Thursday, August 22, 2013

100% Brett Custersianus Pale Ale - Recipe and Tasting Notes

100% Brett Custersianus Pale Ale

Brewery: Bear Flavored
 100% Brett / Pale Wheat Ale
Brewed: 6.16.2013

Bottled On: 7.14.2013
ABV: 6.2%

Appearance: light straw yellow, good clarity, light head with good retention
musty funk, light Belgian esters, overripe fruit, sweaty pineapple, papaya
Taste: papaya, pineapple, tart tropic fruit, musty funk, clean balanced finish
Mouthfeel: light body, crisp, dry finish, not overly thin

Being deeply fascinated by wild yeast, I am sort of on a quest to familiarize myself with every available lovely usable Brettanomyces strain. While Brett has traditionally been both loved and reviled for its qualities during a long, drawn-out secondary fermentation, brewing with a pure culture as a primary fermentor offers an opportunity to study new strains on their own, produce highly unique beer, and have your results be ready within two months (usually). 100% Brett beer is very possibly the only style of beer that definitely, positively didn't exist before the craft beer revolution, which makes the concept even more intriguing to me. Until recently, brewers of wine and beer were gripped with paranoia about any wild yeast coming into contact with their precious creations, and the thought of fermenting a beer entirely with Brettanomyces would have been enough to drive most winemakers into a state of existential Lovecraftian madness, followed by a fatal stroke. Suckers.

Yeast companies have for years only offered their versions of the classic B, C and L strains, but times are changing, and I believe we're on the doorstep of a revolution. Homebrewers and even commercial brewers are testing out strains isolated by enterprising yeast ranchers. White Labs released Brett Trois — similar to the BKYeast strains, this was isolated from a well known Belgian sour — as a new year-round strain. Others, such as Brett Custersianus, are only beginning to slip out there via heroic zymologists like Al Buck of East Coast Yeast, who sells this strain as ECY19. (Good luck actually trying to buy it, though — Al's yeast regularly sells out faster than many world-class beers). I was lucky enough to get this country-hopping vial from Jeffrey Crane at Bikes, Beers and Adventures. (Thanks Jeff!)

Brett Custersianus is doubly interesting as a new option to play with, as it is, in fact, a whole new species of the Brettanomyces genus. Saccharomyces cerevisiae is but one species under the Saccharomyces genus with many entirely-distinct strains, and likewise, Brettanomyces offers numerous species of its own, each with their own many many sub-strains. Despite the confusing and outdated nomenclature used to sell Brett, most commercially available Bretts are members of two species, B. Anomalus and B. Bruxellensis. Just as there is huge variety between different members of the Saccharomyces cerevisiae species, there is a vast difference between different Bruxellensis strains. And presumably, between Custersianus strains, of which this here is only one. Are you getting excited about the unlocked potential of these thousands of unknown Brett strains? Are you envisioning a future where White Labs and Wyeast sell 40 different Bretts alongside their standard ale and lager options?

It's always nice having different brewers describing flavors you've never encountered before, so I took some bottles of this and a few other 100% Brett beers to a recent homebrew meeting. I got some confirmations, some wild adjectives, but mostly, about ten minutes of puns, innuendos, and giggling regarding the name "Custersianus." Nonetheless, this was voted the unanimous favorite of the three beers I brought.

From the aroma and flavor descriptions above, you might think this beer is an all-out fruit bomb with some oddball funk scattered about. I guess that's sort of true — it is quite fruity, but much more weird and complex and hard to describe than the best adjectives I'm able to conjure can suggest. It is not, for example, as outright super tropical fruity as Brett Trois can be, and it's mixed with some much riper, funkier flavors that balance the intensity of the fruit flavors that are there. The funk in both this and my White Labs Brett C (posting next week) are probably stronger than in any other 100% Brett beer I have brewed, though it's a very different sort of funk than what people probably expect, quite different from the usual "barnyard" character. It's actually quite close to Belgian yeast in the way its character is vaguely but uniquely fruity — you want to drape all these adjectives around it, but none of them quite fit. Unlike Belgian yeast, the phenols are kept fairly low, and the beer is weird without becoming grating or cloying — I really love how balanced between faint bitterness and faint sweetness this is, and how the overall dryness leads to a drinkable, clean finish. I'm going to have to go ahead and pat my recipe on the back for that one.

