Paul Arney, the sole employee at The Ale Apothecary, is in the business of curating funk. Unlike many traditional breweries, funk is something Arney seeks out. And he does so in unconventional ways, like leaving the lid off of his fermenting beer.
The results of his funky, wild-yeast beers are incredible. Light, effervescent and sour but sweet—the two, I found, are not mutually exclusive—very smooth and not unlike a dry champagne. By using yeast strains with strange names like brettanomyces and employing old-world beer-making practices, Arney is crafting time-intensive fermented beverages that are as far from your everyday IPA or ESB as you can find.
What Arney and others in pockets throughout the country are doing is redefining craft brewing. Rather than reworking the traditional favorites found at many breweries across the country (think pale ale, amber, porter, stout), Arney is leaning on long-forgotten brewing methods as well as techniques used in the wine and champagne industries. What Arney is doing can be defined as "third wave" American brewing.
"The craft brewing revolution happened and some of those models are kind of getting tired," said Arney, who brewed at Deschutes Brewery for 16 years before beginning brewing at his new place last winter. "It's time for us to appreciate the artistically inspired beer."
It's happening. Now we're seeing increased interest in Old World-style beers, like those made at The Ale Apothecary. Logsden Organic Farmhouse Ales, a brewery in Hood River County, is another regional brewery that specializes in wild-yeast beers. Brewers used to fear fungi like brettanomyces; now they're embracing them. And consumers are snapping up saisons, lambics, sours and other such ancient, wild brews.
"Paul's taking it to the next level," said Larry Sidor, a brewmaster legend who worked with Arney at Deschutes but now co-owns Crux Fermentation Project. "Ten years ago he would have absolutely failed. But now he's hit the sweet spot where people appreciate those beers."
According to veteran brewers like Arney and Sidor, part of what's changed is the palette of American beer drinkers.
"The consumer is getting more educated," Sidor said. "The third wave is coming."
The consumer has also come to appreciate and seek out the artisanal touches that define breweries like The Ale Apothecary.
Arney is certainly putting the "art" into artisan. When I visited Arney's wooded garage-cum-brewery, situated among the ponderosas near the end of Skyliners Road, he showed me the hand-crafted wooden doors made for him by neighbors and friends. He showed me the tools and record books his grandfather, a pharmacist, used when he ran an apothecary. He showed me many large oak barrels, hand-drawn beer labels, and, of course, his carefully concocted beer.
After pulling off the string that secures the bottle's cork, Arney poured a glass of his La Tache, a mellow sour and sister brew to Arney's popular Sahalie, and lifted the stemmed tulip glass to his nose.
"That nose, I've never smelled anything like it," Arney said before taking a small taste of the 8-percent alcohol beer. I did the same. Arney said he detected three smells: the pith of a lemon, some bubble gum and a little funk.
The funk makes it. Arney's open fermentation brewing style is risky business, but the results can be blissful.
"The first time I did it, it scared the crap out of me. It went against so much of what I had been taught," he said.
But it's working. And it's shaping the next wave of American brewing.