Lost Forty Brewing has received the prestigious “Mid-Size Brewing Company and Mid-Size Brewing Company Brewer of the Year” awards from the Great American Beer Festival Competition — the largest commercial beer competition in the world.
The top three winners in each of the competition’s 98 beer-style categories were announced Oct. 16 at the GABF virtual awards ceremony broadcast from Denver. There were 8,806 entries, plus 118 Pro-Am entries, from 1,720 U.S. breweries; winners were chosen by an international panel of 115 expert judges.
Lost Forty barely qualified to be considered in the mid-size category. Craft breweries that qualify for mid-size have to produce between 15,000-6 million barrels a year in production. Lost Forty produced 16,000 barrels last year. Breweries that produce more than 6 million barrels a year in production are not considered craft breweries.
Lost Forty also won a Gold Medal for its bottle-conditioned Day Drinker in the “Brett Beer” category. The beer is brewed with the wild yeast Brettanomyces, colloquially known as “Brett,” which grows on the skin of fruit. It produces flavors in beer that change over time and are often described as funky or rustic. Bottle-conditioned means the beer is bottled flat and non-carbonated with sugars and yeast added to ferment and carbonate in the bottle. Lost Forty has been doing a wild barrel project series since 2017.
“Deep in the back of the brewery, far away from the brewhouse where we make all the beer, is our wild barrels project program, and that’s where we take beers and we put them into barrels or different vessels and then we inoculate them with different strains of wild yeast or with bacteria,” said Amber Brewer, creative director of Yellow Rocket Concepts, the restaurant group that owns Lost Forty. “So sometimes we’ll inoculate stuff with lactobacillus (a bacteria brewers use to make sour beer) or Pediococcus damnosus (lactic acid bacteria used in Belgian styles). “It’s just a big experiment,” she said.
“Honestly, what really struck me about the combinations of these awards,” Brewer said, “is that you’re only in the running for the mid-size brewery and brewing company of the year after you reach a fair size, right. But the Gold Medal we took home was for a very niche category that’s all about living cultures and science. You have to really know what you’re doing to get that bottle fermentation correct; it’s a tough category, so I like the balance between those two awards. So we’re just in shock. We were wildly shocked.”
The Great American Beer Festival wins seem likely to inspire beer lovers from across the country to visit Lost Forty.
“I think it’s great for tourism,” Brewer said. “I think it elevates our entire beer culture. It elevates every single brewery that’s here. We are now a state that has won a national award not for a beer but how we do things. That’s pretty cool. I felt like we all got the award. Beer tourism is such a huge thing, so that’s exciting for Little Rock,” she said.
I asked Brewer how it felt to win these awards after a very challenging recession/pandemic year.
“There’s the brewing aspect of it, but then there’s also the aspect of ‘We’re running a company and a company that’s in the food and beverage industry right now is very hard to run.’ And to get this kind of spirit-lifting, morale-boosting piece of news that kind of validates everything that you’ve been working on is just incredible. It’s incredible timing. So, it’s awesome that they liked the beer and we won the Gold Medal, but I’m really proud of the other award because it’s for the entire team. It’s for our dishwashers. It’s for the people that work our events and drive vans all over the state, and the salespeople and our distribution team.”
I talked with Grant Chandler, Lost Forty’s head cellarman and biologist by trade, about the Gold Medal-winning Day Drinker.
“The base of the beer is our normal Day Drinker, which is a Belgian Blonde Ale. It’s just a really light, moderately low ABV [alcohol by volume] beer made with wheat, malted barley and hopped. [It’s] noticeably bitter, has a spicy noble hop aroma — little grassy, spicy, fruity — of course the quintessential fruity spicy fermentation profile that you get from Belgian yeasts. [It’s a] pretty normal, understated Belgian Ale that’s easy to drink. It’s not really flashy or attention grabbing. It’s just a light beer that has noticeable hop aroma and bitterness and a Belgian yeast fermentation profile.
“The bottle condition variant is the same beer but packaged with a little bit of a historically wild yeast called brettanomyces. It’s a yeast that continues to ferment and develop sugars in the beer after packaging in a way that normal brewer’s yeast wouldn’t. Brett beer as a style can incorporate that yeast in a variety of ways as long as the resulting product has a character that comes from that yeast. This particular bottle conception Day Drinker, we package Day Drinker, we brew it and ferment it as we would for our canned variant. But instead of carbonating it in a tank and filling cans with that carbonated beer, we bottle condition it, which means we bottle flat, uncarbonated beer with some added sugar and yeast to ferment and carbonate in the package.
“So that’s what bottle conditioning is. The primary brewer’s yeast, they’re pretty short lived. They’ll ferment all the simple sugars and once that’s done they kind of die and stop doing anything for the beer. The brettanomyces will continue to ferment more complex sugars slowly over time and develop a more … the words that describe brettanomyces characteristics are pretty elusive. I’ve never heard of a great way of describing what that character is. A lot of people talk around it, and we do our best to describe it. But it’s not as discernible as a lot of other beer flavors. But words like complex and rustic are pretty typical. Adding brettanomyces definitely imparts a character to the beer that would not be there otherwise, but that character will continue to evolve over time. Most clean beer brewers try to lock in this flavor profile and try to keep it stable and consistent for as long as possible, or for as long as it takes to get to the consumer. In this case, this beer will definitely continue to transform itself over time whether in a good way or bad way; I think that’s up to the opinion of the person drinking it. But it will definitely continue to increase in Brett flavor over time.
“We made that single batch [bottle-conditioned Day Drinker] last winter. So it’s well into its age. It has some quintessential Brett character right now so it’s not so overwhelming. An often recommended strategy — or beer geeky thing to do — is to get three bottles and drink one right when you buy, drink one a season later and drink one a year later. That will inform your taste going forward for similar products. When it comes to wild beers, the element of time is such a huge factor, and there are a lot of styles dependent upon that question of when they’re supposed to be consumed. It’s all just kind of by prerogative and experience.”
Lost Forty’s bottle-conditioned Day Drinker is only available at its brewery. If you want to try one, you better hurry. When I spoke with Brewer there were only 289 left.