Very Angry Beast, most delightful table companion

Last week, Clown Shoes and Brash Brewing teamed up for a tap takeover at Sunset Grill and Tap in Allston. With Sunset featuring over 100 taps and almost four times as many bottles, Clown Shoes and Brash faced heavy competition, but they still managed to win the night. Clown Shoes offered fifteen different brews, from their light, summery Clementine White Ale, to their Swagger Hoppy Red Lager, to some very serious stouts. Brash, recently exiled from its home state of Texas due to the state’s three tier alcohol distribution laws, and brewing again alongside Clown Shoes in Ipswich, brought five different beers, including its Cold Ass Honky Hoppy Saison and Texas Exile Imperial Oatmeal Coffee Stout.

Luckily, the Craft Beer Crew made the journey to Sunset to help the Allston regulars make their way through the Clown Shoes and Brash kegs. Highly seasoned amateurs, the Craft Beer Crew understood that there’s not much choice when faced with such a tap takeover other than to indulge in a beer flight. Joining the fray, I ordered three Clown Shoes beers – the Very Angry Beast, the Bombay Berserker Indian Chai Stout, and the Pecan Pie Porter – and one Brash beer – the Bollocks Double IPA


As its kind is wont to do, the Very Angry Beast made me quite happy, with its up-front assault on the taste buds and a complex follow-through of different flavors. Clown Shoes brands this Beast as an American Double Imperial Stout, but there’s more to it than that. What hits you first is the woody, vanilla flavor imparted by the Four Roses Bourbon barrels that aged this brew. Then, it offers deep chocolate and espresso undertones, supported by a solid, roasted malt backbone. The 11.5% ABV of this brew is apparent in its aroma and taste. Clown Shoes made only five kegs of this Very Best beer of the night.

The Bombay Berserker is also styled as an American Double Imperial Stout, but it falls on the chai side of beers, if such a side exists. Indeed, it smells and tastes of chai tea, cardamom, ginger and cinnamon… but it comes in stout form. I was not as enthusiastic about this combination, but it cultivated a solid following that night. The Pecan Pie Porter is Clown Shoes’ Fall seasonal beer, with the reasoning that “everyone else does pumpkin beers.” While I didn’t perceive much pecan pie taste, it is a noticeably nutty porter, with a slightly buttery taste that plays well with the roasted malt notes.

My second favorite beer was Brash’s Bollocks. Brash accurately notes: “At 12% ABV and 110 IBUs, it’s the liquid equivalent of Lenny in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Gently tending rabbits then suddenly … snap, it’s a whirlwind of crazy.” There’s nothing I like more than a whirlwind of crazy (aside from a Very Angry Beast), and Bollocks did not disappoint. The focus of the aroma is citrus-y fruit, malt, and booze. There’s a solid background of bitterness to the taste, but on top of it floats hops in the guise of citrus and pine, sweet caramel malts, and alcohol heat. For me, this DIPA was definitely an attention-grabber, and its complexity did not distract, but instead contributed to its deliciousness.

Small breweries are experimenting more and more with different beer styles. Keep an eye out for style debuts and tap takeovers at your local establishments – your taste buds will thank you.

Advice from a yeast wrangler: “If it smells horrible and looks horrible, just don’t taste it.”

Type “yeast wrangling” or “yeast ranching” into the Google search bar and you’ll discover a growing trend in both commercial and home brewing: a focus on exploiting yeast for all of its worth, which is increasing by the petridish.

A handful of commercial breweries are currently known for their experimentation with yeast, along with bacteria. For example, Mystic Brewery has cultivated its Renaud strain of yeast, which is featured in its saison beers. Similarly, Mystic’s wine, Vinland One, was fermented with an indigenous strain of yeast called Winnisimmet, sourced from a Massachusetts-grown plum. Oxbow Brewery in Newcastle, Maine, also experiments with innovative ingredients, combining grains like rye and spelt with various strains of yeast and bacteria. For example, it creates beers like the sour ale called Arboreal, which it ferments and ages in bourbon barrels with Brettanomyces and Lactobacillus, along with its Sasuga Saison, a rice ale that the brewers ferment with brettanomyes and saison yeast. Oxbow’s Freestyle series of beer was created to indulge just this sort of experimentation with new combinations of ingredients.

However, much of the experimentation with yeast occurs on a smaller scale, in homebrewing communities and in yeast wranglers’ makeshift laboratories. One self-proclaimed yeast rancher, a Ph.D. student in cell biology, isolates yeasts by drinking bottles of Belgian beers, pouring out the yeast from the dregs, and growing the colonies in petridishes. In his Brooklyn, NY apartment, he keeps his equipment, including beakers, test tubes, flasks, a hood, a microscope, and an incubator. Once his colonies are complete, he inoculates a small amount of yeast into low-specific-gravity wort and offers it to brewers over the internet under the name BKYeast.

Another participant in this yeast trend is an open source yeast project called Bootleg Biology. The goal of this project is to “create the most diverse library of microbes for the creation of alcoholic and fermented beverages.” As a rule, microbes for this project are sourced and isolated only from “bootleg” sources including contributors’ backyards, honey, yogurt, fruit, and bottle dregs. The project’s website describes a DIY method for a contributor to capture and isolate his or her own strain of yeast at home. Briefly, a would-be yeast wrangler can create a homebrew starter with water and malt, boil with hops, and pour into sterilized mason jars sealed with cheesecloth and a rubber band. The jars are left outside overnight, retrieved, and then left in a dark, room temperature space. After about two weeks, the starter will be ready to smell and taste – with caution and good judgment, of course – in order to select the most promising candidates to transfer to agar plates and isolate the yeast. Bootleg Biology’s founder, Jeff Mello, originally used a similar method to capture and isolate S. arlingtonesis from a lambic starter in his Arlington, VA backyard.

Both BKYeast and Bootleg Biology were recently featured in Beer Advocate magazine. Other blogs and communities that discuss yeast wrangling include the DC Yeast Lab, Sui Generis, Cowtown Yeast Wranglers, and Eureka Brewing. The next time you taste that spicy, earthy, or barnyard-like nuance of yeast in a beer, you might consult one of these resources to determine just which microbe is responsible for that flavor!