Carnivale Brettanomyces: a celebration of wild beers

Amid the tsunami of beer festivals and beer events there is one that deserves a special mention. Carnivale Brettanomyces, a celebration of ‘Brett’ and other wild yeasts and bacteria, was held for the 8th time in Amsterdam in June. What started as an incentive for Dutch brewers to brew more wild beers (spontaneously fermented) has turned into an internationally recognized festival. Not only is it a marvelous educational and in-depth look into the world of these classical (and sometimes long-forgotten) beer styles, it’s a podium for modern variations and also a great meeting place for beer fans and brewers alike.

It has grown from a one-day celebration into a four-day event-packed festival at 14 locations in Amsterdam, serving beers from almost 60 breweries at different happenings from tap takeovers and beer & food pairings to beer tastings and varied top-notch lectures. There is even a special market for homebrewers. Exciting, yet at the same time (in my case) causing a choice overload as events tend to occur simultaneously, so you cannot attend them all! Also some events are a bit costly, but in my opinion definitely worth splurging on!

There is not one truth to what Carnivale Brettanomyces is. It very much depends on your own experience. This article is a celebration of the Celebration and a take on my impressions of Carnivale so far after attending in 2018 and 2019. If you are genuinely curious about beer – and these styles in particular – I can highly recommend Carnivale and hopefully this article will entice you to attend and create your own experience!

“Our goal is to both educate and inform the audience about the great and different spectrum of beers brewed with these outsiders”

Beer tasting and Tap Takeovers

Beer festivals offer the perfect opportunity to taste unique or special beers and at Carnivale you can drink your heart out! The tap takeovers are open to all. This year BeerTemple had fantastic Fonta Flora, Ale Apothecary and Jester King beers on tap. In fact, all participating bars (e.g. In De Wildeman and Foeders) offer something special during the festival days, you won’t be disappointed! The beer tasting events accept a limited number of attendees and require an entrance ticket ranging from 20 to 40 EUR. Mind you, some tastings are sold out within minutes (like Raf’s tastings, formerly known as Bokkereyder), but don’t let that ruin your festival fun. Most of them are easily accessible and I found all of them to be wonderful events. I’ve had the pleasure of attending ones by Brasserie du Brabant, ‘t Pomphuizeke, Alvinne and Wild Creatures Brewing.

In both 2018 and 2019 Brouwerij Alvinne brought unfinished beers with them (straight from the tank), which is something you don’t get to taste very often and a bit uncanny, as there is no carbonation and it is still evolving, so based on what you’re drinking you have to imagine what it will taste like when it’s finished. It’s things like this that increase my admiration and respect for the brewing profession!

In the next audio fragments you can hear Glenn Castelein from Alvinne talk about the Dry-hopped sour he is thinking of making for Borefts (1); their own cultivated Morpheus yeast (2); and a fun experiment showing us the difference between infusion and barrel-aged (3).

Alvinne Carnivale Brettanomyces
2019: Glenn Castelein at the Alvinne beer tasting in Foeders

A great new discovery for me was Wild Creatures Brewery from Czech Republic, who are paving the way in their country for spontaneously fermented beers since they released their first beers in 2016. Jitka Ilčikova’s lambics are made with vintner’s techniques and wild yeast from the local wine area, as well as local fruits such as grapes and apricots. We tasted four of their beers at Walhalla Brewery and they were all excellent! Fly with me (apricot), Meditation Grand Reserve (blend of 3 different lambics), Tears of Saint Laurent (Czech grape ale) and Resurrection 2016. Jitka also shared with us the results of the tests on her yeast that she had done; it contains 16 yeast strains! Especially interesting was the part where she explained how the big (lager) brewing companies are trying to ward off craft beer, and spontaneous fermented beers in particular, which she is trying very hard to fight as you can hear in the audio fragment (“we produce Radler!”).

Educational ‘geeky’ lectures 

A nod is as good as a wink in this case, as fellow beer fans will know how riveting and thrilling it is to hear someone talk about the history or science of beer. These lectures are the icing on the celebratory Carnivale cake and I wouldn’t think of going to next year’s edition without hearing one. 

