Monday, August 19, 2013

Crooked Stave - St. Bretta (Spring) 100% Brett Witbier Review

Brewery: Crooked Stave (CO)
Style: 100% Brett / Witbier
ABV: 5.5%
Grade: A-

I was ecstatic when I read that Crooked Stave's beers would be headed to NYC thanks to a neat little swap with 12% Imports — it was a bit of news I never really expected to hear, given that Crooked Stave barely seems big enough to cover their home-turf Colorado market. If you spend any amount of time online reading about sour beer and Brettanomyces, you probably already know all about brewmaster Chad Yakobson, and understand my excitement. If not, suffice it to say that Chad's operation is pretty much one-of-a-kind: there is probably no other brewery in the world focusing on Brettanomyces the way that Crooked Stave does.

St. Bretta is a 100% Brett witbier, one of the many all-Brett fermented beers that Chad brews. I make a point to track down any 100% Brett beer that I can, being that I have a thing for brewing them myself, though many commercial examples I've found disappointing; either too cloying or too phenolic. Not so with St. Bretta — I could tell even before taking a sip that Chad has nailed it. The nose is bright and lively with lemongrass, citrus, oak, hay, and a relatively clean, almost Belgian-y funk that wouldn't be too out of place in a regular witbier. Surprisingly, there's also a strong undertone of lactic sourness, much more than I would expect from just the advertised citrus. (St. Bretta appears to switch up the fruit involved based on the season, which is a really cool idea. This "Spring" version of the beer uses Minneola Tangelos, which are apparently a hybrid of tangerines and grapefruit). 

This unexpected tartness is the big hook of St. Bretta, for me. It's a common misconception that Brettanomyces produces sourness in beer. This isn't really true — Brett can produce low levels of acidity, and also dry out a beer with high attenuation, which can result in a very tart character, and St. Bretta suggests the extreme end of that. I suppose some of this acidity is also coming from the fruit, but it tastes deeper and less obviously citrusy than that — there are moments where my brain is convinced this is a nice mild Berliner Weisse. Whatever the trick, it's a nice one. The tartness plays extremely well with the wheat base and makes the general fruitiness of the beer feel more earned. Towards the finish, the citrus becomes even more pronounced, ending in a slightly-bitter, slightly-tannic snap. There's little funk throughout, little declaration that this is a Brett-fermented beer. For those who still expect 100% Brett beer to taste 100% more funky, the acidity adds a nice compromise, a clear note of "wildness." And most importantly, it makes for a refreshing, drinkable beer as well as an interesting showcase of 100% Brett magic.

Availability: 12.7 ounce bottle. Colorado area, and now, New York City.


  1. I collected and cultured the dregs from a bottle. I brewed up a batch of wit and pitched the dregs that ive collected. Kegged 2 gal. After 6 weeks and it smelled like a wet rag and tasted like it needed more time for the brett to work. After another 2 weeks and it smelled and tasted much better. Also added 5g of tangelo zest for reassurance.

    Do you think the dregs in the bottle is what they use to ferment the beer?

    1. Interesting! I've been thinking I would culture some Crooked Stave dregs next time I'm able to pick up a few bottles, so it's cool to hear from someone that already has. Thanks for sharing. Hopefully that wet rag profile doesn't linger too much!

      I've listened to a bunch of interviews with Chad, and it sounds like he used to use a blend of Brett strains in his beers, but from the very beginning. In a recent interview, I think he said that beers like St. Bretta and Hop Savant are down to their one main house strain. I very much doubt he would bottle condition with something different and I don't recall him every mentioning something like that in interviews.

    2. Good to know. Crooked stave yeast is pretty killer. Ive made a saison using dregs from CS saison provisions and it gives it that tart finish that i love in sour beers. The wet rag smell reduced dramatically after a few weeks. I hope you do culture the yeast from CS just to see what you do with it. I can send you a vial from the yeast i used from the st. Bretta and tell me what you think.

    3. Yeah, I definitely will. I'm hoping I can culture some in the next few months and brew up a test batch towards the end of the year.

    4. Just wait until you can get your hands on the St. Bretta Summer. It was made with Blood Oranges.


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