This blog post is a combination of articles I wrote for HomebrewTalk over the past several months. I held off on updating this website as a courtesy to Austin over at HBT. But since the experiment is now complete in a detailed two part series here and here, I felt it was time to add a consolidated version to the website. I hinted at the Funk In The House experiment a while back, but much has changed since when it was first presented.
Wild brews and sour beers are all the rage these days, quickly becoming the favorite style among beer enthusiasts. This increased popularity among both professional brewers and homebrewers in recent years has shed light on some of the finer nuances of mixed fermentation. In spite of this, there still exists a gap between theoretical brewing science and practical homebrewing application. My goal was to help close this gap, by experimenting with one of the most feared and beloved brewhouse microorganisms; Brettanomyces.
Brettanomyces is a wild yeast (not a bacteria) involved in the production of wild and sour beers. “Brett” as it is commonly referred to, was first isolated in 1904 and recognized as the microorganism responsible for secondary fermentation in a variety of English style-beers. Brettanomyces contributes to a wide range of aromatics and flavors from horse blanket to pineapple to band-aid, among others.
The five identified species of Brettanomyces include B. anomalus (also referred to as B. claussenii), B. bruxellensis (also referred to as B. lambicus), B. custersianus, B. naardenesis, and B. nanus (more recently reclassified as Eeniella nana). Of the identified species, B. anomalus and B. bruxellensis are most commonly available from commercial yeast suppliers, however the other species can also be purchased for homebrewing purposes.
Brettanomyces is robust and versatile enough for use in mixed/secondary fermentation, bottle conditioning, and even primary fermentation (100% Brettanomyces Beers).
Mixed/secondary fermentation is commonly seen with Lambic, Gueuze, Flanders Red, Oud Bruin, Farmhouse Ale, and American Wild Ale. This is perhaps the most common technique to feature Brett in combination with other yeast and/or bacteria. In this role, Brett can serve multiple functions, from enhancing aromatics and flavors, to improving attenuation, to breaking down diacetyl.
Bottle conditioned beers can technically be considered mixed fermentations, depending on when the Brett was added during the process. I specifically chose to separate beers conditioned with Brettanomyces because the flavors and aromatics are often more aggressive, perhaps due to the microorganism working in a more stressful environment. Here, a strong funk or barnyard influence is often the goal, such as with Brasserie d’Orval S.A Orval Trappist Ale or Green Flash Rayon Vert.
Primary fermentation with Brettanomyces is a newer trend. Here, it is not a supporting cast member, but rather the lead fermentation microorganism. The style was pioneered by New Belgium/The Lost Abbey Mo Betta Bretta and Russian River Sanctification, but nowadays many breweries feature a 100% Brett beer. Some breweries, such as Crooked Stave and The Rare Barrel, use Brettanomyces as the sole fermenter (no Saccharomyces)!
Funk In The House Overview
After researching and tasting many commercial examples of beers featuring Brettanomyces, I was intrigued enough to try brewing my own batch. But where to start? 100% Brett beers were most foreign (and therefore intriguing) to me, so I began to construct a recipe.
Drawing inspiration from a variety of beers, I concluded that a Belgian Pale/Blonde Ale recipe would render both hops and malt in the background, and let the Brett do it’s thing, front and center. The recipe was based one of my favorite examples of the style; Russian River Redemption. The recipe for this experiment was a neutral, 1.053 OG featuring 87% German Pils, 8% Belgian Vienna, 5% US White Wheat, and 19 IBUs Belma hops. A single infusion mash was held at 152F for 60 minutes. Hops were added at the start of the boil, which lasted for 60 minutes. After flameout, wort was chilled to 68F using a plate chiller, pumped into its respective bucket, and aerated for 60 seconds using pure oxygen. Each Brettanomyces culture was pitched at rate of approximately 10 million cells per milliliter. The diagram below illustrates the fermentation and conditioning processes (click here for a larger image). Special thanks to John Flynn for helping with the diagram.
The “mother wort” was split among seven 5-gallon homebrew buckets. Seven unique pure Brettanomyces isolates or mixed cultures were pitched into each bucket. These strains included ECY03 – Farmhouse Brett, WLP644 – Saccharomyces “Bruxellensis” Trois, WLP645 – Brettanomyces Claussenii, BB01521 – Local Massachusetts Microflora, ECY03-B – Farmhouse Brett Isolate, WLP650 – Brettanomyces Bruxellensis, and ECY04 – Brett Anomala. Raspberries, mangoes, pineapples, kiwi fruits, blueberries, blackberries, and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes were uniquely paired with a portion of each of the seven beers, respectively.
