Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Great BBA/EBY Brett Experiment - 5 Strains - Tasting Notes

Brewery: Bear Flavored
 100% Brett / Pale Wheat Ale
Brewed: 11.5.2013

Bottled On: 2.9.2014
ABV: Variable

The original post and recipe for this batch can be found here.

Now is a very exciting time for yeast lovers, but I bet you already knew that. While I've brewed dozens of 100% Brett and Brett-aged beers at this point — I would go as far as to label myself as a Brett Enthusiast, ie here's a shameless plug for my line of Brettanomyces-themed t-shirts — I still feel like I can't keep up with it all; there's just so much out there. With likely thousands, or even millions, possibly thousllions of wild yeast strains out there, who could keep up with it all? Maybe Jeff Mello's Bootleg Biology project, but homebrewing has inspired so many sub-hobbies and projects to clutter my schedule that for now, I don't feel too bad mooching off of other's hard work and yeast ranching expertise. Part of me is always nervous that I don't have a better method of backing up cultures than my collection of mason jars, but until I get this crazy book written, I may literally not have the minutes required to learn new tricks. Alas, the downsides of being an obsessive hobby collector.

Which is to say, many thanks to Dmitri of BKYeast, Jeff of Bootleg Biology, Sam of Eureka Brewing, and every other awesome, talented and endlessly curious biologist helping to bring new funky flavors into the world. You guys — and everyone plucking wild yeast out of the air — rock.

Sam and Jeffrey Crane's BBA / EBY Brett experiment brings us 20 new Brett strains isolated from a variety of Belgian wild ales. I chose only five to test out, using the recipe formulated by Jeffrey Crane. Using one base recipe across the board was smart; it should help beta testers to produce more consistent results, and I'm very excited to read more of those results as they pop up. My brew-day for this batch was back in November, and I gave each strain a bit longer to attenuate than probably necessary, but most seemed to achieve terminal gravity within 6 weeks. I suspect that most first-generation strains harvested from mixed-culture environments may take some adaptation to settle into a brewing environment where they're suddenly asked to do all the work, and subsequent fermentations with some of these strains may be both speedier and less wild.

While I kind of regret that I did not sign up for all 20 strains of the BBA / EBY Brett Experiment, I figured I can maybe manage to collect the most intriguing / promising ones later on. It's awesome that Sam got a number of participants for this, and did the legwork to send the yeast all around the world. I look forward to reading about everyone else's results (a few have already been posted) — maybe if you only picked out a handful yourself, we can do some trading of strains down the road.

EBY001 Brettanomyces girardin I
FG: 1.006
ABV: 5.8%

I almost hate to lead with this one, and in retrospect, everyone in my homebrew club tasting panel agreed that this strain probably put all the following beers in a tougher position. It was decidedly the crowd favorite, and I agree with the crowd. But hey, what can you do about numerical order?

Its virtues were a pleasing mix of complexity, approachability, dried-out body with balancing tartness, and some memorable fruit character. One month after brewing (in early December), I described this as being "perfume-y with mild fruit, floral, mellow;" at the time, it was also notable for having a pretty wild pellicle (which apparently I neglected to take a picture of, like an idiot.) Aroma-wise, a few people, including myself, picked out apricot (some said dried apricot skin, others said candied apricot,) mellon, mountain meadows and deep-forest mustiness, grass, and green apple in the finish.

Most significant to me was that the strain produced a beer that's remarkably tart for a Brett isolate. The fact that it had the wildest pellicle out of any of them, combined with the tartness, makes me think this is either a really unique and wonderful find for a Brett strain, or I picked up some kind of contamination along the way. Either way — and hopefully it's just the unique properties of a wonderful strain, not the latter — I loved the results. While this may not have the versatile potential of strains like Trois and claussenii and custersianus, it's something I could definitely find a number of uses for. I'm very, very curious to see if other brewer's results with EBY001 line up with my own.

EBY013 Brettanomyces cantillon VII
FG: 1.003
ABV: 6.2%

Despite looking like a gusher in the bottle, EBY013 pours with seemingly-little carbonation and almost no head. While this batch could definitely use more carb, it's actually got a nice balance, overall — finishing at 1.003, this came out the second driest of all five strains, and the resulting tartness and soft fruity acidity makes this light, sippable and pleasant. Another reason this strain seems to achieve a good balance: there's actually decent mouthfeel to this one, giving it vibes of a low-key, woodsy saison strain, with more musty dew-saturated forest funk than barnyard Belgian phenols. Cultured from Cantillon, there are traits here noticeably similar to the BKYeast Brett isolates that I've now brewed with a few times, but EBY013 is more tart, cleaner, strangely effervescent tasting (considering the carb), with fruit notes of peaches and white grapes, and faint strawberry / melon. In the homebrew meeting, all agreed that this was more subdued and mellow than the attention-grabbing EBY001 strain, but sitting at home drinking a bottle of this on its own, I think this has the makings of a fantastic, versatile strain. There's nothing really off-putting about it, and it brings a complex range of nuanced flavors to the beer without getting aggressive. I'm a big fan of that low final gravity too.

