Thursday, June 28, 2007

2 Brett Tales

I recently had two infinitely different experiences (one good, one bad) with other people trying my 100% Brett fermented beers that I think illustrates the state of Brett beers in the American beer culture.

I'll start with the negative experience: I entered a bottle of my first Brett beer in my homebrew club's Saison competition just to see how it would fair and to get some basic feedback on how to improve it. While the beer was not brewed to be a saison its recipe and specs (aside from the use of just Brett) were just within the low end for all of the BJCP guidelines (gravity/color/bitterness/abv etc…) and I thought the flavor and aroma were not far off particularly because Fantome's line of saisons often have a mildly funky Brett note to them (and occasionally a strong funk).

Well I was dead wrong according to the judges, my beer was panned by all of them as either infected or having a strong acetylaldehyde problem (which I think was just the appley ester that Brett C seems to put out). All four of the judges gave me 21s and 22s. I wasn't expecting to win, but I also thought that my beer was a reasonable entry into the category and that it would at least produce more meaningful comments than "Needs more malt" and "Watch your sanitation" "Would be more appropriate as a Lambic". I am generally not a big fan of competitions for precisely this reason, I think more competitions need to focus on the tastiest beers not the ones that are closest to some Socratic stylistic ideal form.


Now for the positive story: I was recently involved with a swap over at the BBB for people who brewed a beer with no Saccromyces (Primarily Brett, but a few people added lacto as well). I got to try beers brewed by 7 fantastic brewers who coaxed amazing flavors out of the four major Brett strains. Fresh apples, cherries, spices, tropical fruit and many other unique flavors were on exhibition with almost none of the maligned stereotypical Brett aromas of "goat" "sweat" or barnyard. My Cherry/Wine Mo' Betta Bretta was received quite well, with the common analysis boiling down to cinnamon, cherries, mulled wine etc… There was one comment of fecal… but even that wasn't entirely negative.

Tomme Arthur (of Pizza Port and The Lost Abbey) also receive a bottle from everyone. I got to have a brief chat with him about my beer after going to a tasting/presentation (so many tasty and inspiring beers, and he only brought one of their barrel-aged offerings) he gave at the Brickskeller, he thought that my beer was one of the most interesting of the tasting and seemed to be genuinely intrigued with exactly how I got the flavors I did. It was very rewarding to hear the man who essentially co-created this genera of beer say that my beer had positive characteristics that he had never gotten.

An older gentleman in the crowd during Tomme's speech had some negative words for the use of Brett, however the guy didn't seem to mind the mild Brett character in The Lost Abbey's phenomenal 10 Commandments (originally SPF 8, a big black saison with fresh rosemary, orange peel and port caramelized raisins), Tomme said that it would have more Brett kick in future batches.

I think the point of these two stories is that not every beer-geek has gotten the Brettanomyces education that they need, but that the ones that have are starting to spread the gospel (with the help of a couple fantastic professional brewers). Brewing with Brettanomyces isn't for everyone, but it allows you to create flavors that are impossible to get with traditional brewer's yeast. If you have never made a batch with Brett before I implore you to do so, you might want to avoid entering it in a contest anytime soon though.


Unknown said...

I actually found your blog while trying to dig up some information on kvass about a month ago.

I never really considered messing around with Brett before but after reading here I had my LHBS order some Brett C. I have a chocolate porter that I added a few gallons of to the secondary with it and I'm getting ready to brew up a 100% Brett batch.

Thanks for the great posts.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Glad my blog was able to inspire you!

I really like how my Brett C finished Old Ale came out, big fruity nose and approachable enough that even people who aren’t “into” funky beers seem to enjoy it. Just be aware that the Brett will make the beer pretty dry, so blending at serving time with a sweet/malty beer may be a good option.

This week I am going to attempt to kill a Brett A secondary fermentation on an Imperial Stout (1.100 down to 1.020). It is currently chilling with some gelatin to knock as much Brett out of suspension as possible. In another day or so I’ll rack it and add a couple campden tablets to kill both the Brett and any regular brewers yeast that is still around. After waiting a few weeks for the SO4 to dissipate I’ll bottle with fresh yeast and priming sugar. Hopefully I’ll have a full report of the results by the end of the year.

Best of luck brewing some funky beers! Let me know how it goes and if you need any guidance.

Neal Locke said...


Just spent the past hour reading through various posts on your blog in fascination with all that you do, especially with Brett.

I started brewing about a year ago, and although I'm still a neophyte, I have an affinity for Belgian styles, particularly trappist and sour ales.

So several months ago I brewed with Brett for the first time, and generally enjoyed the result -- but since then I've noticed all my subsequent beers have a decided bretty taste to them. This isn't necessarily bad for my personal taste, but as you noted in this post, it drives me crazy when someone thinks that one of my beers has "gone bad" or worse, that somehow homebrewed beer is "inferior." While I do try to educate people, I also don't want to overwhelm them if they're not used to sour/funky styles.

My first thought was to try to somehow get rid of the Brett that apparently permeates the basement where I brew (which I've read can be difficult) but after reading your blog and a few related ones, I'm inspired to instead try to find ways to manage and complement the Brett, since I enjoy it anyhow, and it seems like a brewing niche with lots of potential for exploration.

Any advice, though, on ways to "tone down" or "focus" brett beers so that they can have more appeal to my non-beer educated friends?


The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Having a house funk would be interesting, but it could be dangerous (overcarbonation, off flavors etc…). Wild yeast is everywhere so most likely your infection is coming from your equipment. I would double up your sanitation procedures and consider getting a second set of clean equipment (tubing, bottling wand, racking cane etc…). You might also want to switch sanitizers, I go back and forth between Iodophor and Stat-San to keep the microbes off guard.

That said places like Fantome and Jolly Pumpkin have strong house microbial cultures that show up more or less in all of their beers. I would look to them for inspiration, try to really dry out your beers to leave less for the bugs to eat, keep your recipes pretty simple, and use fruits/herbs/spices/wood to compliment the flavors you are getting. You may also consider blending to soften an overly sour/funky batch, or add complexity to a cleaner beer.

In the end though Brett is an acquired taste, and it produces flavor compounds that some people are especially sensitive to. You may not be able to win everyone over to the sour team, even some people who love great beer don’t have a taste for sours.

Hope that helps. Good luck brewing.