Fermentation and fruit conditioning was conducted over four months and each beer was bottled in the late Fall. The samples have been review by friends and family and comprehensive tasting notes (to the best of our abilities – none were BJCP certified!) can be found below.
Funk In The House Results
Below are the tasting notes for both non-fruited and fruited beers. They are subdivided on tabs for ease of browsing.
ECY03 – Farmhouse Brett:
Pours a moderately clear, straw-like color with fleeting head. Very aromatic, with dominant Belgian saison yeast notes of spice and pepper. Hay and week-old grass clippings are also noted. The flavor is aggressively herbal and peppery, very saison-like. There are mild signs of farmhouse flavors. Slight acidity is evident as the beer finishes extremely dry. pH 4.13.
Bottom Line: Produces a classic saison beer with slight brett influence.
Red: ECY03 – Farmhouse Brett with raspberries (6 lbs):
Pours a clear, cranberry-red hue with a bubbly pinkish head. Nose is dominated with raspberry and a delayed herbal aroma not unlike fresh jalapeno or green bell pepper. The flavor is evident mid palate, where raspberry is dominant. There is an earthy sweetness on the front of the tongue. The finish is somewhat chemical or solventy. Mouthfeel is dry and tart. Mild funk.
Bottom Line: Raspberries at 3lbs/gallon is magical.
WLP644 – Saccharomyces “Bruxellensis” Trois:
Less hazy than the Farmhouse Brett version, with a more aggressive head. The nose is not overwhelmingly aromatic, but waves of tropical fruits, most evidently mango, is present. There is also a subtle citrus fruit aroma. Taste is prevalent on the front of the palate with flavors of citrus fruits (orange, lemon, lime) and tropical fruits (papaya and mango). Creamier than most others. pH 3.59.
Bottom Line: Has the best combination of flavor, aroma, and mouthfeel.
Orange: WLP644 – Saccharomyces “Bruxellensis” Trois with mangoes (4 lbs):
Hazy lemonade-colored. Foamy head which leaves a thin film on the glass. The nose is full of tropical fruit aromas. As it warms, there are hints of barnyard funk, described as an “open door summer breeze”. Flavor is complex; funk, barnyard, and hay-like with a candy tartness. Fuller, creamier mouthfeel on this version, with yeasty overtones and acidity on the finish.
Bottom Line: Mangoes didn’t add much complexity to the WLP644 beer, consider 3-4lbs/gal.
WLP645 – Brettanomyces Claussenii:
Similar appearance to the Farmhouse Brett version with an impressive rocky head. Smells very funky in the barnyard sense. One taster described the aroma as “hot attic” or “warm summer car”. Also unmistakably present in the aroma is pineapple. The taste in underwhelming and muted. More neutral flavors, almost is like a blend of the first two versions. pH 3.80.
Bottom Line: Was the most aromatic, but the least flavorful.
Yellow: WLP645 – Brettanomyces Claussenii with pineapples (1 whole, chopped):
Mellow yellow appearance with a crystal light feel to it. Subtle pineapple is the most pleasing aroma, with metallic, damp attic, mouse taint, and Cherrios overwhelming the nose. Flavors are most evident when warm, but at best, a faint taste of pineapple. Refreshing, prickly carbonation is perhaps the best aspect of this beer as it is the least interesting and complex.
Bottom Line: Pineapple needs to be 3-4X the amount, consider frozen in the future (fresh is too juicy).
BB01521 – Local Massachusetts Microflora:
Pours the clearest into the tasting glass with almost no head. This version has a neutral nose with the faint smell of crushed Sweet-Tart candy and Granny Smith apples. It flavor is the most complex of the seven; sweetness rushes the palate, followed by hot/wet dog, and tart, artificial green apple candy flavors. Not the most funky or tart, but certainly the most interesting. pH 3.49.
Bottom Line: Was the most complex, but may have underattenuated
Green: BB01521 – Local Massachusetts Microflora with kiwi fruits (10 lbs):
Pours the clearest of all the beers with almost zero head. Nose is dominated by sulfur and leather. Definitely the most aggressive nose. Flavor is identical to the aroma, with sulfur, salt, and acetone leading the way to a mild sweetness in the finish. Mouthfeel shows a good body a touch of tartness. Overall this one is fairly neutral.
Bottom Line: Kiwi fruit is too neutral, wouldn’t recommend it since so much is needed (20lbs?).
