Friday, November 29, 2013
How Does Beer Age? - 1.5 Year Old 100% Brett Golden Strong Ale
Brewery: Bear Flavored
Style: 100% Brett / Belgian Golden Strong
Appearance: light gold, great clarity, very little head, low retention
Smell: tart apple, pear, vanilla, mild hay-like funk, floral honey, slight acetic acid note
Taste: tart cider, tangy pear, floral honey, mild tropical funk, clean dry finish
Mouthfeel: tart, clean, oddly sweet finish, light body, med-low carbonation
I think it's safe to say that "Brett beer ages well" is pretty much conventional wisdom at this point. Brettanomyces was originally isolated from aged British beer, so immediately upon its discovery, it became associated with the character of beer aged in oak over extended periods of time. Sadly that character was almost immediately sanitized out of existence in most brewing cultures. Recent trends have brought it back, though I would say Brettanomyces is still not widely understood. Which leads me to 100% Brett fermentations: an extremely new development, I can't imagine there are many collectors out there with cellars of vintage 100% Brett beers. Primarily because so few commercial example exist, and those that are out there have not existed for very long. Guess that just means we homebrewers will have to try it ourselves.
On May 5, 2012, I brewed a beer loosely modeled after a Belgian golden strong ale, but fermented with Brett L and Brett B, aged on oak cubes, and with Orange Blossom honey making up a good bit of the fermentables (Belgian beers often use candi sugar for the same purpose.) The initial results were quite satisfying, though the beer was nowhere near what I'd call "funky." This was not a surprise — 100% Brett beers don't typically get very funky, despite what you'd think. The extended fermentation process — adding the honey in stages, rather than to the initial wort — also helped to ensure a relaxed, stress-free fermentation. I like my beers to have a clean and subtle approach, for the most part. At the same time, I knew this batch would be a great candidate for aging. At 8.4% ABV, it would have been a good cellar beer even as a standard Belgian, but the 100% Brett fermentation would give me the chance to explore something I'd never had the opportunity to explore before.
The results? Simultaneously promising, but also not super exciting. Truth be told, not a lot has happened to this beer since I bottled it over 16 months ago. I liked it then and I like it now, but the general profile is pretty much as I described it from the start. The fact that this is a Brett-fermented beer still isn't very obvious, at least in my opinion; it remains incredibly clean and devoid of barnyard. The goats decided to never show up, I guess. Instead, it's more of an orchard funk, with a tangy tart cider character in both the nose and taste; hints of apple and pear.
If anything has been summoned by age, it's a very slight acetic acid tang in the nose. This is quite different from the usual Brett 'funk,' however, and as subtle as it is, I don't remember ever tasting it when the beer was young. Even more interesting, I can't pick out that same character in the flavor; it appears to be purely aromatic.
Moving on the to mouthfeel, there is the subtle, difficult-to-describe 'thinning' of the body that I generally associate with aging of lighter beers. (I once tried a bottle of 1997 Corsendonk Abbey Pale Ale that tasted like a very light mead.) Here, though, it's only barely perceptible. It'll be interesting if this continues to 'lighten' with age, considering this was so light, clean and dry from the start. As a candidate for aging, it's an interesting beer as it almost defies transition — a beer that was designed to settle into its final form early on, neither falling off or adding on.
Of course, we'll see what this tastes like 5 years in.
For my original tasting notes from the fall of 2012, as well as the recipe for this batch, please click here.