Matt Van Wyk sampling AleSongs debut saison
Matt Van Wyk sampling AleSong's debut saison. Brian Yaeger

For some people, their beer speaks to them. It speaks of hops growing on the bines or yeast hitchhiking on the breeze. Brewmaster Matt Van Wyk’s beer obviously sings to him. He, along with brothers Brian and Doug Coombs, are the composers behind AleSong Brewing and Blending, opening soon in Eugene, Oregon. And while AleSong will create a wide range of beers from earthy saisons to viscous imperial stouts, no doubt it’s their emphasis on tart and funky wild ales that will be music to sour beer lovers’ ears.

Van Wyk recently departed Oakshire Brewing, where he created many of their popular beers. (The once-a-year release of Hellshire draws the biggest crowd. Literally. This Saturday, Oakshire will host their third annual Hellshire Day featuring a line-up of over 50 barrel-aged beers—but the star will be Hellshire VI, an imperial stout aged in bourbon and rye whiskey barrels.) And Van Wyk deserves some of the credit for the popularity of barrel aging. He certainly didn’t invent it, but his single batch of bourbon-aged barleywine, Wooden Hell, released in 2007 by Flossmoor Station in Chicagoland where he worked before Oakshire, remains a “white whale,” an impossible-to-land bottle of beer. Time will tell if bottles of AleSong become as coveted.

Overlooking AleSongs current fermentation and blending space
Overlooking AleSong's current fermentation and blending space Brian Yaeger

Earlier this week I visited the production space. Matt and Brian showed me around, but for the time being, there’s not much to see. In the warehouse, there are dozens of oak barrels—mostly wine casks that’ll be used for aging sour beers and Heaven Hill bourbon ones for their non-sour stouts and the like. There’s also a tall, 30-barrel fermentation tank. No brewery, just the tank. (Okay, there is a half-barrel pilot brewery.) That’s because AleSong doesn’t intend to brew its own wort—the liquid made by mashing, lautering, and boiling—but instead will pitch yeast and start their brewing process where the real magic begins. And only after that most-important step of fermentation does the resulting liquid get to be called beer.

Blending beer is not new; on a commercial scale it dates back to at least the 18th century. But blending houses for sour beer producers is a fairly modern occurrence on American soil. Here in Oregon, Cascade Brewing and Barrel House, which does brew its own beer, has been honing this craft going on a decade. Down in California, the Rare Barrel launched in 2013 as a beer company that buys wort and inoculates it with various microorganisms such as Brettanomyces, referred to as “bugs” to create some of the most delicious and sought-after sour beers out there. This is closer to AleSong’s model.

But whereas for most breweries, enjoying their beer begins once you get a bottle in your hands and ends when it’s all gone, Van Wyk’s vision for the company is to give patrons an entire experience. The current warehouse is a temporary solution. The team is planning on setting up on five acres outside the downtown area, and lord knows Eugene’s Whiteaker neighborhood is already chockablock with breweries like Ninkasi, Hop Valley, Oakshire, and tied public houses such as Falling Sky Deli & Pour House and Sam Bond’s Garage.

The vision for this five-acre brewery, blendery, and park will entail an area for dogs, live music, bike parking, and quite possibly the only chance to score the company’s most limited releases.