Experimenting with foraged ingredients in beer is an exciting creative exercise, but for Pascal Baudar, foraging is a way of life. Born in Belgium, Baudar grew up close to the land and learned how to find—and use—wild edibles at an early age. He now calls Los Angeles home, and as a professional forager he teaches classes on wild edibles, self-sufficiency, and foraging practices, and he supplies foraged ingredients to some of L.A.’s hautest, hippest bars and restaurants. But finding the wild flavors growing throughout the hills and valleys in Southern California is only a part of Baudar’s mission. He’s as passionate about traditional preservation techniques as he is about foraging, and fermentation is one of his favorite ways to preserve the bounty of plants (and bugs) that he finds. He connects to the past and to the land with his foraged beers.
“I use the term ‘beer’ very loosely,” he says—his speech tinged with l’accent Belge. “If my beverage tastes like a beer, I call it a beer.” His beverages—wines, ciders, and sodas in addition to wild ales—are often created with only the ingredients that he finds on his walks, and that means no barley and no hops. To Baudar, flavor profile and the spirit of the land are more important than the name of the finished product. It is a tie to historical brewing traditions. “It’s like very old beer,” he says. “Vikings and Celts used lots of plants [in their brews].” Some of Baudar’s brews have featured more than seventy different foraged plants including wild mushrooms, nettles, mugwort, and even ants. The botanicals are boiled with a variety of different fermentable sugar sources including tree saps, honey, and something called lerp sugar—the crystallized secretions of aphid-like insects. The yeast is all wild (he often uses wild elderberries to start fermentation), and the fermentation happens in specially made clay vessels (or sometimes in whatever glass bottles he has laying around).
Many of his brews are reminiscent of the gueuzes and lambics of his native Belgium—funky and tart. “It takes a tremendous amount of research, and a lot of practice to learn to use these ingredients,” he says, adding, “I’ve done it so often [that] I know all the mistakes.” But his definition of mistake is narrow, and he says that batches that don’t taste the way he’d like get turned into vinegar or used to cook with instead of being dumped. “I’ve never had a beer go bad in seven years!”
Baudar teaches a variety of wilderness-based classes, including wild beer making (visit urbanoutdoorskills.com for details), and he suggests that homebrewers interested in exploring their locally available wild flavors should find a mentor who knows their region. “It’s very hard to [learn] from a book,” he says and suggests that the intrepid brewers should stick to plants they know, but he also encourages brewers to forge a connection with the land and the bounty of nature through exploration.
“It’s about going back to the original idea of brewing. Primitive and fantastically simple.”