Who’s Brett? The Phenom of Brettanomyces

What We Recently Learned About Beer – Saturday School Session 4

The yeast Brettanomyces is nothing new, not to brewers or winemakers anyway.  Yet recently, people are asking, “hey, have you had that Brett beer yet?”  So don’t be fooled, their not talking about some now famous brewer named Brett. Their speaking of an illusive beer fermented with only Brettanomyces.

Since the 19th-century, Lambic and Flanders red ales and old stock ales from Britain were intentionally (as intentional as one can be with a wildly occurring, robust yeast strain), partially fermented with Brettanomyces.  In fact, Brettanomyces quite simply means “British yeast.” And it’s now a yeast commonly sought out by brewers, even commercially.

Fortunately, modern brewers don’t have to wait for strands of Brett to descend from the heavenly rafters of the brew house, or hope the yeast seeps in from their oak barrels. “Today,” Horst Dornbusch writes in The Oxford Companion to Beer, “Brettanomyces in the brewery is increasingly anything but wild; many craft brewers are culturing this fickle organism and purposefully using it to gain complex characteristics in their beers.”

These characteristics include varying levels of acidity, some added tartness, and crisp tropical fruit flavors, most notably pineapple. Interestingly enough, while Brett tantalizes brewers and craft beer aficionados with these complexities, most winemakers see Brettanomyces as an unruly infection. Without intensive care, Brett can take over entire brewing systems.

The Colorado beer I’m after to explore this tasty yeast? New Belgium’s recent Lips of Faith Series release, a collaboration with Lost Abbey of San Diego, California: Bretta Beer.

Oliver, Garrett (ed).  (2012).  The Oxford Companion to Beer.  Oxford: Oxford University Press

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Saturday School Explanation: It seems that every time we visit a new brewery, or talk with a brewer (home or commercial), or drink with a beer aficionado, we learn something new about beer, brewing, and/or the beer industry.  We’re not intending this category of posts to cover beer news by any means (though it might on occasion).  Instead, we’ll use it as a short weekly section to discuss something new and interesting that we’ve come across that will increase the education level of craft beer enthusiasts. And there will surely be more than one posting about a topic, as these single lessons are definitely not intended as encyclopedias for any category covered.

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