So...finally have these things going...hopefully I'm using them correctly
Homebrew 101: Our Wild Friend Bret….
February 27, 2015
This past week I was able to pick up a long sought after reward for being in that most awesome of memberships Trve’s OUC. As I read over the description of my newly acquired Cvlt III’s I saw several ingredients that all seemed to be worthy of such a rare and special brew. One item on the list was of particular interest to me as it represents both a level of complexity and natural beauty in what it can bring to beer. In case there is any mystery, I’m referring to Brettanomyces, an ingredient that plays a crucial role in making things a little more…natural.
What’s the big deal?
It might sound like something that was concocted in a lab, but Brettanomyces (hereafter known simply as Brett, friends aren’t formal like that buddy…) is one of Mother Nature’s greatest contributions to the world of fermentation. Out in the world, Brett is most often found on the skins of fruits and is most commonly harvested from things like dates and grapes. In what is one of the better coincidences in the fermenting/culinary world Brett was actually found when researching the cause of contamination in English Ale in the early 1900’s. Depending on the strain Brett can in fact have some rather negative effects on both wine and beer, causing some rancid and chemical-like tastes and aromas. Why would one ever want to purposefully brew with this moody bug? Well it so happens that a particular strain of Brett known as Brettanomyces bruxellensis is perfect for getting those sour and earthy notes one would look for in a Belgian style beer.
How it’s used
Given the disastrous consequences that can come from having Brett in your brew, this is an addition that requires a skilled hand with a delicate touch. Replacing your standard yeast strains in primary with this carnal monster is a bit giving your wort a full shot of gamma radiation, you’ll end up with a big ugly monster. Instead, we want to use this bug like a super soldier serum (yep, two comic references in succession, it’s the best kind of nerdy and you know it) a concentrated burst at just the right time to give it the right amount of kick.
Specifically, Brett is best included during secondary fermentation particularly for those beer types that will be in secondary for a while. Looking at the historical root of Brett’s inclusion in beer it makes allot more sense that this is where we would find Brett as it hid in the nooks of the wine barrels in which various lambics and quads were left to mature. Even if you aren’t barrel or oak aging your brew, adding just a hint of Brett to your secondary vessel and walking away can often yield some very tasty results.
That should do as a quick and dirty intro into one of brewing’s more dangerous but rewarding aspects. If you feel you are at the level that you can get acquainted with the wider world of biological players in the brewing game (or just have an interest in cellular critters) there are a few text books out there that further discuss Brett and other strains of Saccharomycetes. Personally, I prefer to learn about it the fun way, with a great pint of something wild. Cheers Everyone!