Plein de Vie, when literally translated, means “full of life.” There couldn’t be a more appropriate name to describe this new wood & wild fermentation series of beer from Brewery Vivant in Grand Rapids.
MittenBrew had the opportunity to chat with Kate Avery, Abbess of Beer, Brian Kuszynski, Master of Wood, and Jason Spaulding, President and Co-Owner at Brewery Vivant, about this much anticipated series release.
“We’ve always offered something a little different to the Grand Rapids drinking audience. It’s been a road of education and talking, about flavors and different styles of beer. With Plein de Vie, wood aging and intentionally souring of these beers, it all comes back to that education experience for the consumer,” Avery shares as she shows off the three initial brews in their bottle release.
Indeed, Brewery Vivant is known for doing things a little differently—offering Belgian and French style old-world libation, and allowing their Brewers the opportunity to experiment and create complex, nuanced one-offs that eventually sparked the annual Wood Aged Beer Fest. With a recent expansion, more time and dedicated space to the souring process, they are able to take it to the next level—bottling and offering these taproom favorites on a larger scale and to a wider audience.
If you are familiar with Brewery Vivant, you’ll know that bottling their beer is also something new to their repertoire, but with good reason.
“Cans aren’t meant for letting a beer develop in the package,” Spaulding notes, “These beers especially can be more lively, and bottles simply offer the ability to hold more pressure.”
These are meant to be enjoyed when you are ready to enjoy them. Big, full bodied, unfiltered beers retain their characteristics better in a bottle instead of thin aluminum. Practically speaking, introducing live beer on their main canning line is a no-no. You don’t want to risk introducing wild yeast strains which could affect the taste of their staples. Beyond that, bottling is another way to differentiate this unique series of beer from Vivant mainstays.
Unique also is the packaging. Highly detailed, crisp clean lines with variants in color that reflect the beer each vessel holds. Each label also explains just how each beer was aged and soured. Tap handles in the pub for this series are old barrel staves, wood burned with Vivant’s iconic rooster. Just another way to distinguish Plein de Vie, no matter how you are drinking it.
On Sunday, June 5 at Noon, you will be able to try these three initial offerings:
Angelina – The mother of all Vivant’s sours, if you will, is finally offered in bottles—much to the delight of long time Brewery Vivant fans. The very first sour beer made at the pub, a barrel named Angelina produced something tasty, magical, and sparked the direction of Vivant’s future sour offerings. Inoculating other barrels from this mother to keep the culture going, this pleasant, wood-barrel aged sour retains its majesty for (hopefully) years to come.
Harvest Breed – A brand new brew, this stainless steel brettanomyces wild sour ale offers a big sour punch on the noise, with the bretta coming through as the beer warms to room temperature. Almost citrusy, this sour offers a bergamot, earl gray tea flavor with a hint of lemon pith or orange rind.
Habanango – Many of you may remember this from a previous Wood Aged Beer Fest, but don’t expect the exact same brew. Feeder fermented and barrel-aged, this sour is blended with habanero peppers and mango to give a little heat with the sweet. Strongly mango on the nose, the peppery sweet heat of the habanero creeps up on you, making you want to take that next sip.
With safety and containment always a top priority, we end our tour, complete with booties on our feet, in what’s known as “the Funk Room,” where all the wood aging and wild fermented magic happens. Brian Kuszynski meets us there to share the story of how Plein de Vie came to be.
Carving out this separate space allows the Brewers to finally produce these sours and wild ales without risk of cross contamination, and at a volume that allows for bottling. Thank goodness.
Brian takes us around the crowded Funk Room, lovingly tweaking small things here and there, continuing to work while talking with us as we bask in the woody glory of all things wild.
A comment remembered from a gentlemen at a previous Wood Aged Beer Fest, asking where he could find this in his home state, put the bug in Brian’s mind to produce these sours at a larger scale.
“Obviously we are passionate about beer, and we’ve always loved wild and sour ales. We’ve had opportunities to make them and packaged them here and there, but always on a really small scale. This gives us the ability to make a larger quantity, get it out there and let the public try it, age it, cellar it. They can share it with their friends, introduce them to something new. Here and out-of-of state, even. We hope to be able to produce beers in this brand at the rate of 2-4 a year. But, of course,the beer tells us when it’s ready.”
Photography: Steph Harding