Monday, August 13, 2012

Bottle Conditioning with Brett - Belgian Single

With all of the attention that both 100% Brett fermentations and sour beers receive, I wanted to revisit bottle conditioning with Brett. This is what Orval does to produce what Michael Jackson referred to as the "quintessential beer" and was also responsible for the batch Russian River's Vinnie Cilurzo refers to as his best, the original bottling of Redemption (only time will tell if his collaboration with Sierra Nevada, Brux Domesticated, ages as gracefully).

Over the years I’ve done a number of split-batch experiments. It started six years ago with a hop experiment, and continued with three sugar experiments, and a flavored (Frangelico, raspberry jam, cocoa/vanilla, and bourbon/coffee) oatmeal stout that for some reason I never posted about. Those batches all involved either splitting the wort during the boil, fermentation, or aging, which requires multiple one gallon jugs.

Adding Brett at bottling is something I was long wary of. The two common species of Brettanomyces used in brewing (anomalous/claussenii and bruxellensis/lambicus) both produce an enzyme that allows them to ferment carbohydrates (dextrins) up to nine glucose molecules long (brewer's yeast can only ferment chains up to three glucose molecules long - maltotriose). With too much residual gravity remaining the Brett will over-carbonated the beer given time, which can result in gushing or even bottle bombs. However, several brewers I've interviewed for the book (like Gabe Fletcher of Anchorage Brewing) swear that fermentation under pressure in the bottle is the key to creating a great aromatic Brett profile.

The results of my first attempt at dosing Brett at bottling, last year’s Belgian Single, were good enough to earn second place out of 55 entries in the first round of the NHC (and a spot at the mini-BOS in the final round). Even after close to a year at cellar temperature, the bottles with Brett are still not over-carbonated. The base recipe for this batch was nearly identical except for a small addition of wheat in the mash, and a slightly adjusted hop-bill. I really like the subtle fruity character of WLP500/WY1214 (the Chimay strain) fermented cool as a background to the funky Brett. It is important to warm up the beer toward the end of fermentation to ensure a complete fermentation though.

Four types of Brett B.At bottling I split the batch five ways. 20% was capped without Brett, as a control. The remaining 80% was divided between White Labs Brett brux var. Trois (isolated from 3 Fonteinen), Wyeast Brett brux (most likely Orval), and two strains isolated from Cantillon by Jason Rodriguez of Brew Science. I added 10 drops of loose Brett slurry to each 12 oz bottle, and 20 to each bomber and 750. I used a dropper that I re-sanitized and then rinsed with sterile water between dosing each strain. It will be interesting to compare the flavors created by all these strains, but that won’t be for several months.

Odds are that all four of these Bretts are strains of the same species, Brettanomyces bruxellensis. However, just like California Ale and Abbey Ale are both Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Brett has a huge range of intraspecies variation. Hopefully in six months these five versions of the same beer will be a showcase for the range of characters Brett is capable of.

If you don’t follow Jason's blog, you should take a look. He has been doing some really interesting things, like isolating yeasts from a Brooklyn Brewery beers that was fermented with lees from a natural wine. The hunt is really just getting underway for the great strains of Brett at work in traditional wines and beers around the world. After the push towards single strain fermentations 100 years ago, microbiologist are once again becoming the most important people in the brewing world, but this time by bringing things back around to mixed fermentations.

Brett Finished Belgian Single

Dosing Brett into a bottle with a dropper.
Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 5.25
Total Grain (Lbs): 8.00
Anticipated OG: 1.048
Anticipated SRM: 2.8
Anticipated IBU: 22.1
Brewhouse Efficiency: 82 %
Wort Boil Time: 90 Minutes

93.8% - 7.50 lbs. German Pilsener
6.3% - 0.50 lbs. German Wheat Malt

1.50 oz. Hallertauer Mittelfruh (Pellet, 3.00% AA) @ 60 min.
1.50 oz. Hallertauer Mittelfruh (Pellet, 3.00% AA) @ 5 min.

0.25 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 15 min.
0.50 Whirlfloc @15 min.

