Beer Sherpa Recommends: Base Camp Bretta Livin' Raspberry

Base Camp, a brewery I consider new, is somehow celebrating its fifth anniversary this week. For those not up on your anniversary symbolism, let me remind you that five is the "wood" anniversary--and co-owner/brewer Paul Thurston naturally decided to celebrate with a passel of barrel-aged beers. Through the remainder of the week, they're going to be releasing them each night (full list here), but I wanted to highlight one or three for your itinerary-planning. On Friday, I joined Thurston and we sampled all the beers he has on offer, and there wasn't a dud in the batch. There were, to my palate, some standouts, and the standy-outest will be pouring tonight: Bretta Livin' Raspberry.

It's a very light, fruit-forward wild ale (5.6%), accented but not overwhelmed by raspberries. The fruitiness comes, obvs, from the berries, but if you place your attention on the beer, you'll notice a hearty blend of fruity esters, as well. Thurston began with a lactic fermentation, as you would do with a kettle sour, but then sent it to a fermenter, where three strains of Brettanomyces were waiting. In the course of their activity, those wild yeasts converted some of the acids produced during lactic fermentation into esters--and of course produced an alcohol fermentation as well. The whole process only took five months, and the raspberries entered the barrel over the past month. "The fruity side of funk," Thurston said, but in truth, there's not much funk here at all. You'll find acidity but not much of that classic Brett character--unless, of course, you're keeping your eyes peeled for the esters.

I have used my official Sherpa slot on the wild ale, but let me give you two very close rivals. The first is Wood Stove Winter Warmer aged on an Eagle Rare barrel (look for it Thursday). I will confess that I'm not a giant bourbon fan, nor (therefore) a giant bourbon-aged fan. When it works, though, it really works. Here the maltiness of the beer harmonizes perfectly with the whiskey, producing a delicious, decadent beer. Back in the 80s and 90s, these flavors were what we thought English stock ale tasted like--as opposed to the much more authentic stock ale Thurston's serving on Thursday--so oldsters may also feel a sense of nostalgia.

Finally, I offer you a beer Paul called Flanders Stout, but which I would have called London Porter. It's the older, slightly stronger formulation of their regular stout. Made with smoked malt, it begins with a malt bill somewhat reminiscent of the brown malt originally used to make London Porters. Paul added Brettanomyces and aged it two years on wood--again, typical of the old London porters (which got their Brett from colonies living in the casks). He was thinking of something along the Rodenbach line, hence "Flanders," and not wrongly. Indeed, Eugene Rodenbach, a 19th-century member of the famous Roselare Rodenbachs, spent time in London learning to make ... porter. He brought their barrel-aging techniques back to Belgium, and that's when Rodenbach started building out their amazing cellars. This beer should be at least suggestive of the famous dark ales punters might have ordered back around the time Queen Victoria took the throne.

Below, find a list of all the beers pouring at Base Camp this week. The online schedule has at least one mistake--a beer listed twice--and lacks one beer we tried on Friday. I will update the post when I get the correct info.

Full Schedule of Beers

  • Sunday (yesterday): Barrel-aged Tripel
  • Monday (10/30): Bretta Livin' Raspberry
  • Tuesday (10/31): Bourbonator Triple Bock (9.5%). A big, boozy bock that spent five months on the wood and then another two years in the keg. It's a malty fiesta, sweetened a bit by age.
  • Wednesday (11/1): Barrel-Proof RCTID (10%). A most curious beer, this rum-barrel milk stout was made with Trailhead coffee and cacao husks, fibrous masses the size of a golf ball that Paul described as akin to "a mini coconut." It has an unusual spice note, milk silkiness, and--maybe I'm just suggestible--a hint of rummy burnt sugar.
  • Thursday (11/2): Olde Stock Ale (11.2%) and Wood Stove Winter Warmer (7.8%). The stock ale is the official 5th anniversary beer, and it is as the old texts describe: dusty dry, leathery, and Brett-y. This was a timeless classic in the English oeuvre, and a beer often served enlivened with a "mild" (or fresh) ale. Base Camp's doing that too, a 51%-49% blend with a mild ale, which will also be available. (Why not an even split? Paul worked on the blend for awhile before settling on the current ratio, but "I couldn't do 50-50 because that looks like I didn't even try.")
  • Friday (11/3): Oude Bruin (6.5%) and Belgian Dark Strong (12.3%). The Oude Bruin, which smells like a dead ringer for a classic Somerset scrumpy cider, is a blend of two two-year-old batches of beer, one acetic and one lactic. The result is a puckerer with plenty of funk (including some acetone), but balanced by a surprisingly sweet malt base. The Belgian Dark was aged on Brett, but that note is hard to find; bourbon is much more present, and it has a bourbon-stout quality to it.
  • Saturday (11/4): Barrel-aged S'more Stout (8.3%) and ?. The stout will remain a mystery, as I seem to have failed to take notes. Probably good!
  • Flanders Stout (7.7%) will pour sometime, as will No Longer a Table Beer (ABV ?), a relatively low-alcohol Belgian pale aged on bourbon barrels. The base beer is sweet and slightly tangy, and bourbon notes are only hinted at. Paul described it as evoking "the last drink of a whiskey on ice," though I think that rather undersells the base beer.

PHOTOS: Base Camp Brewing