"Urban Funk House" is a popular beer at the Collective Brewing Project in Fort Worth, Texas. The brewery will be celebrating its second anniversary on Saturday, November 5, 2016. The brewery on average offers 10-12 different flavors.

"Urban Funk House" is a popular beer at the Collective Brewing Project in Fort Worth, Texas. The brewery will be celebrating its second anniversary on Saturday, November 5, 2016. The brewery on average offers 10-12 different flavors.

Lawrence Jenkins/Special Contributor

For centuries, Belgium and Germany were the world's primary wild and sour beer producers. Due to a lack of modern technology -- not to mention sanitation methods -- brewers let naturally occurring yeasts and bacteria ferment their brews. Today, American brewers have moved to the forefront of innovation for these tart and funky fermentations.

One such brewery is the Collective Brewing Project in Fort Worth. After two years, the company has built a reputation as a go-to source for local sour beer. Co-founder Ryan Deyo attributes the style's growing popularity to drinkers' -- and brewers' for that matter -- continuing quest for the next big thing.

"Wild and sour beers represent largely uncharted territory in the American craft beer market," says Deyo. "Drinkers are looking for creativity, and brewers like myself are attracted to the use of alternative fermentation and wood vessels because there is so much room to explore and experiment."

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Don't be fooled, wild and sour beers aren't a fad -- they've been around since at least the 1800s. However, how they're made locally does tend to vary from tradition.

Instead of using Old World methods, such as spontaneous fermentation in open containers or extended aging in vessels ripe with resident bacteria, many American brewers rely on "kettle souring" and the use of commercially available cultures for "microbe inoculation." Kettle sours are quick, but also safe, allowing brewers to infect beer without contaminating other parts of the brewhouse.

Additionally, most American operations aren't old enough to begin blending old and young beer, a skill some Belgian lambic brewers develop using knowledge passed down through generations.

Specialty grains steep in the mash tun at the Collective Brewing Project in Fort Worth, Texas.

Specialty grains steep in the mash tun at the Collective Brewing Project in Fort Worth, Texas.

Lawrence Jenkins/Special Contributor

Yet, the "big" part of wild and sour beers may be two-fold. Beyond popularity, these styles are big on flavor, which Lakewood Brewing Co. founder Wim Bens says appeals to the domestic palate.

"The American approach to sour beers is the same as it has been with other Old World styles," says Bens. 

"Like with the American IPA and its English counterpart, it's very much an 'anything you can do, I can do better' attitude," he says. "European beers are more nuanced, American beers are more in-your-face."

Bens also believes an appreciation of wild and sour beers goes beyond taste; it includes knowing the difference between "wild" and "sour." The key is how bacteria and yeast react to sugar. Bacteria strains like lactobacillus and pediococcus consume sugars to produce lactic acid, creating sour flavors. Brettanomyces, however, is wild yeast that eats sugar to produce alcohol, carbon dioxide, esters and phenols -- just like saccharomyces, also known as common brewer's yeast.

"Sour is exactly that, being puckering, tart and acidic," Bens says. "Wild, on the other hand, can be a 100 percent brettanomyces fermentation that produces no sourness, but adds to the complexity of the beer through more earthy flavors and aromas."

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As Deyo points out, it's the differences in specific microbes that make today's sour and wild beers so interesting. They produce flavors hard to replicate elsewhere in the beer world.

"Plus, the fruity, funky acidic flavors produced by these 'bugs' are downright delicious," Deyo adds.

Luckily for North Texans, Collective plans to explore an Old World method as it looks to expand its approach. Deyo's been tinkering with a mobile coolship, a topless vessel that exposes wort to the open air, to transport throughout D-FW to capture local microbes.

"Our spontaneous beer program will begin this winter," says Deyo. "In a few years, it'll be really cool to see the differences in a beer inoculated in a Fort Worth park versus, say, a Grapevine vineyard."

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By Brian Brown/Special Contributor

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