White Labs WLP500 Trappist Ale

Water Profile
Profile: Pale, Low Hop

Mash Schedule
Protein 20 min @ 129 F
Sacch I 75 min @ 146 F
Sach II 20 min @ 156 F
Mash Out 15 min @ 165 F

7/7/12 Made a .8 L starter for the yeast

7/8/12 Brewed by myself

2.8 g of CaCl and 1/2 tsp of phosphoric acid added to the mash water, which was 50% distilled 50% DC tap.

Batch sparged with 182 F water that included another 1/2 tsp of acid, stabilized at 170 F.

Chilled to 94 F, then switched to recirculating ice water to get it down to 66 F. Pitched starter, not decanted, pumped in 45 seconds of pure O2, left at 65 F ambient to start fermenting. Dropped to 62 F the next morning.

7/12/12 Up to 66 F

7/15/12 Up to 75 F, fermentation appears finished, but I want to make sure there are no simple fermentables left behind.

8/4/12 Down to 1.011 (about the same as the last batch of this beer). Bottled with 3.75 oz of table sugar.

Put all of the beer into bottles, then dosed some with Brett:

"P" with no Brett
"WLT" with White Labs Brett Trois
"WYB" with Wyeast Brett B
"CB1" with Cantillon Brett 1 from Jason
"CB2" with Cantillon Brett 2 from Jason

Small bottles each got 10 drops of loose Brett culture, big bottles got 20 drops. Left at 75-80 F to bottle condition.

11/15/12 Tasting of all five version, CB2 and the Trois were my favorites. 


Anonymous said...

Looks like another great experiment! If you're still concerned about bottle bombs, I recommend one if those big rubbermaid boxes. They've saved me a lot of trouble on the few instances I 've had bottles detonate.

Zac said...

I really look forward to reading the results. I've always wanted to use Brett but was too cheap to designate a chunk of my equipment to Brett-only use.

jbakajust1 said...

So how does one come accross the Cantillon Brett strains if they would like to use them in their homebrewery?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

At the moment Jason is trying to keep the strains from going too far and wide. He made me promise not to share them before he sent them. Hopefully he'll find a way to make them available eventually though.

In the meantime, you could try pitching the dregs from a relatively fresh bottle of Cantillon, although you'll get bacteria in addition to the Brett.

Unknown said...

I'm right about to do the exact same thing. Question: When you say, "loose Brett slurry" what is the process that you actually went through (growth and dilution vs. straight out of the package, etc) and did you make any attempt at a cell count estimate based on the density of the slurry?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

They were all different. Jason counted the Brett he propagated for me at ~3+ billion cells per vial (by my request). The Trois was slurry from the 100% Brett IPA I'd brewed a few weeks earlier. The Wyeast Brett B was straight out of the package. It would have been nice to have them all at exactly the same place/rate, but I was too lazy.

Unknown said...

As someone who is on the fence (more scared!) of getting involved with brett or any of the wild yeasts for that matter your experiment seems like a safe place to start.

New to home brewing, I have recently found your blog. Thanks for taking the time to share your knowledge and experience with us all!

Angus Boag said...

I'm considering dosing some champagne bottles of my latest Belgian-inspired ale with Brett at bottling, but I'm looking for some clarification; if the finishing gravity is 1.013, should I add priming sugar too?(and if so, less?)

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

This is an area that is very tricky. It depends very much on what carbohydrates are keeping the gravity that high and what your strain of Brett can ferment. The safest plan is to add the Brett, wait for the gravity to stabilize, and then bottle with the normal amount of priming sugar.

I just know that this recipe worked with White Labs Brett B, with a full dose of priming sugar. I'm interested (and nervous) to find out if it works with these other strains. I’m also worried because a bit of extra trub made it into the bottling bucket, so the bottles may be a bit more prone to gush.

Champagne bottles are great because they can withstand a lot of pressure. Try dosing some, and open one every month or two to check the flavor and carbonation. If it starts getting over-carbonated, get them cold to slow the Brett.

Good luck!

lylekarsen said...

