When the craft beer explosion hit Sarasota, no one could say how long it would last. Those looking to get rich quick would do well to strike while the iron’s hot, pump out as much beer as they can and rake in the cash while they could. So why has Calusa Brewing waited nearly year to release its Wildest Dreams Sour Ale? Because if a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. SRQ steps inside the brewery with head brewer Jason Thompson to find out what that means.

The process begins away from the gleaming steel tanks and complicated brewing equipment on the main floor, up in a stifling hot open-air loft where sacks of grain are fork lifted out of the way. Similar to a traditional Belgian blonde ale, the Wildest Dreams begins with a simple combination of barley, wheat and American hops. “Keeping it simple allows the microorganisms to create all the character,” explains Thompson. And with three separate fermentation stages planned, each executed by a carefully curated selection of yeasts and bacteria, a simple base is all he needs. Milling the grains to expose the starchy interiors (cracking, but not grinding them), the mass is piped over to the mash tun via old-fashioned auger.

Back on the main floor, things stop being so simple. Standing astride a small, raised metal platform, next to a boggling array of gauges and readouts, Thompson oversees the mash tun and the boil kettle, two great metal tubs covered in a complicated series of pipes connected by an even more complicated series of blue-handled valves. This is also the part where people start talking funny and “wort” becomes a word.

Upon entering the mash tun and mixing with hot water, the cracked grains become mash, where for three hours Thompson will wrangle everything he wants from them before discarding the soggy mess (Calusa donates it to a local farmer). Steeped in near-boiling water, the exposed starches break down, extracting sugars that can be used as fuel for fermentation and creating wort—the liquid remainder that will be used for fermentation. Thompson stands guard with a large paddle, stirring the mash when needed. Not an isolated process, as wort forms, Thompson must also transfer it to the boil kettle, where the infused water is slowly brought to a cleansing boil before fermentation, leaving the brewer to perform a balancing act, adding water to the mash tun as he moves wort to the boil kettle. “If I’m transferring to the kettle too fast, it’ll dry out the grains,” says Thompson, “and if I transfer too slow, it’ll all overflow.” Due to the design and the relative reliability of the laws of fluid dynamics, gravity takes care of the transfer to a certain point, but eventually Thompson will have to leave his platform and work his magic on the many valves to begin a calculated pump.

Flowing through a heat exchanger, the boiling wort leaves the boil kettle and drops to 65 degrees on its way to the stainless steel fermentation tanks dominating the center of the floor. Here, the wort that would be Wildest Dreams ferments for two weeks with the standard brewing yeast, saccharomyces. In those two weeks, 90 percent of the brew’s fermentation will occur, but it will still be a year and a half until it can be called Wildest Dreams. A sour ale, much of its flavor will come from an elongated mixed-fermentation process bringing cultivated bacteria into play. Transferred into wine barrels, Thompson adds a carefully curated mix of more than 50 different types of yeast and bacteria. “We know exactly which types,” he says. “And all are going to have their own personality.” The yeast brettanomyces, for example, he knows will give Wildest Dreams much of its complex character, while the bacteria lactobacillus, will give the sour its needed acidity. The wine barrels are then stored in a separate part of the facility to avoid contamination. Necessary to brew sour beers, this sort of mixed fermentation presents inherent risk in the cultivation of outside bacteria and yeast within the brewery, which can escape and contaminate other brews, leading many brewers to avoid sours altogether. But not Calusa.

After a year aging and fermenting in old cabernet sauvignon barrels, soaking up that French oak, hints of vanilla and a bit of dryness from the tannins, the brew undergoes one last fermentation in the bottle. Adding a bit of yeast and priming sugar, the bottles are sealed and left for four months, which also lightly adds to the carbonation, and near two years after the process began, the Wildest Dreams Sour Ale is finally ready for release. But that’s just the beginning, says Thompson, who plans to take the Wildest Dreams as a base and build upon it with fruit infusions and who knows what else. “We’re going to be doing a lot more,” he says.