Like Wildlife? Like Beer? Right This Way.

Two dollars from every bottle of Discretion Brewing’s obsessively tended Woodland Critters series of sour ales supports Land Trust of Santa Cruz County’s kick-ass conservation work. We’ll drink to that.

Story by Christian Yungert; photo courtesy Discretion Brewing

Dec. 9, 2015—For nearly 40 years, the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County has been fighting to preserve natural open spaces for both residents and visitors to enjoy. Its work does more than offer limitless hours of outdoor entertainment, though: it guarantees homes for the county’s many animal co-residents.

But what of those critters that are less cuddly or invisible to the naked eye? Discretion Brewing is taking a page from the Land Trust playbook by welcoming wild yeast strains into a home of their own: whiskey barrels that are yielding delicious beer. Woodland Critters No. 1 is the first in a series of upcoming barrel-aged sour ales brewed specifically to support the Land Trust of Santa Cruz. The 500ml bottles will go on sale at a release party at Discretion on Saturday, Dec. 12 at noon.Get the details here.

Discretion Brewing’s owners, Kathleen and Rob Genco, began supporting the Land Trust long before they started a brewery. As avid outdoor enthusiasts who love exploring Santa Cruz County, they’ve noticed the Land Trust’s efforts. "I know the Land Trust has worked hard for many years to ensure Santa Cruz County preserves open and wild spaces, and that they remain vibrant natural habitats where my grandkids and I can ponder the natural beauty of the world,” says Kathleen. When their beer ambassador, Dustin Vereker, pitched the idea to craft a series of beers based on the vision and work of a non-profit organization, the Land Trust—currently in the midst of a $20 million fundraising campaign to build trails, preserve wildlife habitat and save farmland—was a match made in beer heaven.

Sour beers, while rising in popularity, reside amongst the choices of connoisseurs and aficionados. However, to capture the spirit of the Land Trust of Santa Cruz, this was the only option. Sour beers get their distinctly tart flavor from what brewers consider “wild” strains of yeast involved in fermentation. In most widely consumed beer, fermentation is done by saccharromyces, the brewer’s yeast. After an initial round of fermentation, what was to become Woodland Critters was introduced to a unique mixture of pediococcus, lactobacillus, brettanomyces. Often considered contaminants in traditional beers and wine, these less common yeast strains metabolize the sugars left over by saccharomyces to contribute their own flavors and complexities. Brettanomyces, for example, is often sought for its tendency to impart rustic flavors.

Woodland Critters began as a base beer of brown ale specifically brewed for this project. For its development, the base beer was poured into several aged whiskey barrels, each receiving its own unique mixture of yeasts. Each barrel will be part of the running Woodland Critters series, and all will be slightly different as a result of the mixture. The goal was to let the yeast, affectionately referred to as “critters” by Vereker, express themselves. “There is an old adage,” says Vereker: “Brewers don’t make beer, they make yeast food.” The result, described by brewmaster Michael Demers, “is a beer of marvelous complexity, featuring wine-like acidity with notes of plum, toffee, vanilla and dates. Hints of the barrel's previous life dedicated to whiskey linger in the background.”

Read about the Land Trust's Great Land and Trail Campaign
Read about Santa Cruz Mountain pumas and the Highway 17 wildlife crossing

The Woodland Critters Series is a logical step for a local business already focused on supporting its community. Since June 2013, the brewery features a weekly event called Love Mondays, where 20 percent of taproom beer sales are donated to local organizations. With these kinds of events, Discretion Brewing is blazing a new trail to growth and name recognition. “We don’t have any paid advertising or marketing. We would rather use that money to support people who are doing good things,” says Vereker. The Land Trust of Santa Cruz certainly fits that description.

Woodland Critters No. 2 and No. 3 are still maturing, but they should be ready in the next few weeks. Approximately 350 bottles of Woodland Critters No. 1 will be available at this Saturday’s release party. Get them while they’re hot, or more appropriately, while they’re cold.

Woodland Critters No. 1 Release Party

Saturday, Dec. 12 at noon at Discretion Brewing, 2703 41st Ave, Santa Cruz. 500 ml bottles $15 ($2 from each bottle donated to Land Trust); limit of 2 per person.

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