Vault City, the kings of modern sour beer
We met Andy a few years ago while he was slinging Overworks beer for Brewdog. We are planning for an evening of beer & cheese, but this time round with Vault City Brewing. We hit up Andy to find out more about the new brewery making modern sour beer.
Tell us a little bit about what is the ethos of the brewery and how it all began
Vault City Brewing was started out of a love of homebrewing. Starting life in an Edinburgh kitchen, a combination of bold flavours and mixed culture nerdiness gave way to what we now call Modern Sour Beer. Although we can get geeky all day long about mixed fermentation sour beer and despite being constantly inspired by traditional practices, we’re not beholden to them.
These beers are about pushing the boundaries of what is considered beer with a healthy dose of silliness. Creating crazy flavours in sour beer form for peoples enjoyment and entertainment.
After a stint in the kitchen the brewery moved to a vacant spot in another breweries warehouse in Dundee. This was a huge step up and leg up for Vault City brewing allowing us to make some moves without committing up front to some of the bigger costs involved in starting a brewery.
We moved from 400L batches on the stove to 4000L batches with 2 fermenters. Lockdown struck just as we doubled out fermentation capacity (4 x 40hL fermenters) while using the brewkit at 71 brewing. Our community really rallied around us and our webshops #SourSunday segment and we saw growth through 2020 culminating in a recent move back to Edinburgh. Getting back to the capital was always on the cards and now we’re set up in our own building with our own brew kit (which had it’s first brews over Christmas and New Year) and the team has grown from 2 (just me and Steve) to 5 as of the start of this year.
You guys come up with pretty out there recipes, which is why we love you, how do you come up with the recipes ?
The recipes for our Modern Sour Beer fall into three conceptual categories: Session Sour, Serious Sour, Silly Sour. Our session sours are made to be light, bright, refreshing and fun with a lower ABV tag about 4%. We’ve mad some great beers based on soft drinks (Cloudy Lemonade, Ribena) and also increasingly with single fruits (blueberry, apricot). More of a 6 pack in the park than a 1/6th of a pint at the bottle share. Serious Sours are our regular fair which are anything but normal – usually 7% and fruited to 250-300 g/l. These beers are inspired by lots of gastronomic areas. Some of our favourites are cocktails and baked goods (Plum Bakewell, Sloe Gin Sour). Lastly the often 10%+ Silly Sours are the category that we more often exclude ideas for not being absolutely fucking bonkers enough! If the idea doesn’t get a snort of disbelief or an outright laugh of then it’s not outrageous enough… (Strawberry Woo Woo 11%, Marshmallow Smoothie Sour – Raspberry Blueberry Blackcurrant 11/5%, Strawberry Peach Custard 10.4%).
In terms of inspiration we like to look outside of beer at other places where delicious flavours and more importantly combinations of flavours come from.
Any beer experiments that went horribly wrong?
We’ve not had too many combinations that have just not worked – Coffee and Bramble Sour (in collaboration with Local Bristol heroes Clifton Coffee) was pretty divisive but the elements worked really well together. We have however dumped a LOT of beer. It’s the nature of mixed fermentation beers – sometimes the yeast and bacteria fall out, sometimes one gives up, sometimes they gang up on us and trash a perfectly brewed batch of wort. Shit happens but shit beer doesn’t leave our brewery. If it’s not a solid 9.5 out of 10 then it goes in the drain. We have a phrase that ‘if we’re asking the question…’ then we know what has to be done, has heart-breaking as it can be.
What differs a sour based brewery from a conventional one ?
This is a big question as even sour breweries have big differences in operations. Vault City Brewing actually looks a lot like a regular craft brewery; brew kit, fermenters, bottling line. Most sour beer breweries (being traditionally lead) are packed to the rafters with wooden barrels for maturing the beer. Our Modern Sour Beers don’t need the time involved with traditional sour beer aged in barrels so its’ all stainless for us and we can make a delicious mixed fermentation sour beer in two weeks rather than a few months or even years! We will definitely get to the stage where we have a more traditional barrel aged sour program but we need to house these is a separate site so that we don’t mix our mixed cultures – as ridiculous as that sounds!
What is your favourite beer and cheese pairings ?
OOooft! I’ve got a few that have really stood out to me. Wild Beer Cos Ninkasi with Westcombe Dairy cheddar – at they’re on the same farm and beer is ageing one wall apart from the cheese this is always a no brainer go to. Salinity and grassiness from the cheese counterpoints in perfect balance of the spritzy apple saison while the tart carbonation makes light work of the slightly buttery cheddar. A lesson in intensity matching.
Another stand out experience was Ogleshield jersey cows milk soft cheese which is rich, buttery, warming with hints of hazelnut and caramel paired with a blueberry and lavender sour from OverWorks (at a tasting we did together a few years back!) was exceptional. Another amazing counterpoint where disparate combinations were greater than the sum of their parts.
My favourite pairing of all time however was a (fabulous) Brodies Fruited Sour (I think it was raspberry, or maybe a mix) paired with Colston Bassett and Octomore (the most heavily peated Whisky). This was a really transcendent pairing – all the elements collided and combined to turn the cheese into smoky tart fudge. (sip the whisky, munch the cheese, drink the beer).
And what are your favourite breweries or beers outside of vault city ? do you have a dream collaboration ?
There’s a huge amount of amazing breweries out there right now, the UK – far too many to mention here! Instead, I’ll shout out some of our buddies on the sour side of things that readers might not know but should definitely check out! Little Earth Project are making trad sours out East in Suffolk doing some great stuff with wild cultures. Yonder Brewing in Somerset have a heavy focus on foraging for ingredients in their local area which, personally, I’m super into! In Oxford there’s also Pastore brewing and blending with beautiful can art and tasty beverages abound! And of course the indomitable Mills in Herefordshire who are taking the historical / tradition element to the extreme!
Most of the sour beer in the UK is focused on barrel ageing programs and trad practices which is great but not our jam. For similar styles we have to look over the pond to the US and there are a few breweries of great inspiration we would love to collab with top of the pile probably being Hudson Valley.