Free Will Brewing Co. is one of those brewers that has such a high level of trust from me that I am willing to impulsively buy anything with their name on the label because I know it will be of high quality.
When I was in a bottle shop a couple months ago, I saw a bottle of the above pictured beer sitting by its lonesome on a bottom shelf. I picked it up without even looking at the label. If there were two I would have bought both. Olly is an Oud Bruin or a Flemish Brown style of beer. This style dates back to the 17th Century in the Flemish region of Belgium. Oud Bruin undergoes a long aging process in wood, along with a secondary fermentation in the bottle. This coupled with the bacteria and cultured yeast, imparts a sour flavor to the beer. This is Old World brewing defined.
Free Will’s Olly is using Old World techniques to give us beer that tastes like the height of modernity. Olly, after brewing, is aged for between 2 or 3 years in oak barrels and foudres with brettanomyces, lactobacillus, and pediococcus bacteria, then it was blended before bottling.
Olly is a slightly reddish brown ale with a plunging depth of flavor and multiple layers. The capped and corked bottle opened with a typical “plunk” but no drama as the beer is lightly carbonated. The medium bodied beer has tiny bubbles that offer no head and only a slight ring of off-white at the meniscus of the glass. The ale has cherry, dark fruits, and plum flavors throughout with a slight dry woodiness in the finish. The finish is long and where this stellar beer shines by showing off the funk of brettanomyces, the clean lactic acid of lactobacillus and more acute sour of pediococcus. No astringency from the 7.9% ABV makes this an easy sipper to be shared (or not in my case).
After the American beer market homogenized over flavorless adjuncts the pendulum swung back towards craft beer that sees the surging industry we celebrate today with a variety of styles and substyles that boggles the mind.
What Free Will has done with Olly is use an Old World method to give us a completely modern beer. Olly is easily representative of all that is great about the current craft beer industry. The ability to make something modern, fresh in perspective, and seemingly novel from a centuries-old style and method. As we leave the homogenized adjunct lagers of Macro brewers as road kill run over by widespread and local disruption it will continue to be the brewers’ willingness to embrace old methods along with new to push and renew the concept of craft.
Who would have thought that the modernity of New World brewing would be found in the Old World?
Post Script: The irony of my idea of modern beer taking three years to rest in wood barrels is not lost on me.
As craft brewers continue to discover and refine these old methods it will bring forth a wealth “new” beers for us to explore.
I am far more interested in the exploration and development of these “Old World” styles than I am anything else these days.
Olly on the bottle is Olly from The Sifl and Olly Show. This clip is from 1997. I feel old.