Wild and Hazy

Spontaneously fermented Lambic-style beer in Sperryville.

Brothers Lain and Van Carney of Pen Druid Brewing.

“This is the most delicious, complex beer I’ve ever tasted,” Van Carney recalls thinking the first time he tried a traditional Belgian spontaneously fermented beer—sparking the decision to brew his own with brothers Jennings and Lain. They opened Pen Druid Brewing in Sperryville in 2015, less than a year later.

Van had been a home brewer in between tours of the brothers’ psychedelic rock band, Pontiak. After his first attempt, “I was obsessed with what I didn’t like about it,” he says. And that obsession turned in to one with making something he did like—a beer that, he says, “I’m connected with cosmically.”

The Carneys ferment all of their beer with native yeast—a strain Van says they found on a flower under an apple tree outside the brewery. They also use wood-fired kettles to boil their wort and carbonate naturally through secondary fermentation in the bottle or keg. Spontaneous fermentation allows the wort to cool overnight in open-air coolships outside in the winter and enables it to be inoculated with local microflora and ambient microbes. It results in a unique flavor each time, even when the recipe is the same. “Every single bottle is different,” says Van. “It’s an art.” 

Their ultimate goal is to make a blended Lambic-style beer in the traditional Gueuze method, blending one, two, and three-year barrels. Due to the nature of the style, “Out of 10 barrels, five may have a musty nose and funky mouthfeel, three may be sour but not have much character, and two may be in the middle,” Jennings explains. The brothers are finally able to create that blend this fall. Van laughs at the lengthy process. “It’s a terrible business model.”

Although the Gueuze-style beer will not be ready to consume for a few more months, the brothers have a constant rotation of other funky brews on tap. One is a golden sour made with Vidal Blanc and Chardonnay grape juice from Linden Vineyards. “‘This is disgusting,’” Van says a customer exclaimed when he tried it. “And that’s a compliment. It challenges the taste buds.”


This article originally appeared in our Drink 2018 issue.

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