EBY020 Brettanomyces jurassienne I
FG: 1.010
ABV: 5.25%

It's interesting how the funk from these Brett strains can quickly veer from "weird, wild, musty" in an intriguing way, into sort of hormonal and raw in a very questionable way, all while existing on what is obviously the very same spectrum of flavor. The aroma on EBY020 isn't far from the others, in that you can recognize them all as coming from the same camp of funk. Something about this one makes it a little less than appealing, though. The aroma is bearable on its own; maybe just a little pungent. The flavor is the exact opposite of balanced, in a very weird way; there's a strong carbonic bite from the CO2, which makes the raw phenols and biting tart finish come across as overly aggressive. It's hard to pin down, but some combination of this aroma and this flavor-character is just too much. Someone in my homebrew club described it as "a dead cat covered in perfume." I don't know if it's all that bad; flavors that work or don't work can be surprisingly subtle in their differences. This may share many of the qualities of similar, successful Brett strains, but the elements re-stacked in this order just don't work as well.

In this strain's defense, it gets far more appetizing as it opens up and some of the raw feral weirdness dissipates. The gentler, fruitier qualities begin to emerge, and the harsh finish flattens into a smoother, crisper tartness. This one isn't outright bad, and could probably be trained to become a nice Brett option with a few rebrews in the right environment. Given the many other options, though, that sounds like a lot of work. I may try this in a few Brett-aged ales and it see how it fares when it doesn't have to be the star.

EBY038 Brettanomyces cantillon VIII
FG: 1.002
ABV: 6.3%

Every description I have written down for this strain from the thoughts' of my fellow Beacon homebrewers is some synonym of 'non-descript.' Slightly muted aroma, slightly muted flavor, vaguely estery, mecurial fruit notes. While the order we drank these bottles in made sense, it ended up putting this particular strain in an unfair position. (The context of when you drink something means a lot, as I've learned from some of my more intense friend's bottle shares.) It came after the two most interesting strains (the first two) and then the funkiest and oddest strain. Revisiting it later, I'm inclined to give this one more credit: it's not remarkable, but it's likeable enough in its unremarkable-ness. The aroma doesn't pop like some Brett strains, but its got a soft, mellow peach quality that I find unique and agreeable, with hints of orange and zesty citrus. Those notes continue into the flavor. Many of these start out weirdly harsh, with a sharp, almost tannic finish just as you open them, but mellow after a minute in the glass. After this one settles down, the flavor is soft in a good way, not a boring way. There's more 'tang' than tartness, though the citrus zest quality helps it to finish neatly. I'd say this strain is actually fairly close in character to the White Labs Brett C strain, though subtler. It could actually be very nice for a Brett IPA — bolstering some of the citrusy fruit notes from hops, but not aggressive enough to crowd them out. Just wish I had enough time and brewing capacity to play around with these things more often.

EBY048 Brettanomyces italiana II 
FG: 1.009
ABV: 5.4%

Early on (after my month-in gravity reading in early December, I described this strain as "sweaty," which is pretty typical for first-use Brett isolates, and having a character of "weird funky citrus." It's only gotten stranger. This batch is unique in having extremely little carbonation — the bottle caps are sealed, you hear the hiss, but there's just no carb and no fizz. Other than the lack of head, it looks innocent enough, the same bright, clear golden orange shade as the rest, but upon first sip: weirder and weirder. This is the first strain that is outright hard to drink. Where most 100% Brett beers can come across as thin and slightly watery due to [most strain's] inability to create glycerol, this one is weirdly viscous, almost gummy. It seems to coat your mouth and stick there. The weird mouthfeel does seem to subside a bit overtime, and it's easier to take in the flavor-notes on their own. Nothing remarkable, I'm afraid; it tastes dry with a tannic sharpness in the finish, some vague fruit notes and musty, sweaty funk. The fruit brings some interesting citrus character, mostly lemon and orange, but nothing that would make up for the beer's drawbacks.

5 Gal., All Grain
Brewed: 11.5.2013
Brewhouse Efficiency: 76%
Mashed at 152 F for 70 minutes
Fermented at ambient room temp, ~70 F
OG: 1.050 / 12.3 Brix
FG: [Varied]
ABV: [Varied]

5.5 lbs Pilsner malt 
2 lbs white wheat malt
1 lb Munich malt 

Hop Schedule-
1 oz Styrian Goldings @60 min
1 oz Saazer @10 min

EBY001 Brettanomyces girardin I
EBY013 Brettanomyces cantillon VII
EBY020 Brettanomyces jurassienne I
EBY038 Brettanomyces cantillon VIII
EBY048 Brettanomyces italiana II


  1. Pretty interesting to see your notes and thanks for going into so much detail. I think our experiences for each strain match up pretty well even though the type of flavors that we tasted seemed somewhat different. I'm due to try the 20 strains again here soon.

    1. Yeah, I think the flavors are so hard to describe in every-day words; almost everyone that I have taste these things throws out different words, with maybe a few general notes in common. I think you just have to accept that it's going to be a bit... impressionistic.

      From your results, it sounds like 8 and 10 are pretty exciting strains... I'll have to try to get my hands on those sometime. If I find any more unique strains to trade maybe we can set something up!

  2. Of the 10 that I received, we have no overlap with the strains, so I can't compare my strains to yours. I did fill out the sensory analysis sheets and submit them to Sam, but I'm due for a post sometime soon to share my notes. Have you done additional tastings on these beers at a later date? My most recent tasting (end of November) was at 13 months.


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