one. I’m talking about fermentation.
F is also for fermentation
Beyond flavour, Wild Beer Co’s other great love is fermentation. They’re absolutely captivated by it. Just like how many of their beers are inspired by a flavour profile or experience in another area, sometimes their brews are quite simply the product of wanting to muck up with a new yeast strain and see what it does.
“We’re fascinated by fermentation,” Andrew says. “We’ve got lots of pots and Kilner jars and what-have-you, not just fermenting beer but fermenting all sorts of things, knocking around because we’re always experimenting. We’re always seeing what we can do with fermentation. The possibilities are endless.”
Even one of the more recent addition to their can range – the stunning, hazy IPA Nebula – was born from this passion and a healthy dose of curiosity, as opposed to jumping on the bandwagon on craft beer’s current in-vogue style.
“[The brewers] wanted to play with the yeast and learn about the yeast,” Andrew explains. “It behaves in a very different way, the way it flocculates, etc. They wanted to experiment and learn from that, and that project came from wanting to learn about a different yeast and how we could use it.”
Pushing boundaries where they can
It’s safe to say that Wild Beer Co. have become revered for pushing boundaries, but their more accessible canned range has made them a brewery with something for just about every beer drinker. At present, the can range features Bibble, a simply stunning session IPA named for the Somerset word meaning ‘to drink regularly’. Fresh is an American pale ale with an ever-changing hop profile that makes each batch different and fresh as can be. Then there’s Pogo which is easily one of the best fruit-forward pales on the market.
A recent addition to the range is the aforementioned Nebula which is Wild’s experiment with Vermont ale yeast. The other newbie to the range, though, is more characteristically Wild and looks to take people out of their comfort zones. Yokai is a slightly savoury pale that builds a salty, umami base from kelp seaweed and sea salt. Oats give it body and enhance the mouthfeel while yuzu adds a sharp, citrus note. This is all leads to a gentle spice from Sichuan peppercorns. There’s nothing mainstream about this beer but that’s kind of the point.
“We felt it was time to push the can range away from just the pale ales and IPAs,” Andrew explains. “We wanted to try and put something a bit different into cans that’d be a bit more interesting, a little more challenging. [Yokai is] a clean yeast beer with a lot of wild aspects to it. That kind of challenge of making something that had our ethos but didn’t have wild yeast in was a good challenge for the team.
“There’s a beer we make called Yadokai which is a 13%, sake-inspired beer and we wanted to see if we could create some of those flavours at a much lower ABV. It was like, we love drinking the big beer so I wonder if we could something with it and drink it more regularly.
“We like to challenge ourselves, but we also like to challenge the drinking public a bit and see what happens if we put something a bit different in front of them. If you always put the same stuff out, then you’re always going to get the same answer.”
Even more wild and different
Wild’s thirst for flavour and fascination with experimentation seems to have captured the hearts and palates of the beer-drinking public. As such, the team are at capacity in their current home. Thanks to a big, and rather successful, crowdfunding campaign, though, Wild Beer Co are set begin construction of a new, bigger brewery later this year.
“It allows us to keep growing,” says Andrew. “We will then use the current brewery almost solely as a barrel-aging, foedre-aging site. So that’ll allow us to make lots more wild beer in lots more new-and-different ways. We’ve got techniques and ideas for stuff we’re just itching to try that we just don’t have the space to execute right now. So, the sooner we can get there, the sooner we can do that stuff.
“But it’s a big old project and we’re a small team so it’s not easy.”
In the meantime, there’s no slowing down the creative brains at Wild. “There’s lots of new-and-exciting beers to come out for the rest of this year,” Andrew reveals. “We’re always challenging ourselves to do what we do and do it better. So, we’re working on lots of things within the brewery to make people’s lives better and improve the way we do our day-to-day work, make our beers better all the time.”
The word unique, when used to describe the Wild Beer Co, is certainly an apt one. Though, when I Andrew to sum up his brewery to the Flavourly community, the short sentence he replies with is perhaps even more so.
“Challenge your perceptions and drink wildly different.”