Oak aged and sour beers are dominating craft beer bars, bottle shops, and beer trading markets. Beer has been fermented on wood for hundreds of years…so what’s with the recent boom?
Breweries are pumping out massive volumes of oak fermented beer due in large part to the widespread use of foeders. With the demand for sour beer continuing to explode, you’ll start to see more of these massive wooden structures in your local breweries.
These are foeders. A foeder – pronounced “food-er” – is a large, wood fermentation vessel usually made of oak. The name comes from the Dutch word ‘vat’ meaning a big wooden tank.
In this article, I’ll tell you what a foeder is, how it affects beer, and highlight some of the best foeder beer available on the market. Sit down with a beautiful foeder fermented Rodenbach Grand Cru and let’s get started.
What is a foeder?
A foeder is made of a series of oak staves held together by metal hoops. These circular or oval shaped vessels are hand made in Europe and the US by craftsmen, called coopers.
Used historically in winemaking, foeders are gaining in popularity with American craft breweries.
Why use a foeder?
To understand the use of foeders, we should first explain the reason for using wood in beer brewing.
Fermenting and conditioning beer on wood has a huge flavor impact. Long-term aging extracts tannins from the wood, giving beer mouthfeel and perceived bitterness. Oxygen also enters through the vessel’s walls, unlike a normal closed-system stainless fermenter. This oxidative flavor in the beer adds complexity.
Sour beers especially benefit as the mix of yeast and bacteria live in the pores of the oak. Wood vessels carry over yeast and bacteria from batch to batch. This gives breweries a unique house culture with its own flavor profile.
A foeder works the same way as typical wine or spirit barrels, but with a larger volume. Because of this larger size, the beer inside is exposed to a smaller surface area of wood. Foeders allow for the beer to mature and develop flavors slower than a typical barrel. This gives a brewer great control over their beer.
How big are foeders?
Foeders start around 5 bbl (165 gallons) and can be built as large as the brewery needs. The world’s largest foeder was built in France with a volume of 1,000,000 liters (264,172 gallons)!
Foeders take up much less floor space than typical oak barrels for the same volume. Brewers love their efficient size, especially in smaller breweries.
Foeders come in a huge range of sizes. Here are some typical dimensions for different volumes by Foeder Crafters:
- 7 bbl – 3’ø by 6’ high
- 15 bbl – 5’ø by 6’ high
- 200 bbl – 11’ø by 13’ high
What features do foeders have?
Brewers have many choices to make when selecting foeders.
First, they can choose the level of toast on the oak. The higher the toast level, the more vanilla, charred, and roasted character the beer will extract from the wood. Depending on the style of beer, a light, medium, or heavy toast is suitable.
Many aspects of modern stainless steel fermenters can be in the design of foeders, such as:
- Blow off ports
- CIP (clean in place) arms for efficient cleaning
- Tasting ports
- Chilling plates for temperature control
What breweries are using foeders?
Foeders have long been used by Flemish sour breweries. Rodenbach is the most world-renowned brewery using foeders. They have been fermenting their classic Flemish red beer in large foeders since 1821. Many Belgian lambic producers such as Boon and Lindemans also age their beer in foeders.
In the US, the number of breweries making foeder beer is growing fast. New Belgium, in Colorado, was one of the first American breweries to ferment beer in foeders. They are still one of the biggest foeder beer-producing breweries in the States.
Other popular American breweries that use foeders include Anchorage Brewing, American Solera, Bearded Iris, Deschutes, Crooked Stave, and Wicked Weed.
What are the best foeder beers?
There are so many great and varied beers fermented in foeders! Here are some of our favorites:
Rodenbach – Grand Cru
This is the gold standard Flemish Red ale. It’s oaky, rich, and sour with a characteristic acetic finish. Rodenbach has been making foeder beer for a long time. Their quality and consistency are impressive and very worthy of their worldwide praise.
Where to buy: Drizly
New Belgium – La Folie
La Folie is a sour Flemish brown with notes of tart green apple, vanilla, and lightly toasted bread. This is one of the best Flemish sour beers in the world, and it’s from Colorado!
Where to buy: Drizly
American Solera – Foeder Cerise
American Solera brews modern American twists on Belgian style mixed fermentation ales. They have been fermenting in foeders since 2016. Foeder Cerise is aged six months with Brettanomyces on top of Montmorency cherries. This produces a funky, deep red, sour, cherry pie-like brew.
Where to buy: American Solera
Brouwerij Boon – Vat Series
Spontaneously fermented beer – called lambic – comes from the Senne Valley in Belgium. Boon ages their lambic with wild yeast in foeders. Their normal gueuze is a blend of many different tanks.
The Vat series gives you a unique experience to taste beer fermented entirely in one foeder. My favorites are Vat 77 or Vat 109 for their gueuze-like and vinous, complex characters.
Where to buy: Drizly
Anchorage Brewing Company – Galaxy White IPA
Brewer and owner Gabe Fletcher is a pioneer in mixed fermentation beers. Galaxy White IPA starts with Galaxy hops, coriander, kumquats, and peppercorns. It is then fermented completely with Brettanomyces in foeders. This IPA is funky, juicy, and very complex.
Where to buy: Drizly
Foeders offer consistency and convenience for sour and mixed fermentation brewing. Beers fermented in foeders can have a beautiful balance of complex flavors.
Craft beer lovers can’t get enough of these funky libations. Be sure to grab a foeder beer next time you see one – you won’t regret it!
Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Make Clean Beer in a Foeder?
Traditional Czech and German breweries ferment and condition lagers in large wood tanks. Some American breweries, such as New York’s Threes Brewing, are following this tradition. They offer some very tasty and clean foeder-aged lagers at their brewpub.
Stouts and dark beers are often fermented in foeders to impart a deeper, roasted, and oaky element.
How Can I Find Foeder Beer Locally?
Your local brewery might even have a couple of foeders! Search Untappd or your favorite beer review website to find some nearby options. Milk the Funk is also a great resource for seeking out breweries using foeders.
What’s the Difference Between a Barrel and a Foeder?
Typical wine and spirit barrels are 60 gallons. These are the common oak barrels you’d see at almost every brewery in American these days.
A foeder is larger than a barrel and has other features such as manways, cooling systems, and custom ports.