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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Speciation Artisan Ales: Take a Sip on the Wild Side

By Max Spencer

Mitch and Whitney Ermatinger — after creating and rewriting multiple business plans over the course of years — decided to found a brewery in the Grand Rapids area that focuses on mixed-culture wild ales after seeing how popular they were in the rest of the country. The result of their hard work and planning is the new Speciation Artisan Ales in Comstock Park. The name Speciation is a reference to the evolutionary process by which new species emerge — an appropriate name for a brewery that uses wild microbes in its beers. “We wanted to create a cohesive brand,” Mitch explained to me during a visit to the brewery, “a theme with a large pool of names to draw from.” The theme of evolution is well suited for wild ales, as wild microbes tend to impart a wide range of characteristics to beer and exhibit variation from batch to batch — from microbe to microbe.

Mitch has a strong history of brewing. He cut his teeth as a homebrewer and employee at O’Connor’s Homebrew Supply before moving with Whitney to Colorado. Once there, Mitch joined the brewing team at Former Future Brewing Company — now known as Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales. Black Project — run by James Howat — specializes in spontaneously fermented beers. It was during this time that Mitch learned a great deal about wild and spontaneous fermentation. James, Mitch and the rest of the team at Black Project won two bronze medals for their wild ales at GABF in 2014 and 2015. Then, in 2016, Harmony Brewing Company hired Mitch to assist them in creating their sour program.

Speciation barrels
The beers released by Speciation so far were fermented using a mixture of lab cultures, wild microbes and a yeast Mitch harvested from a crab apple flower in Holland, Michigan. “We plan on shifting towards 100% wild fermentations as time goes on,” Mitch said, “once we have coolships and a collection of wild yeasts.” Many beer styles rely on malt or hops for their characteristic flavors — but wild and spontaneously fermented beers are all about the microbes. Not that malt and hops do not contribute, but the acidity — AKA sourness — and most of the complex flavors found in such beers are the result of microbial metabolism. A reliance on wild microbes promotes experimentation, as microbes from different sources (various fruits, flowers, etc.) bestow beer with distinct flavors and aromas.

Open fermentation
Mitch has some unique and exciting projects in the works. For the summer, they will be releasing a series of Berliner weisses aged with different fruits. There are also plans for a dark sour, an IPA, and an array of variants using base beers with different additions such as mangoes, honey or rhubarb and vanilla. The most exotic of Speciation’s upcoming ventures is a family of spontaneously fermented beers currently codenamed the Laurentian Spontaneous Series. What makes the Laurentian Series one-of-a-kind is the intended source of the microbes — the Great Lakes. Mitch plans to place coolships on the shores of each Great Lake to capture the terroir of the individual lakes, releasing each separately and together as a blend. Additionally, Mitch has several bourbon, red wine and maple syrup barrels to age beers in — with hopes of incorporating oak foeders soon. Keep in mind that wild microbes can be finicky, and any future releases are subject to change based on results.

Fermentation tank
A new batch of beer is released every second Saturday of every month. The first two batches released were Genetic Drift, an American Saison contained in a solera system and dry hopped with Mosaic and Saaz, and Incipient, a golden sour dry hopped with Belma, Cascade and Mosaic hops. The next slated release, on March 11, is a variation of the Incipient with Black Currants. Currently, releases are handled through a ticket-based system on Eventbrite and leftovers are sold at bottle shops like Siciliano's — so keep an eye out!

Tasting Notes for Genetic Drift

An American farmhouse Saison open-fermented with Brettanomyces bruxellensis var. Drie, Belle Saison, and Speciation’s house strain which was captured from a crabapple tree in Holland, MI. The malt build consists of Pilsner, Vienna, wheat, rye and oats. To top it off, this batch was dry hopped with Mosaic and Saaz. Mitch is utilizing solera techniques (adding fresh wort to containers with already fermented beer) to create future batches of Genetic Drift—which should result in similar beers that steadily change over time due to shifts in the microbial community of the solera.

Appearance: Pale gold, hazy, with a delicate seafoam white head.

Aroma: Rustic, earthy funk. Overripened fruit, mango, pineapple, light stone fruit. Peppery phenols.

Palate: Follows the nose well—rustic, earthy, funky and lightly acidic. Fruit smoothie with tropical and stone fruits. Lemon. A light, grainy malt character. High carbonation. Pillowy mouthfeel with a light-medium body.

Finish: Dry with lingering acidity and bitterness.

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