There's something about Custersianus so like old, over-ripe fruit that has begun to sweat and get weird and perhaps even start to ferment a little bit — without rotting — that you have to wonder if Brett has, over the eons, actually taken on the character of the medium it frequently grows upon in the wild. You are what you eat, right? And this simple recipe, powered almost entirely by yeast, is like bathing in an orchard. Maybe an orchard with a barnyard next door.

Recipe-wise, I honestly have a hard time thinking of a complaint for this batch, with the "pale wheat ale" body and light dosage of fruity hops providing a perfect foundation for the yeast character. To my palate, this doesn't feel overly thin, which is generally a concern for 100% Brett beers. Even the clarity is good  — something I still have trouble with in my hoppier batches, and with insanely slow flocculators like Conan. Brett, while a slow flocculator, seems to drop out pretty well, especially under pressure, and leaves a beautiful beer behind. One thing I will note: this batch is another confirmation in my mind that Brett just gobbles up hop character, particularly any hops added to the boil. 3 ounces of Citra hops went into this as a whirlpool addition, plus hop extract for bittering, and there's very little hop character in the final product that I can pick out. Brett likes to rearrange flavor compounds, so I don't think these hop additions are entirely wasted, but something cheaper and more readily available is probably a wiser choice.

This was a 5.25 gallon batch that I split in half to try out two Brett strains at once. Click here to read about the second half of this batch, which was fermented with White Labs Brett C.

5.25 Gal., All Grain
Brewed: 6.16.2013
Bottled On: 7.14.2013
Brewhouse Efficiency: 76%
Mashed at 148 F for 65 minutes
Fermented at 66 degrees F
OG: 1.054
FG: 1.007
ABV: 6.2%

70% 2-row malt
20% white wheat alt
10% CaraHell

Hop Schedule-
5 ml hop extract @60
3 oz Citra hop stand for 30 min

Brett Custersianus


  1. Did you harvest any that you'd be willing to share? ;) Haven't had any luck with the ECY sales yet.

    I'm with you that all of this is so exciting. The endless possibilities out there of all these new Brett strains/variations starting to hit the market is fantastic for every imaginative homebrewer out there.

    1. I always do an extra starter step before brewing, which I then split up and save half in a carefully sanitized mason jar for later use. I hate having to wash yeast and I think this method allows for healthier yeast, since it's not going through a whole fermentation.

      I've had a ton of requests for yeast lately, honestly, so I think I'm tapped out for the near future... I need to build an actual lab in my bedroom and start ordering vials in bulk or something!

    2. Haha, no worries at all. I was half-joking anyways. I like to do the bigger starter way, as well. It drives me nuts to know how much money I could have saved on yeast over all this time if I would have done that since I started brewing.

    3. Haha, I know, right? If it weren't for hard-to-obtain strains like Conan and all these Bretts, I might never have gotten so into it, but it saves a ton of money. I've purchased commercial yeast maybe four or five times in the last year. I feel like I'm constantly, non-stop making yeast starters to prop stuff up, though.

  2. Curious - How long did fermentation take?

  3. Sorry, missed the dates up top. I'm surprised it only took a month. I've been lead to believe Bret is a slow fermenter. I guess not.

    1. No worries! That's one of the main questions / comments I get regarding Brett fermentations. Most brewers first encounter and learn about Brett as a secondary fermentor, or an infection agent. In those conditions, it can take quite a while to finish. However, when used as a primary yeast all on its own, most Brett strains I've found only take a couple weeks, maybe two months at most, to finish up. The lack of competition never pushes them to go into "survival mode", is my thinking. This depends on which strain you're using, of course, and the particular recipe, so I always check the gravity carefully when I'm dealing with a new Brett.

  4. I'm glad you liked the strain. I'm still trying to decide what I think of it. I definitely get the ripe fruit thing (maybe our thinking has always been backwards - maybe overripe fruit smells like that because there is wild yeast fermenting the sugar). I keep getting a strange vegetable thing going on, too.

    1. It's certainly interesting. Some people have picked out a vegetable thing in this one, then sometimes in the WL Brett C version. I can pull it out here and there, moreso earlier on though. While I like it, I'm not sure I would brew with it frequently on its own... but who knows. I'll probably try a few experiments blending with other Bretts.

      I hope to bring a bottle to San Diego, so hopefully it'll make its way back to the source and you can see how it compares to your own!

    2. Oh, and many thanks again for sending it along.

  5. Sounds good. Are you coming out here this coming weekend (7-8th)? Send me an email with some of your details.


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