It’s been two years since I started this blog, so I thought I’d share some about some very special beers I have been brewing lately. Brett beers. Brettanomyces, or brett, is a different species of yeast in the same genus as Saccharomyces, the species traditionally used for beer and bread making. Brett has some similarities and differences to sacc that make it very interesting to work with.
First, brett wasn’t really domesticated like sacc. Saccharomyces has evolved over thousands of years to be a very good and dependable fermenter in part due to its working relationship with humans. Brettanomyces has mostly been an undesirable contaminant in the alcohol industry. It can survive in wood, such as wine barrels, and eat sugars that other yeasts can’t, so it can pop up after fermentation and begin a new fermentation. It produces drastically different flavors than sacc, so it can ruin your product, and it’s difficult to get rid of.
However, brett can be used to produce some very unique beers and wines. There are many commercial strains available, and more and more are being isolated and utilized every year. When brewing with brett, you can either use it as the sole yeast strain, in combination with a Saccharomyces yeast, or after primary fermentation is complete.
If you use it as a primary strain, it will behave much like sacc, although it can ferment much more slowly. You will get some degree of fruity flavor initially, which will become less fruity and more funky over time, although this varies between strains. Underpitching brett vs ale yeast pitching rates yields better flavors, in my opinion, but fermentation will be much slower. If you pitch at ale yeast rates, you can get to a stable gravity in two weeks or so, but underpitching will tack on a few more weeks. You should oxygenate your wort well and ferment at temperatures between 70 and 80 degrees. You can expect an attenuation of 75-80%. Brett is known for eating long-chain sugars that sacc can’t, so the beer can continue to ferment once krausen has dropped and you’ve reached a stable gravity. This happens really slowly, though, so if you’ve gotten decent attenuation and a stable gravity you can safely bottle. You might have some gushers in a few months, though, so if you want to age the beer for extended time, don’t do this in the bottle. Without pediococcus, the beer won’t superattenuate, though, so bottle bombs are unlikely.
The second common way to use brett is to pitch it once primary fermentation with a sacc strain is complete. This is the method used by Orval. The brett will slowly go to work in the beer, eating leftover sugars. Since this occurs in an alcoholic, anaerobic environment, the brett will be put through stress and can contribute even more funky, solventy flavors than it would as a primary fermenter. This process can take several months. To speed the process up, pitch a higher quantity of brett.
The last way is to use brett in tandem with a sacc strain. This is what I am working on right now. I love brett beers but I don’t like how long they take to make. My method is to underpitch brett, let it go to work for two to three weeks, and then pitch a dry, vigorous sacc strain. (French saison yeast in this case) Hopefully this will get me a stable beer in a reasonable amount of time with some good flavors.
The last thing I’d like to add is that there is a lot of variation between brett strains. My favorite commercially available strain so far is brux, but I haven’t had a chance to try nanus or some of the other new ones. Furthermore, the commercial strains I have tried can’t hold a candle to some of the brett strains I have harvested from Jolly Pumpkin, Crooked Stave, and Russian River, which are much faster and more aggressive. I would highly recommend using Jolly Pumpkin dregs to create a culture…you will love the results. Read Mike Tonsmeire’s excellent blog for a lot more info on Brettanomyces: http://www.themadfermentationist.com/
Here are some brett beers I am working on.
Free Yourself: Brett brux pale ale. 5.5% ABV. 20 IBU. 100% Vienna malt and brett brux create a really nice, easy-drinking pale ale. I had this on tap for my grand opening and it was delicious. I was really surprised how much people liked it…I figured it wouldn’t be everybody’s cup of tea, but I had many people order seconds. I’ll have this on tap semi-regularly.
Universal Religion: Brett brux imperial blonde. 8% ABV. 20 IBU. A stepped up version of Free Yourself, with a little bit of light candi syrup. I’ll use brux to start this, and add Wyeast 3711 French saison yeast one week into fermentation to finish it off. We’ll see how it goes, but I’m sure it will be tasty.
Infinity: Brett C old ale. 7% ABV. 30 IBU. A 100% Brett C version of Time Byder, my old ale. Brett C was isolated from English barrels, so it seemed appropriate to give this a shot.
Provisionale: Sour brett brux mulberry brown ale. 6% ABV. 15 IBU. I love this beer, it’s one of my favorites, but it is pretty hard to make. It starts as a super malty sweet brown ale. Half the wort is left unhopped and soured with lactobacillus at high temperature, and the other half is fermented with brett brux. The two halves are combined and left to finish fermentation on the fruit. It’s a really nice, easy-drinking lightly tart brown ale.
Nature’s Wrath: 100% brett triple IPA. 14% ABV. 80 IBU. Will this beer ever see the light of day? Probably not. I made it at home with Jolly Pumpkin dregs because I knew commercial brett strains couldn’t handle the job. The stepped up JP dregs tore through this beer, taking it from 1.100 to 0.998 in one month. This beer was delicious and probably one of the most unique beers I’ve ever made/tasted, but it is far too difficult to do on a large scale. Maybe some day.