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Josh Thomas Chats All Things Sour Beer, Ahead Of This Weekend’s Blobfish Festival

Blobfish Beer Festival celebrates some of the most unique, unknown and intriguing brews to emerge from the beer scene… so it was a bloody pleasure Beerfarm was invited to this year’s festival!

Kicking off this Saturday at Melbourne’s iconic Meat Market, the new wild and sour beer festival curated by the team at Hop Nation will play host to 16 exciting breweries from across Australia, plus a handful of international breweries.

From sour, funky and just downright different brews, guests will be able to chat to brewers, learn around barrel programs, smash some delicious food and listen to some great live tunes.

Beer Farmer (Beerfarm’s Head Brewer) Josh Thomas is flying over to chat (and drink, of course) all things beer, so we decided to pick his brains to warm him up for all the questions he’ll be answering over the weekend…  

As Beerfarm’s Head Brewer, can you give us a little insight into your average day at work?

Being a farm there are many moving pieces and day-to-day, this can mean a little more than just your average brewing facility. I run a team of four brewers/ absolute legends who are dedicated to producing our beers in the BeerFarm way every day, which most of all means having a bloody good time in a safe manner.

We make beer, it’s a great industry to be in and it should be fun, even if some days you’re up at 3 am to mash in a brew! We have about 40-50 head of black Angus cattle on the farm that feed off the warm spent grain leftover from the brewing process.

I love feeding the cows because you’re just left with the country air, frolicking cows and the subtle smell of cow shit! When I’m not brewing, I’m thinking of brewing or doing something that in turn will result in drinking beer.

How long have you been in the brewing industry for, and how did you first get into it?

I have been in the industry now for 9 years and I’ll never forget how I got into brewing. When I left school, I moved down south to pursue winemaking, after doing a 12-month course I realised the deep passion wasn’t there. So as a fresh 18-year-old I went back to my skills in hospitality, working at a small brewery in Yallingup.

In this time I was just pouring beers (and making some horror beers in my garage as an extract home brewer) until the boss invited me over for dinner one night and offered me an opportunity to learn brewing on a commercial scale… with the aim to take a leadership role in the brewery!

To be honest I was on the verge of heading down the venue management path. At this point being a VM completely erased from my mind and I would’ve said something like “Ahhh yeah…yes umm yes actually I will definitely!”

After about six months of being a brewers sidekick, I found the love and satisfaction I still have today and couldn’t be more stoked about the career path I’ve taken. However, I’m still not the best homebrewer!

So you’re going to this year’s Blobfish Fest! What beers will you be showcasing?

Incredibly exciting! And quite privileged to be amongst such amazing brewers who love the challenge of producing these types of beers. For us we wanted to try to bring a little of everything from our Berlinerweisse’ bolstered with fruit, to our more funky barrel-aged beers, like our Simply Red (Flanders Red), Farmhouse American Barley Wine, Barrel Age Pineapple Berlinerweisse all packing some wild yeast and Brettanomyces and of course, our other sour beer range; including Shirazzaweiss, Asam Boi, and Berlinion Blanc.

So, what is your favourite brew out of the above and why?

They are all heavily loved I must say. What gets me most excited would be the Simply Red. Flanders Red is a style of beer that is challenging to make and needs minimum 12 months in barrel to pick up the funky characters we are trying to achieve (this is our first crack at it).

Past that point, it’s about the blending of barrels and ensuring the wild bacteria’s are kept in check for the balance. The beer itself has nice elements of oak subtly complimenting the characters of Lactobacillus, Brettanomyces and Acetic acid – plenty of layers but is all kept in balance with the raspberry and raisin characters from the aged red malt base.

Tell us a little bit about how the Asam Boi is made. Does the brewing process have higher technicalities compared to other brews?

Brewing sour beers is a challenge in itself, adding preserved plums with massive seeds to a product also creates quite the challenge. I won’t lie, when we first made this beer it wasn’t one I was overly keen on producing again, mostly because of the mess and the way we had to add the plums (it was quite time consuming and at the time we were only adding into the fermenter, which means getting the bulk of the seeds out was incredibly messy!!!)

However, with problems come solutions and with the Asam Boi picking up good traction, we needed solutions. We now add the Plums to boil… and our new challenge is understanding the seasonality of the ingredient and ensuring the consistent balance is achieved.

What are some of the key ingredients in the Asam Boi, and what is the use for the ingredients like compared to other brews?

So the preserved plums are the star of the show here! Dehydrated plums with a good amount of salt. As explained above, we are still trying to fine-tune the quantities we need to achieve the desired balance on a consistent basis. Originally we added 20kgs of the salted plum into secondary fermentation, the batch was received really well so the aim was to produce the same beer on a slightly larger volume scale.

Sounds simple enough, but when we went to add the same rate of plums, it gave us a lot more flavour than anticipated! This a challenge we are still trying to nail. We now add the plums to boil in bags to achieve the flavour character we desire, however we still battle the variance between batches of the plums.

How does the sour brew process differentiate from the brewing process of a Stout or pale ale, for example?

Generally, any sour beer differs in process from your standard Ale or Lager, however there are many ways this can be achieved! The process we follow (sour mashing) is that of traditional Berliner Weisse beers made in Germany back in the day. When we started producing these beers we were very raw in the knowledge of it all, but I can say over the past 3.5 years we have done nothing but improve the process.

When making a Berliner Weisse, you are putting your yeast in a less comfortable environment than they would enjoy. Lower pH, adding fruit, lactic acid, higher amounts of proteins (to name a few) in the wort means we need to be more selective about the yeast we use and also ensure its looked after as well as we can.

Measuring Titratable acidity is also a test we do throughout the process to ensure we can control the amount of lactic acid production during the sour mashing period – we are still perfecting this!

For people attending Blobfish for the first time, what can they expect? (From Beerfarm, and the festival as a whole!)

Complexity and true handcraft are very challenging beers to produce! These beers are all about balancing the layers of funky characters and I’d say be prepared to go on a flavour journey. If Sour beers and funk are your thing, then you should have no excuse if you’re just getting into them or haven’t tried many before.

It’s a bloody good chance to enhance the capacity of your funky beer pallet. For me, I’ll be drinking as many of the funkiest crazy beers I can find! As from us at BeerFarm, you can expect our cheeky selves and our team to be bringing the good times.

What makes Beerfarm different from the other breweries that will be at Blobfish Fest?

I think we are all there because we are all a little different in our own right. I think what we may find is we are probably the only ones having a good crack at sour mashing. It’s not the most general practice when producing sour beers, I think it gives a lot of our Berliner Weisse based beers a point of difference.

The other strategies being kettle souring, fermentation souring, acidulated malts, adding lactic acid or the more challenging method of using wild yeast over a period of time to make complex sour beers. That said, a lot of what we do here at BeerFarm is a little left of centre, just like our humans!

What are some other beers from other Aussie / International breweries you’re looking forward to trying?

I’m a massive fan of Wildflower, those guys have seriously hit the nail on the head when it comes to producing wild funk beers. The balance and theatre they manage to cram into a glass is quite impressive, and understanding how difficult that is to do, they have really set themselves a bar above others with these kinds of beers.

I’m also really keen to get amongst the Barrel Farm brand behind Blackmans Brewery, I’m really looking forward to seeing how the journey has been since they started the project; I’m a big fan of the concept.

You can catch Josh and the Beerfarm team at Blobfish Beer Festival this Saturday on August 24th at the North Melbourne Meat Market.

Grab your tickets here!

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