I couldn't agree with you more about the Chimay/Brett combo- I've always enjoyed the way a dirtied up Abbey-style homebrew tastes, although my Tripels come out better (but that's my preference with most commercial examples too). Also, I ask a friend at a bottle shop to let me know when they get a new case of Chimay in, and I've never had any problems rousing their yeast. I'll make up two or three starters every spring, and just make sure to add 20% unmalted adjunct so there's something left over for the bugs.

B-Dub said...


Have you had time to try these yet? A few years ago I did a similar experiment with a 3711 fermented Saison. The terminal was so low I felt over carbonation was a low risk. I used Wyeast Brux and Lamb. After about a month they were great. Very fruity with a hint of funky brett. Over time they lost the fruityness and moved to a more expected barnyard brett character.


Anonymous said...

Great idea - I just finished my first Brett beer (rye saison) and put it into bottles yesterday. I decided to cork this batch (mostly to try something new...) and wanted to know what your experience with corking has been? Any tips, particularly for storage? There seems to be a split in the "always on the side" and "never on the side" camps and your input would be great! I'm in the "store upright" camp, mostly because I think that any oxygen ingress is likely to be more than countered by the CO2 production from the yeast/brett and the good seal from Belgian corks, while storing on the side seems like it would be more susceptible to cork taint and any nasty fungi the StarSan didn't nuke. Thanks!

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

In terms of CO2, I don't think it matters. I store corked bottles upright, and have never had a problem.

Many of the brewers who suggest storing bottles on their side do so to increase the surface area for the beer to contact the head space. Haven't tried it, but it might be worth considering (especially since it eliminates the pellicle ring-around-the-neck).

Don said...

Hey! Love your stuff. Sorry to bring this post back from the past but how much brett would you add if you were going to bottle the whole batch with it? Thanks!

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

2-3 billion cells would be about right for five gallons. About what is in a White labs tube.

Unknown said...

Please excuse the rookie would I create the "loose brett culure" you mentoned? Is harvesting the Brett B from dregs a suitable "rookie" method or is it best to go with a packaged product?

I am brewing a rye saison soon and would like to bottle half the batch with Brett B.


The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Loose slurry could come from any of those sources, but a packaged culture would be easiest. For dregs, they can be pitched as is, or built up if you want to spike a whole batch. The only issue with dregs is that in most cases there would be some Saccharomyces as well. You'd want to avoid beers brewed with highly attenuative ale strains, as these could contribute to over-carbonation.

Either way, for the amounts suggested, you just don't want a think culture. The culture should look like an extra cloudy hefeweizen, not paste.

Unknown said...

Great, I'll go with the WLP650. Do you recommend dosing straight out of the vial or creating a starter of sorts?

Thanks again

Anonymous said...

the one brett conditioned anchorage beer i had shot the cork over twenty feet and poured two full pint glasses of foam.

Andrei said...

greetings, oh mad fermenatationist,

the link at the very bottom of this post - "11/15/12 Tasting of all five version" - is broken. it should point to


D-Form said...

I'm looking at bottle conditioning 5 gallons of saison with two strains of Brett at once. Would it work out to pitch a vial of each into my bottling bucket (5 gallon)? Would it be a good idea to pitch a "killer" wine yeast to keep the saison II yeast from getting the bottling sugar first?

This is my 1st bottle conditioned Brett beer and I did it as my furlough beer.

Andrei said...

D-Form: yes, pitching the yeast in the bottling bucket will work fine. i wouldn't pitch them in while there is only priming sugar in the bucket as priming sugar only is going to be rough on the brett. make sure there is some beer in there so the priming sugar is diluted. pitching some wine yeast won't work: while it will suppress the saison yeast, the wine yeast will eat the sugar just as quickly as the saison yeast. so you'd be replacing one fast-acting yeast with another...

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Andrei, thanks for catching that!

Yep, pitching two White Labs tubes would be fine for one batch (two Wyeast packs would probably be too much). As suggested, I don't think the killer wine strain would help. Brett makes plenty of character even if it doesn't have much sugar to work on. It is really the bacteria that need carbohydrates to produce their character (acidity).

