There was a special sort of festiveness to the scene I witnessed last weekend, deep in the heart of thirsty Bucks County. A hundred-plus beer tourists, several with babies in tow, toasted each other with cloudy “New England-style” IPAs, malty brown ales on nitro, and frothy mango-wheat brews at community tables, set up amid the shiny fermentation tanks and canning line on the expansive production floor at Free Will Brewing Co. in Perkasie. But the real excitement, it turns out, was actually unfolding in microbial slow-motion beneath their feet where, according to founder and brewmaster John Stemler, 1,500 barrels are aging lambic-style in the cellar to mouth-puckering sour beer perfection. In some cases, as with a curiosity called “Olly,” the process can take three years. A beer called “Provisional Funk w/Cherries” is a considerably younger specimen, and right on point for summer fruit season. Of course, this saison-style brew features local cherries from last year’s harvest at Weiser Orchard — Montmorency cherries, to be exact, which explains the label’s cartoon portrait of a French noble by the same name whose 16th Century garb is transformed with starry-eyed sunglasses and some Parliament-style funkadelic flourishes. (A golden croissant medallion necklace? Need that.) The beer itself, meanwhile, has its own confident funky strut, defined over a year’s worth of aging from the wild yeast and native wine barrel cultures that transformed a base beer made from locally malted barley into a perfectly balanced smack of tartness, earthy leather notes, and a vivid distillation of fleshy fruit that’s both ripe and not too sweet. It’s a perfect beer to accompany a meal at the ambitious BYOB nearby called Maize. And the local malt produced by Deer Creek, says Stemmler, offers more than just local appeal. Theses grains actually add an extra layer of depth and sweet complexity than standard malts as they also take longer to ferment; this is especially perfect for beers that must age and develop for longer periods of time, finding their own special terroir tucked away deep in the cellar beneath Free Will.
— Craig LaBan
Provisional Funk w/Cherries, $12 for 500 ml bottle; Free Will Brewing Co., 410 E Walnut St #1,10, Perkasie, PA 18944, 267-354-0813; Free Will Tasting Room, Peddler’s Village, Route 263 & Street Rd., Lahaska, PA 18931, 267-544-0760; freewillbrewing.com.