Style: 100% Brett / Pale Wheat Ale
Bottled On: 6.28.2013
I've said it before and I'll say it again: it's a fantastic time to be alive for fans of interesting beer. Hops are exploding the flavor wheel and changing our perceptions of what beer can taste like, and while yeast hasn't quite received the same level of attention, I think it's only a matter of time until the thousands of undiscovered Brettanomyces strains out there start blowing the minds of unsuspecting drinkers. Thankfully, there are ever-curious, ever-enterprising brewers like Dmitri of BKYeast, armed with a utility belt of sterilized empty vials and driven by the lure of the funk.
Dmitri is an all-around awesome dude who I've greatly enjoyed talking to about all-things beer, and who was kind enough to trade yeast strains with me. (Telling friends "I'm meeting up with a dude to trade yeast strains," will, I've learned, earn you a response along the lines of "That is the nerdiest thing I have ever heard.") In return for a few vials of Conan, I received all three of Dmitri's Cantillon Iris Brettanomyces isolates, which, needless to say, I was extremely excited about. While only a handful of people had brewed with these strains back at the time I acquired them, their reported descriptions sound quite different from anything else out there, particularly the "traditional" B / C / L Brett strains sold by White Labs and Wyeast.
After propping the three strains up, I planned a base recipe to be split between the three jugs, with some of the extra wort siphoned off and saved for starter wort. However, approaching brew day, I noticed that C3 didn't seem to be taking off like its two siblings, and a few days before brewing I decided to hold off on that one and brew with it at a later date. However, I still didn't quite play it safe enough, and a few miscalculations may have bled through into some mild off-flavors in the finished product. Nothing batch-ruining — I'm enjoying both beers, particularly C2 — but I'm sure I could have treated them a little more sensitively.
The weird measurements I ended up performing to split my mash between two 1-gallon beers and a few extra gallons of starter wort meant that my Original Gravity came out significantly higher than expected, somehow, around 1.068. I was aiming for around 1.055, and this meant that these wild Bretts — which had never previously fermented a full batch on their own, remember — were faced with a pretty strong batch to tackle. Nonetheless, I'm pretty confident that I still over-pitched, if anything — I estimate that I pitched around 200 billion cells into each 1 gallon jug of wort. As you can see in the picture below, the yeast starters were extremely active, actually more so than my usual Sacch starters. With both jugs quite full, I wasn't able to aerate much — mostly just the action of pouring the wort into the jug. However, Brett is generally comfortable fermenting with minimal aeration, and will usually produce less tartness as a result, so I wasn't too worried about aeration at the time.
Over-pitched or not, something I've never seen before happened: it took 6 days for a krausen to form, and the airlocks to start bubbling. Given how vigorous the starters performed (seriously, look how much krausen that guy is spewing), I was quite surprised by this. Both batches followed the same timeline, and finally began fermenting just as I was starting to really panic, then continued to ferment for another two or three weeks. Both finished around 1.013, which is a much higher FG than others who have used these strains saw. I hit just under 80% attenuation on both batches, while others have reported 95%+.
I'm not entirely sure what it was that held the fermentation back so much — do these yeast strains require lots more aeration than I gave them, do they not like hops, or do they simply have a mind of their own?
Appearance: very pale orange / light gold, decent clarity, minimal head
Smell: wild strawberry, musty forest, sweaty Brett funk, white wine, mead, oxidized note
Taste: tart tropic fruit, forest berries, hoppy mid-palate, mead, sweaty funk, slight medicinal, oxidized note
Mouthfeel: light body, tart, dry, med-low carbonation, acidic finish
While it's clear that a few misjudgments in my process gave this some handicaps — notably an oxidized character that's prominent at first but fades after some minutes — the BKY C2 strain still manages to shine. Of note, beyond the characteristics mentioned above, there's something about this beer that conjures the character of a wet forest meadow full of ripe, musty fruit. It's a bit different from the typical "barnyard" character: "wild," but in a different sense, kind of sweaty, earthy, and over-ripe. I've also used "mead" as a flavor descriptor above — I'm not sure if you're allowed to use mead as an adjective, but a few people, including myself, have picked up on a fermented honey-like note in the background.
