Grand Rapids International Wine, Beer, and Food Festival
Nov 18 & 19, 2022

There’s a BUG in my beer…and WHY the brewery put it there!! – By Stephen Smith, Henry A. Fox

There’s a BUG in my beer…and WHY the brewery put it there!! – By Stephen Smith, Henry A. Fox

People are placing all sorts of crazy things in beers these days: peanut butter, tropical fruits, waffle cones, marshmallows…you name it. But BUGS!?! Well, kinda, yes. Have there ever been actual 6-8 footed exoskeleton creatures in a beer? Better believe it! But what kind of bugs are in our beers these days and why in the hell would a brewer put them there?

Bugs…a term used to describe the bacteria: Brettanomyces (aka “Brett”) Lactobacillus (aka “lacto”) and Pediococcus (aka “pedio”) are used in many popular beers these days, mainly Lambic, wild or “sour” beers. So, what are they and what do they do?

Wait, wait….what was that about ACTUAL BUGS IN BEER???? As a matter of fact, before Modern Day control methods, you might be surprised what was added into beers. Now, with the beer making process, the wort is essentially a sweetened mash of grain water. Fruit flies are attracted to the sweet foam, but the flies bring unwanted bacteria. To keep their population down, Lambic cellars are filled with spiders. (There’s an abundance of webs in all of them.) The spiders eat the flies as the yeasts and bacteria munch on the sugars in the wort. Well, if you have ever been taught a thing about gravity, things happen to fall down…get the drift? Now the beauty of the beer making process is that through a few things: boiling and fermentation, pretty much every damn thing known to man, which is a GREAT thing.

But enough of the crazy, creepy gross things! Up to 120 different yeasts and bacteria have been found in the cooled wort of an open wild fermented beer. They’ve entered from the outside air and also from the old wooden timbers and slate tiles in the brewery. For this reason, Lambic brewers are wary of changing anything at all in their brew houses. If a new roof must be built, a number of the old, original tiles are mixed in among the new. If a new brewhouse and coolship are added, a certain percentage of the wort is pumped to the old coolship in the old building—just to be sure that the wort is inoculated correctly, as it has been for years.

So, if these “bugs” are so special what do they do? You’ll just have to attend my workshops at the 10th Annual Grand Rapids International Wine, Beer & Food Festival (Nov. 16-18) to find out!

Thursday, November 16 (7-8pm)
There’s a BUG in my beer…and WHY the brewery put it there!
Seminar Room D

Saturday, November 18 (3-4pm)
The World of Fruit Beers
Seminar Room D

For the list of other beverage workshops:

Steve Smith is Craft Beer Specialist, Henry A. Fox Sales Co. Over the course of his career, Steve Smith has made a name for himself in the craft beer scene, both locally in Michigan as well as nationally. His extensive expertise working with craft beer ranges from home brewing to brewing on full scale production facilities, to sales within some of the highest rated retail shops and craft beer bars in the nation. Steve has been sharing his passion and skills in Western Michigan for the past 20 years in these settings, along with the co-curation of the Grand Rapids Public Museum exhibit “Thank You, BEER.”