Beer Town: Lambic-inspired beers are labor of love for Atlanta brewmaster

Around Atlanta, award-winning brewmaster Josh Watterson may be best known as the lager-loving head of operations at Elsewhere Brewing in Grant Park.

But Watterson’s other longtime labor of love, creating mixed-culture beers, is now on display at Printer’s Ale Manufacturing Co. in Carrollton.

In late November, Printer’s Woodcut Wild Ales debuted at a tasting at Brick Store Pub in Decatur. The wild ales are packaged in artfully labeled 375-milliliter cork and caged bottles.

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During a recent visit to Printer’s, Watterson showed me around the barrel room at the brewery. He keeps a coolship (a large shallow vessel used to cool hot wort) near a loading dock bay in hopes of capturing wild yeast and microflora wafting through the air outside.

But for now, Watterson isn’t relying on straight spontaneous fermentation. Instead, he’s inoculating the wort with a yeast-derived slurry that mimics the wild yeast found in the famous lambic beers of Belgium.

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Credit: Bob Townsend

Credit: Bob Townsend

“We call these lambic-inspired beers,” Watterson said. “They’re not lambic-style necessarily. But we use a coolship. We use mixed cultures with six different strains. And then we use about 30% to 40% unmalted wheat so it can ferment longer. So we try to mimic how lambics are made.

“We roll the coolship out in the middle of the room during the colder months. A mesh bag goes over the top so bacteria and yeast can get through. We pump wort straight in, start fermentation, then rack into barrels. And we use our own house-aged hops, usually Cascade and Chinook, which do the best here.”

Currently, the goal is to keep four varieties in distribution, including a grand cru, which is essentially an unblended lambic, plus three fruited versions. When I visited, the raspberry-flavored framboise, the peach-flavored peche, and the cherry-flavored kriek were on offer.

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“Right now we have about 30 barrels that have gone in and out of production for the past two-and-a-half years.” Watterson said. “We kicked Vintage No. 1 off in April, but the official release was in November. Vintage No. 2 is in barrels and will be packaged in winter 2023.”

Printer’s created a separate tasting room, dubbed the Bindery, dedicated to the mixed-culture program. The cozy space features a sleek stainless-steel bar with eight taps and a backbar stacked with shelves of Belgian-style tulip glassware.

“We’ll have anywhere from six to eight different mixed-culture beers on tap that are coming out of that back room,” Watterson said. Most beers will be lambic-influenced, but some will be fermented with Brettanomyces.

For the uninitiated, mixed-culture beers can be challenging on the palate. But for Watterson, the art of discovering funky aromas and flavors is the fun part.

“When you build this pellicle, which is almost like a cheese rind on top of these fermentations, you impart a lot of different flavor profiles,” he said. “So it can get a touch cheesy, but that’s a great pairing for some foods.

“Aging in barrels, and this process over time develops much more rounded and rich flavors. It’s definitely a unique experience. And it’s one of those things that if you like it, you love it.”

Printer’s Ale. 940 Columbia Drive, Carrollton. 770-836-4253; printers-ale.com.

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