The most surprising aspect of this beer, to me, is not all the wild and funky flavors that emerge upon pouring — which are pretty much in line with what Dmitri described — but how tart it is; borderline acidic. Now, I have always gone out of my way to stress to people that 100% Brett beers don't conform to people's preconceived notions of "Brett beer." Brett does not make beer sour — acidic or tart, sure, but not truly sour — and as I've tried to make clear with most of these brews, a Brett primary doesn't even get very funky most times.
So having just explained that Brett doesn't really make sour beer, I must say that this batch came out shockingly tart, finishing with an undeniable, crisp acidity. It's tart beyond what I've gotten from other Brett strains in similar fermentations, and doubly surprising considering that this C2 test finished at 1.014 Final Gravity — I was worried there might be some clashing sweetness, but there's not, at all. I would never guess that this beer had such a high gravity by how it tastes. Even weirder, reports from other brewers suggest a much lower final gravity in their batches, down to the low single digits. Dmitri himself saw a test batch finish at 1.001, which is a huge difference. And which in turn leads me to a few conclusions for brewing with C2 in the future.
First, and most obviously, a drier beer with little residual sugar will enhance the perception of tartness or acidity. Brett generally creates a more acidic profile when aerated more (and might create a bit of acetic acid when given access to continued O2, such as in barrel aging), and conversely, ferments somewhat clean when not aerated (or not aerated much) to start off with. Obviously, though, this is strain dependent — there are like a million strains of Brett out there, and there is huge variation between them. But given my experience, at least, I would suggest to use C2 in beers where the profile allows for an enhanced perception of dryness, tartness and acidity. Not that many people are fermenting stouts or malty beers with Brett, but I definitely wouldn't recommend that here.
Appearance: very pale orange / light gold, decent clarity, minimal head
Smell: musty, woodsy funk, tart fruit, mango, tangerine, peach, slight citrus hops
Taste: tart tropic fruit, mango, tangerine, woodsy funk, slight acidity, slight medicinal, oxidized note
Mouthfeel: light body, tart, dry, low carbonation, slightly tannic / bitter finish
At least in my experiment, it seems vary apparent that C1 is from the same source as C2, and perhaps even that the two strains are "related". Both have the same woodsy, dewy funk character, but the berry character is less pronounced in C1, and the off-flavors are a bit more noticeable. In particular, my C1 batch suffers a bit from a tannic, astringent finish that may be a result of tossing too many hops at a yeast-focused test batch. As with C2, there is a sort of "flat" oxidized character that I'm sure resulted from the 6 day fermentation lag, but is at least more of a lingering distraction than an aggressive flaw.
This too is still a very enjoyable beer: tart, woodsy, and funky in a very unique way from what one expects of other Brett strains. It is very clear that these two strains share a common lineage, and indeed, there is maybe like 90% overlap between their flavor profiles, with C2 leaning more towards rounded, dewy berry notes, and C1 expressing itself with some hints of tangy citrus fruit like mango, tangerine and apricot. These are hard profiles to describe, honestly — the kind of totally new flavor profile that you simply have to experience before you can start applying associations to it.
While the oxidized character bothers me, my C1 improves drastically as its allowed to open up. The astringent finish fades as the beer the more the beer sits, and is replaced by a pleasant dry tartness. Like C2, I think this yeast has a lot of potential, though I'm wondering if the overlap between them may cause me to simply pick a favorite and continue with that. With both strains, a pale, yeast-focused recipe with a simple grain bill and low-IBU hop bill seems to be the way to go. Perhaps a cleaner fermentation will allow the yeast to play better with hops — so far I've been thinking that a "pale wheat ale" type recipe is the best fit for 100% Brett beers. In a few months, I will finally get to brewing with C3, and will give C2 a second go-around in a recipe catered more specifically to its unique strengths.
2 Gal., All Grain
Brewhouse Efficiency: 75%
Mashed at 151 F for 65 minutes
Fermented at 72 degrees F
71.4% 2-row malt
22.9% white wheat malt
0.25 oz Columbus @60
1.75 oz Columbus @5
1.5 oz Simcoe @5
BKYeast C1 / BKYeast C2
BKYeast C1 / BKYeast C2