Thursday, July 5, 2012
New Belgium / Lost Abbey - Brett Beer Review
Brewery: New Belgium (CO) / Lost Abbey (CA)
Style: 100% Brett Beer
Some styles of beer are so new and obscure that there isn't even a name for them yet. There are only a handful of breweries in the entire world, as far as I know, that regularly produce a 100% Brett fermented beer. You may know of Brettanomyces by now as the wild yeast that infiltrates beer, creating a "funky" flavor over the months and months it takes to do its thing. As a result, anything with Brett is generally lumped into the category of "sour beer," though this can be misleading. 100% Brett beers — beer in which Brett is the only yeast used for fermentation, as opposed to cleaning up after a regular brewer's yeast went to work — aren't really sour, and sometimes aren't even particularly funky. 100% Brett beers are a weird anomaly of the brewing world, where an agent creates less flavor as a primary ingredient than if a small dose of it were added later on in the process. As obsessed as I am with Brett, I think this is only the third all-Brett beer I've ever had, and one of the others I brewed myself.
In other words, this is the rare occasion where I get to drink a beer blind, with basically no idea how it should taste. And that's nice. Brett Beer is certainly unique. What they say is true: 100% Brett fermentation creates something much more like a Belgian farmhouse ale than your typical funky, tart profile. There's just a hint of Brett in the nose — the dank, barnyard sort of Brett character that veers into the farmhouse territory of saison yeast — with an even subtler character that I would describe as 'old fruit.' The flavor is much less funky, and surprisingly sweet, starting out with a powdered-sugar sweetness and mealy mouthfeel that's very much like a Belgian golden ale with the spicy phenols removed. Moments later the funk returns, along with some tropical fruit flavors, like overripe pineapple, a bit of citrus, and some cidery apple. The finish is more sweet fruit and just a hint of spices, and it lingers a bit too long. My chief complaint would be that Brett Beer is neither crisp nor clean, yet seems as if it should be. Belgian strong ales typically offer a beer like this with the body and mouthfeel of something much cleaner; Brett Beer seems to saturate your mouth and stay there.
Here's the other thing about a beer this odd and unusual: unless someone told you why it was odd and unusual before you drank it, you probably wouldn't even notice that it was particularly odd and unusual. Anyone who appreciates Belgians should find this an interesting variation on those styles; it's light and reasonably drinkable, boasts a unique flavor and relatively aggressive mouthfeel (for something light and reasonably drinkable.) It's sweet and a bit tart at the same time, and makes for a pleasant summer beer — even if it's a bit cloying, the way rich fruit is cloying.
Availability: If I'm not mistaken, this is a sort-of resurrection of Port Brewing's infamous Mo' Betta Bretta. If that is in fact the case, I have no idea how similar that beer was to Brett Beer, since I have never had Mo' Betta Bretta. Anyway, it sounds unlikely that Brett Beer will remain as a regular either, so hunt it down while you can. 22 ounce bombers.