D-Form said...

Ended up pitching a vial of Brett C. at bottling during the last week of October and the beer came out fantastic. Huge hop aroma and great flavor. The Brett seems to be contributing a pineapple flavor with the funk adding a bit of ruggedness around the edges. Scored a 41 in the NHC.

Thanks for the help and inspiration.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Congrats! Glad your batch turned out well.

John said...

You mentioned that brewers say fermentation in the bottle under pressure is important for brett flavors, do you think this could be accomplished in a keg as well?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Refermentation under pressure is the key, keg or bottle doesn't matter! I've actually been playing around with keg conditioning funky-hoppy saisons recently. Here's notes on Saison 'Merican! I've got a keg conditioning in the basement now with a similar batch flavored with hops and wine from New Zealand.

Brad said...

Maybe I missed something, but what's the point in adding brett at the bottling stage rather than in a secondary? How much difference does using it under pressure make? And can the same effect be achieved by using a dealed carboy and letting pressure out every so often? I'm thinking about making a barleywine and finishing it with brett. I'd worry too much about exploding bottles to add it at bottling stage.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

That would certainly work! Pressure does seem to speed the Brett expression along, but it comes with risks. In this case it was much easier as I didn't have to split the batch five-ways and then bottle each gallon separately. I could sanitize, prime, and fill a single time. Especially with the high final gravity of a barleywine, allowing the gravity to stabilize before bottling would be smart. The Brett will still be active in the bottle and you'll get the pressure benefit then.

Unknown said...

Not sure weather or not my first message posted so here I go again.

D-Form, what you are describing sounds a lot what I am trying to brew, but I have little experience in homebrew and none with Brett. I am wondering if you would be willing to share your recipe which I could use as a baseline?

Unknown said...


I've got 10 gallons of saison that I'll be bottling next week. I was thinking of splitting the batch at bottling, 5 regular and 5 with Brett to be conditioned. My FG is 1.006, and so I'm wondering if it would be safe, and correct, to just pitch the Brett and not use any priming sugar? It seems like I would get adequate carbonation if it went down .003 points--but I'm a little more concerned if it went down .006 over time. I've got 750ml Belgian bottles that I plan to use for the Brett conditioned Saison.

kurineru said...

Reading this post a couple of years ago inspired me to give this a try. Each summer, I've been splitting the batch of saison that I brew and bottling half with WLP644. I'm perfectly happy with the results. By the time we open them the following summer, they've all carbonated nicely and the WLP644 batch has a noticeable difference in flavor. However, given White Labs has redesgnated WLP644 as a Sacc, I've been thinking about trying something different with my split batch bottling. There seem to be more and more choices available to homebrewers--any suggestions for a replacement for the WLP644?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I've got a similar batch bottle conditioning now, half with their 648 "replacement" for Trois. Interested to see how it turns out. I'm also using my house saison culture, which includes 644 and an isolate from Cantillon. Plenty of other choices available, try a few and see what you enjoy!

Unknown said...

Thanks for this great informational post, your blog has become a major reference point for me as I have started this journey of homebrewing. I have a saison fermenting right now with Wyeast 3711 that I am hoping to split off at bottling time to condition some bottles with WLP648 and see how that comes along. My main question is when you bottled all of these beers, did you prime them at the recommended amount for the style and add the brett, or did you reduce the amount of priming sugar for the brett bottles to lower the risk of bottle bombs? I'm not terribly concerned about my FG winding up very high prior to bottling time as 3711 is well known to attenuate like a beast. Any tips would be much appreciated! Thanks again!

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I tend to like lower carbonation, so I went on the low end to leave room for the Brett to produce a volume of CO2 if it was so inclined. 3711 will likely not leave much extra carbohydrate behind, so I might not in that case.

Unknown said...

Does Brett always eventually arrive at FG 1.000?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

No, depends on the strain of Brett and the beer.

bung said...

I'm assuming you put some sort of priming sugar in your control "P", but how much did you add for the bretted bottles?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

As noted in the notes section, I added 3.75 oz of table sugar to prime the batch.