Last year Marco Daane, writer of the Dutch history of beer (Bier in Nederland) gave a great talk on the early European days of beer yeast and dispelled some of the persistent myths around yeast, for example bottom-fermented beers (now called lagers) were already being brewed in Bavaria in the 14th century due to the harsh cold winters, but nobody outside of Bavaria knew about it.

Dave Janssen gave a very interesting talk, albeit technical (really for the geeks!), about former French beers from 1800s to 1900s, for which he delved into archives and traced how these beers were made and then tried to recreate them. Most styles were quite different, for example the famous French Bière de Garde was more acidic back then. Absolutely splendid was the talk called Gruit Galore, a ‘collab’ presentation between Antidoot (Belgium), Nevel (The Netherlands), Burial Beer (North Carolina) and Forager Brewery (Minnesota), about the different aspects of gruit (the herbal concoction used in beer before hops became popular). It covered the historical use of gruit, foraging methods, infusion techniques, recipe design and so on.

This year I only attended one lecture (at 10 am, pretty early for me which is probably why I forgot to record it!) on Lambic and the effects of climate change by Mark & Asa Stone (environmental science), Jean van Roy (Cantillon) and Adam Harbough ( Though the research is still very much in development, it is clear that the increasing temperatures are shortening the brewing window for lambic with possibly detrimental consequences. A nice touch was that we got to try 3 lambics that were analyzed during their research, all brewed at very different winter night temperatures. You can read more about this study here.

Beer & food pairing dinners

I think this may be one of the best surprises after my first visit to the festival! For several years now Elaine Olsthoorn (Wilde Chutney) has been putting on beer & food pairing dinners at Carnivale together with different breweries. I have now attended the vegan version of the dinner twice (last year with Kent Falls Brewing, this year with Overworks by BrewDog) and both were absolutely divine! All beers are paired with her homemade fermented dishes, like smoked aubergine in rose petals with peas on red onion puree just to name one. Her amazing seaweed sorbet with salty almond cookie made with cacao nibs paired fabulously with Kent Falls Anomaly 2, a buckwheat grisette that was aged in a white wine barrel that previously held their brett dark strong ale. My favorite pairing this year was Rhus with Elaine’s vegan cheese and beetroot dish.

Below are some audio fragments from the dinner in which Richard Kilcullen – Head of Overworks Sour Beer Production – tells a little more about Rhus (1) and where the name Overworks comes from (2).

(If it sounds like he talks fast, it’s because I had to edit out some weird flatlining my recorder was doing, sorry, I’m in the process of trying to fix that for next time!).

Overworks Carnivale Brettanomyces
Richard Kilcullen of Overworks giving some background on the beers at the beer & food pairing dinner

About Carnivale Brettanomyces

The original creators of the festival in 2011 were Jan Lemmens (Bierkoning) and Elaine Olsthoorn (In De Wildeman). The idea is “to create a platform for those brewers and beer lovers who sometimes take a few steps back, reconsider outdated techniques and methods and possibly combine them with 21st century knowledge, creating a broader spectrum of taste to enjoy for us all.” Since then it has taken off and many, many renowned brewers and beer professionals have participated (or at least attended!). To name a few: Chad Yakobson from Crooked Stave, Tilquin, Tommie Sjef, Shaun Hill from Hill Farmstead, beer writers Ron Pattinson (The Home Brewer’s Guide to Vintage Beer) and Pete Brown (Miracle Brew), WhiteLabs, Tom Norton of the Little Earth Project brewery, Roel Mulder (author of Verloren Bieren van Nederland), Lars Marius Garshol. For their contributions to the Dutch beer culture and development Carnivale won the ‘Golden Pint’ award in 2016. Rightly so!!

If you want to visit Carnivale Brettanomyces next year, keep an eye on their website or Facebook page for future dates and program.

All photos were taken by Tina Rogers.

All audio fragments were recorded with permission from the speakers.

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