There’s a raw ale resurgence happening in beer right now, and visitors to the Funk On The Water festival in Wellington on Sunday, October, 22, can taste two unique examples — both featuring the input of Jamie McQuillan of Cell Division.
McQuillan has his own “Kvass-inspired” Cell Division raw ale featuring a rye bread mash, a sourdough culture and rested on sour cherries. He calls it Kvass-inspired because the traditional style is made just with bread — a fermented bread soup if you like — whereas his Cherry Kvass has an added sourdough culture so finishes at a higher-then-traditional ABV of 4.7%.
The other “raw” beer is Wildfire, from Wilderness Brewing, which is a colab between McQuillan and Oli Drake from Wilderness — and on top of being unboiled the beer was brewed without electricity or gas.
Raw beer — or more accurately unboiled beer — is having a moment, driven largely by the sustainability angle. The beer is still pastuerised because the mash is held at a temperature (around 80C), but the wort is not boiled.
McQuillan has brewed plenty of raw beer in the past — not for the trendiness factor, but because that’s how many traditional sour beers are brewed.
“The first beer I ever released was a raw ale, a Berliner Weisse brewed with a sourdough culture. I never made a song and dance about that all my Berliners have been raw ales — that’s just the way I learned to brew: more traditional, no boil, mixed ferment, no kettle sour.”
McQuillan notes that with pale ales and IPAs, boiling wort is critical to create stable beer, but sour beers get a incredible stability from the acidity, so “it’s not a disadvantage to not boil. There are downsides to not boiling if you’re making a clean beer.”
His Cherry Kvass was created by putting rye bread in to soak at 85C and leaving it overnight in a mash tun to create a wort that was fermented with a sourdough culture obtained from The Portsider Tavern in Dunedin and then aged on sour cherries. “It’s got a real farmhouse to making it.”
McQuillan believes the resurgence in raw beer can be tied to Lars Marius Garshol and his numerous books and blogs on historical Scandinavian and Baltic brewing techniques.
“He covers farmhouse beers, not from the typical Belgian angle, but going back to the roots in Norway, Latvia, Estonia … a lot of those beers are traditionally not boiled. They use wooden vessels and have an iron pot of boiling water they are using for infusions. He’s popularised that.”
The Wilderness Wildfire raw ale was doubly inspired by that style of brewing, with McQuillan saying the beer started with Drake wondering what it would have been like to make beer before the advent of electricity.
A wood fire was used to boil 400 litres water for a series of mash infusions. Hand-milled grist (60kg) was mashed and whole cone hops added before the wort was filtered through a bed of barley straw. It was cool-shipped then barrel-fermented with a sourdough culture.
The beer was brewed in September 2021, and had 18 months in the barrel.
“It was the best brew day ever,” McQuillan said. “It was incredible. Hard work, but I loved it.”
McQuillan said the beer was so unusual, they’re not even sure what to call it. “Sour farmhouse ale seems to fit.”