This year’s Beers Made by Walking brew list reads like a trek across Colorado: a sour with juniper berries gathered near Meeker, a pale ale using pine needles and Breckenridge Boubon barrels and a plum saison inspired by a walk along the Highline Canal.
The tasting event in Denver, on Oct. 4 , is one of many amid the jam-packed week of brewery tours and tap takeovers ahead of and during the Great American Beer Festival. And while some brewers hesitated to call foraging-inspired beers a trend, it is certainly adding to the craft beer conversation and inspiring brewers to experiment.
“It encourages you to socialize,” said Brandon Prof, managing partner of Our Mutual Friend Brewing, which has hosted the event in past years. “It’s a matter of making a good decision to go out of your comfort zone to come up with things that are interesting and see what’s out there.”
Beers Made By Walking — which started in 2011 and holds events throughout the country — asks brewers to bring beers inspired by walks they take with naturalists, friends and fellow brewers, and what they see along the way. The planning begins months in advance, and the result is a tasting event of diverse, mostly one-off brews.
“The whole point of the festival is asking brewers to create a drinkable portrait (of the environment),” said David Wright, the Colorado lead for Beers Made by Walking and events and partnerships coordinator for Great Divide Brewing.
For Great Divide, Wright took a walk at Bluff Lake Nature Center, a restored native prairie, wetlands, woodlands and riparian area in Denver, with Denver Museum of Nature & Science paleontologist Rich Busch. There, they found a variety of plants of the amaranthus species, which resemble quinoa. The resulting beer: the Herbivorous One, an unfiltered IPA made with flaked quinoa and juniper berries.
For most brewers, the event is a rare foray into using foraged ingredients or foraging-inspired beers. But a handful of breweries throughout the country are going all-in on the idea. Some of those breweries, including Fonta Flora and Burial from North Carolina, Hopworks from Oregon and Scratch Brewing from Illinois, will have beers at the Colorado event.
“It’s been really important for us from the very beginning to create a beer that had a sense of place,” said Marika Josephson, a co-founder of Scratch Brewing Company in southern Illinois, which is perhaps the most well-known and most committed brewery in the movement. Brewers draw ingredients from their rural setting, she said. “We were really interested in experimenting with these ingredients that we had literally growing in our backyard.”
Josephson, her colleague Aaron Kleidon and former colleague Ryan Tockstein last month released “The Homebrewer’s Almanac a Seasonal Guide to Making Your Own Beer From Scratch.” It is both an exploration of their own trial and error with wild ingredients and a recipe book for the ambitious brewer.
Recipes include a roasted dandelion root stout, nettle-spicebush ale, sweet potato Vienna and a sumac saison. The recipes offer details on the wild ingredients and Scratch’s experience with them.
“We’re trying to make something that’s really unique to this area and hopefully inspire people to make something that is unique to their area,” Josephson said.
Brews inspired by foraging
In Colorado, Troy Casey is equally dedicated to keeping his ingredients as close to his brewery’s Glenwood Springs location as possible.
“We live for fruit season,” said Casey, who ages all of Casey Brewing and Blending’s oak-aged saisons and Belgian-inspired sours using “over 99 percent local Colorado ingredients.”
He doesn’t pick the fruit himself; Casey said his foraging comes from farmers. He’s always looking for a new fruit variety that offers a new flavor. The limitations that come with local ingredients are part of his business plan for creating small-batch, memorable brews, and given the long lines at his bottle releases, a Top New Brewer of 2016 title from Draft Magazine and praise from the brewing world, it seems to be working.
It’s not foraging in the traditional sense, but James Howat at Denver-based Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales spends a lot of time hunting for one of beer’s essential ingredients: yeast. He’ll even swab the surface of a fruit’s skin and grow yeast from it in a lab, said Black Project co-owner Sarah Howat, his wife.
For their contribution to Beers Made by Walking, Black Project gathered the members of Fermentologists, a nonprofit homebrewing and science club, and gave them each a sterilized vial of wort, which members then took on hikes to collect microbes from the environment. That yielded the 40-plus cultures used to brew Microb, one of the beers Black Project is bringing to the festival. The other, Sage Dreamland, takes foraging more literally — it’s a golden sour inspired by neighborhood gardens in Platte Park.
In his book “Brewing Local: American-Grown Beer,” Stan Hieronymus looks at other brewers “foraging” yeast and explores brewing with native ingredients in America, as well as the history of brewing among indigenous people and colonists, and its resurgence in recent decades. The book’s second half contains recipes from brewers around the country working with wild ingredients, along with their stories.
Foraged beers are a niche market, he said. It’s something brewers might integrate, but he doesn’t think it’s the next wave in craft beer. Craft beer drinkers like the local angle, he said, but they still like the variety.
Plus, local can mean local ingredients, or simply the local brewery, down the block.
“If you get to know that beer and live in the region, that means something to you,” he said.
For both brewers and ticket holders at Beers Made by Walking, the event is about unique beers and building relationships, said Proff, of Our Mutual Friend. He collaborated with the brewers from Odd13 Brewing in Lafayette for this year’s Beers Made by Walking to make Dragon Chaser, a blended sour using 500 pounds of peaches.
“We became friends over how much we liked participating in Beers Made by Walking,” Proff said. “It made sense for us to do this beer together.”