Thursday, April 25, 2013

Belgian Pale Ale with Brett B / L - Recipe & Tasting Notes

 Belgian Pale Ale with Brett

Brewery: Bear Flavored
Style: Belgian Pale Ale / Brett Beer
Brewed: 5.6.2012
ABV: 5%

Appearance: light gold, great clarity, thin small head
Smell: tart apple, cider, pear, mild earthy funk, slight barnyard
Taste: mild funk, apple, citrus, tart ripe fruit, sweet honey, light bread
Mouthfeel: clean, soft mouthfeel, balanced sweetness / tartness, light body, low carbonation

After moving to Beacon in March of 2012, I gave myself a few batches to get acclimated to my new brewing environs and my new brewing techniques before digging in to some longer-term brews that I had been waiting a while to tackle. The first of those, brewed in May of last year, was pretty simple as far as long-term experiments go: a light 5%ish Belgian pale with Brettanomyces. Something along the lines of Ithaca Brute, or Orval — a simple beer to get some more Brett in my life.

The result — almost a year later, as I write this — is a nice beer, fruity and drinkable and refreshing, with a pleasant enough base of barnyard Brett funk and subtle Belgiany esters (but no spicy phenols). One of the Catch 22's of homebrewing is that the expectations you bring as a homebrewer can warp your perception of a beer — if you know how much time and patience went into a beer, for example, an otherwise tasty, flaw-free and appealing beer can still seem a bit disappointing. Most of my friends who have tried this have really liked it, sometimes even picking it out as their favorite in a tasting session. It definitely does have potential widespread appeal, especially as summer approaches. It's light and refreshing, though one of my main complaints is that the carbonation is too low for the style, and a bit more would give it some necessary zip and brighten up the flavors. There's a bit of the Brett funk I was looking for, though it's not aggressive and doesn't seem to be getting much bigger with time. So while Brett certainly added a lot to beer — broadening the tart apple and funky, earthy esters that the Belgian yeast may have started — it doesn't taste too "weird" to turn anyone off. As a basic Belgian pale ale, this is a very nice beer, but it doesn't showcase the wild world of Brett to the extent I was hoping. It's certainly no Brute clone, though the recipe is relatively similar.

What's interesting, though, is that I might not have needed to give it all that time at all. The profile of the beer never changed dramatically after about two months in the bottle, but I gave it the extra time anyway, figuring it wasn't going to satisfy me as a winter beer. Even long before bottling, this hit terminal gravity quite rapidly. About a month after brew-day, actually. A lowish mash temp (150 F) and a low original gravity (1.048) together made a wort that the Sacch strain I pitched had no trouble working through, so the outcome isn't really surprising. With no oak-aging, no significant O2 exposure, and not many unfermentables left to work with, Brett didn't have much else to do.

This simplicity could have some advantages, depending what you're going for: you could brew a beer like this and have it ready to drink in three months. For a Brett beer with mass appeal, that's a big advantage. You may never get the full extent of Brett flavor, but you'll still get enough for a nice beer, and one that wouldn't hog up your fermentors for too long. One or two rounds of brewing something like this and you should have a good idea of exactly where the beer will finish, and exactly when it can be bottled — at 1.011, the finishing gravity is quite a bit higher than I would expect for a Brett beer, yet it's never seemed to change a whole lot in the bottle either.

On the other hand, all my concerns with this batch would also be a pretty simple fix. Carb higher, mash higher, age on oak. I'd also recommend pitching a Belgian or saison strain with more character than the S-33 I used, which didn't seem to contribute all that much on its own.

One final note: inspired by Ithaca Brute, I added almsot 15% acid malt (at the end of the mash, so I wouldn't dramatically lower my already-soft water). It contributed about... zero sourness. This tastes about as balanced between tart and sweet as you'd expect from a light Belgiany beer, and any tartness that is there is definitely from the citrusy / cidery yeast character. This seems to square with accounts I've read from other homebrewers; you're just not going to get significant sourness from acidulated malt. While Ithaca says they add acid malt to Brute for the sourness — which is Brett-aged, but no bugs are pitched — I have to think that the barrel aging process ends up creating the sourness in that beer, either because of resident microbes in the barrels that they aren't taking into account, or because Brett reacts differently during the long barrel aging process.

4 Gal., All Grain
Brewhouse Efficiency: 80%
Mashed at 150 degrees for 75 minutes
Fermented at ambient room temp, ~70 - 74 degrees F
OG: 1.048
FG: 1.011

65.9 % Pilsner malt
14.6 % white wheat malt
14.6 % acid malt
4.8 % aromatic malt

Hop Schedule-
18 IBU
1 oz Galaxy @10 min

Safale S-33
White Labs Brett L
Wyeast Brett B

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