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Beer made from yeast blown in from Lake Superior to release this month

Feb 02, 2018 06:47AM ● Published by Editor

By Robert Allen of The Detroit Free Press - February 2, 2018.

A Grand Rapids Michigan-area brewery took yeast floating in the air over Lake Superior and Marquette to make a wild, sour golden ale releasing this month. 

The owners of Speciation Artisan Ales in March 2017 drove to Marquette towing a mobile fermentation vessel. They brought along some grains and brewed at Ore Dock Brewing Co. in Marquette. They took the wort (not-yet-fermented beer) and "hauled it to the shores of Lake Superior to cool and collect yeast via lake breeze overnight," according to a news release from the brewery. 

The result, which would become "The Laurentian Series: Lake Superior," was towed back to Comstock Park and aged in oak barrels for most of the past year. The beer "offers aromas of hay, sweet dough and stone fruit, along with the oak character of the barrels," according to the brewery. 

Speciation Artisan Ales co-founders Mitch and Whitney

Speciation Artisan Ales co-founders Mitch and Whitney Ermatinger use in March 2017 captured yeast from the air over Marquette and Lake Superior in a fermentation vessel to make The Laurentian Series: Lake Superior, a wild sour ale. (Photo: Speciation Artisan Ales)

The beer releases Feb. 10 at the brewery, and you can buy tickets to reserve a $32, 750-milliliter bottle through an online reservation starting at noon Feb. 3 using Eventbrite. It's to be the first of a possibly annual series featuring terroir -- in the sense of the air's naturally-occurring yeast -- captured from each of the five Great Lakes. 

Speciation, which specializes in sours, opened in January 2017 and, in its first year, sold 173 barrels (31 gallons are in a beer barrel) of beer. The brews are frequently highly-rated on Untappd and Beer Advocate. And the company has found excellent demand in an area already known for great breweries. 

"It was pretty amazing -- beyond what we expected," Speciation co-founder Mitch Ermatinger, 30, said of the first year. "We took a gamble on doing an all-sour brewery and didn't know for sure if the climate was right for it yet... The first year was awesome. I have no complaints." 

He founded the brewery with his wife, Whitney, after moving back from Denver, where he was lead brewer at Black Project Spontaneous and Wild Ales. The two are originally from the Grand Rapids area. 

Mitch Ermatinger, who has been brewing for about 10 years, said a taproom is under construction and an opening date hasn't been set. 

"We took inspiration from some breweries in Colorado and the rest of the country that only open for releases," he said. 

The Feb. 10 bottle release includes three other beers: Progenote, a dark Flanders-style sour ale aged in bourbon barrels; Hopeful Monster, a foeder(large, wooden barrel)-aged Solera sour with black currants; and Incipient, a foeder-aged Solera sour dry-hopped with Michigan Cascade, Michigan Chinook, and New Zealand Galaxy hops.

Speciation Artisan Ales co-founder Mitch Ermatinger

Speciation Artisan Ales co-founder Mitch Ermatinger, left, brewed The Laurentian Series: Lake Superior at Ore Dock Brewing Co. in Marquette, where this photo was taken in March 2017 with Ore Dock lead brewer Jake Shea. (Photo: Speciation Artisan Ales)

As for the Laurentian Series, Mitch Ermatinger said they anticipate continuing to the four other Great Lakes shores this year for more batches -- eventually making a master blend created with yeast from all five lakes. But he said weather comes into play, and their calendar is already filling with beer-making and festivals across the country. 

“There will be many barrels that we’ll have to dump, just because they didn’t collect the right microbes that night,” Mitch Ermatinger said in the news release. “It’s just part of the risk, and also part of what makes the beer really unique.”

Part of the proceeds from the Lake Superior beer is to be donated to the National Wildlife Federation to support protecting the Great Lakes from potential threats of the Enbridge Line 5 oil pipeline, which passes through the lakes near the Mackinac Bridge, according to the news release. 

Wild, sour, funky-tasting ales are an increasingly popular beer style. Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales in Dexter has been making them since 2004, and several other Michigan breweries have embraced sours. Batch Brewing Co. in Detroit announced last August that it's expanding to a second location on the city's North End that will specialize in wild fermentation. 

The number of Michigan's craft breweries has more-than doubled in the past five years to over 320 breweries. But Mitch Ermatinger said other parts of the country have many more breweries per capita, and it's encouraging that others are embracing wild sours. 

"I actually think we have a lot of room in Grand Rapids, especially for more specialized breweries," he said.

Spirits of Detroit columnist Robert Allen covers craft alcohol for the Free Press. Contact him: rallen@freepress.com or on Untappd, raDetroit; Twitter @rallenMI, and Facebook robertallen.news.


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