ECY03-B – Farmhouse Brett Isolate:
Very similar in appearance to the Farmhouse Brett version with similar carbonation levels and haze. The aromas on this version are unmistakably earthy, swampy, and damp. The flavor is unlike the aroma, with high levels of acidity, tartness, and fruitness. The fruit flavor is incredible, reminiscent of blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries. Arguably the favorite of the bunch. pH 3.30.
Bottom Line: Had undesirable aromas but tasted the best; very fruity.
Blue: ECY03-B – Farmhouse Brett Isolate with blueberries (6 lbs):
Similar in appearance to the Raspberry version, this pours a nice ruby/burgundy color with haze. Aroma is just like a blueberry pie with undertones of potpourri, chapstick and hay/straw. Some detect “meaty and peppery aromas”. Delayed blueberry flavor with increasing intensity as the beer warms in the glass and on the tongue. Slightly acetic with good carbonation levels.
Bottom Line: Blueberries are faint, recommend 2lbs/gal for mild flavor and 3lbs/gal for aggressive flavor.
WLP560 – Brettanomyces Bruxellensis:
This one pours the haziest, with zero head. The aromas are more assertive than previous versions, with “damp wet basement” being the most forward. The classic wet blanket aroma is also noticeable, as is a faint herbal/floral smell. The flavor is very earthy, with one taster describing it like a “mouthful of mossy dirt.” Even as a 100% beer, Brux displays its classic flavors and aromas. pH 4.48.
Bottom Line: Your classic Brett strain, leather, horse blanket, and wet dog.
Indigo: WLP560 – Brettanomyces Bruxellensis with blackberries (6 lbs):
Murky brown/purple color. Nose starts off neutral but progresses into a dirt, earthy, blanket aroma. Some waves of metallic and ever-so-slight aroma of blackberry and roses. Flavors are somewhat metallic, with good blackberry flavor. The beer is mildly tart throughout with a dry finish. Well carbonated beer with fine carbonation and creamy mouthfeel.
Bottom Line: Blackberries lead to a nice tart beer at 3lbs/gal but aromatics are not as strong.
ECY04 – Brett Anomala:
The appearance of this version is very much in line with the rest of them; straw-like color with moderate clarity and effervescent head. The least aromatic of the bunch. The only aroma that can be picked out is Lemonhead candy. The flavor is also underwhelming, with citrus fruit on the front of the palate that gives way to a dry finish. Lack of funk in this batch leaves it pretty neutral. pH 3.48.
Bottom Line: The most neutral, least interesting, and balanced of the bunch.
Violet: ECY04 – Brett Anomala with Cabernet Sauvignon grapes (4 lbs):
Pours a rich peach skin/peach tea color. The nose is full of classic bretty aromas; horse sweat, worn leather, and wet carpet. Lactic acidity is prevalent in the nose as well. Taste is led by hay, grass, and grape juice. There are tannic elements from the grapes/stems which lead to a noticeable wine “feel” to this version. Tartness on the front of palate leads way to a “cloyingly dry wine finish”.
Bottom Line: Wine grapes are hard to come by and I honestly prefer the ease of adding wine directly to the fermenter as it is cheaper and easier to dial in to your exact preference (1-2 c/gal).
Rainbow: Blend of Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet beers:
Pours a murky brown/purple/burgundy color with a rocky white head. The aroma is much more inviting than the appearance, reminiscent of day-old fruit salad. No one particular fruit stands out in aroma or taste, however a bracing acidity and tartness is felt on the finish. There are mild elements of Brettanomyces, but nothing noticeable enough to pick out as a distinct flavor.
Bottom Line: The blend of all seven fruited beers build complexity, but overwhelms most signs of Brettanomyces.
Double Rainbow: Chinook Dry Hopped Rainbow:
Pours identical to Rainbow but with excessive dry hop haze. The nose is beautiful on this beer; pine forest with earthy spices battle overripe fruits. The flavor is similar, where the dry hop really shines on the front of the tongue, and the fruit flavors and acidity breakthrough on the finish. The Chinook hops do a good job at balancing this version out.
Bottom Line: The hop and tart combination is delicious, but not for the faint of heart.
Triple Rainbow: Rainbow with ECY20 added for 12 months:
No tasting notes to date since this blend is happily souring away in a glass carboy for 6 more months.
Bottom Line: Should be awesome!
Everyone has a unique palate and preference to beers, especially wild ales. From our tasting, WLP644 and ECY03-B were the clear favorites for the non-fruited versions, mainly due to approachability and perceived fruitiness. Similarly, the Raspberry and Blueberry variants were considered the winners for the fruited versions.
Hopefully this experiment has shared some insight to the nuances of each of these unique yeast strains. I encourage you to try your own experiments with Brettanomyces!