Brettanomyces: of the non-spore genus of the yeast family, Saccharomycetacea. an acidogenic yeast when grown on or in glucose rich media, such as wort.
wort (pronounced 'wert'), as some of you may know, is beer before it becomes beer. as humans, we create everything up to the wort, but it is the magical, mystical bug known as yeast that we add to wort that makes beer. yeast feeds off sugars which the ooey-gooey wort is full of. the yeasts in eating the sugars create a byproduct known as alcohol.
voila: beer is born.
so, just what is Brettanomyces, then? for the majority of brewers, it is a bug to be feared and scorned from all processes of brewing. they like to impart an acidic quality and character to the wort it turns into beer. sour is not a widely accepted character of most beers, but there are some where sour is the goal and Brettanomyces is a precious, prized friend.
instead of hospital clean sanitary conditions, some breweries prefer the dust, the cobwebs, the dirt and the random objects that have been left where they lay for years on end. to disturb the natural environment that has formed would be to potentially disturb the centuries old formula that has allowed them to brew the magical beers that they have for centuries.
outside those brewieres, especially in Belgium and with their Lambic breweries, there are brewers who prefer to age their beers in barrels. before stainless steel, electricity, and everything we know of modern brewing was not the norm, beer was brewed, fermented, and aged in wood barrels. they had to be kept uber sanitary and clean, and any invasion by yeast bugs that were not part of the highly regulated and formulated brewing recipe were wholly unwelcome guests.
for a few daring brewers though, they want those bugs, those Brettanomyces yeast that settle into the nooks and crannies and porous material of the wood barrels. as the beer sits and settles and ferments and matures in the barrels, the Brettanomyces bug nibbles away at residual sugars and adds a bracing tart acidity of varying strength to the beer. some beers may even benefit from an additional injection of fresh sugars and Brettanomyces yeast, even as the barrel has their own living colonies.
all of this adds up to an amazing dry, tart, acidic, rich, complex beer. from a bone-dry Lambic with layers of delicate complexity to a Bretty ale or brew that has highlights of Bretty character while retaining more of the original beer style's character.
i find it amazing that it comes down to a microscopic parasite of sorts that is responsible for creating some of the most enigmatic beers i have tatsed. ever. there is a reason why Belgian Lambic Brewers still brew as they did hundreds of years ago, and why craft brewers in America and abroad are more openly embracing the magic of a beer married with some Brettanomyces yeast.
beer is about flavor. without flavor, tradition, culture, originality, and tradition, beer would be all flavorless, pale, fizzy light lagers. centuries of history would be lost, and palates would be crying for a loss they hadn't realized they had lost until it was too late.
Brettanomyces is our friend, and i look forward to seeing in what wasy during the years to come, he can dazzle and amaze and deligth all my senses in this journey known as Beer.
Beer Styles where Brettanomyces can be found:
Flanders Red Ale
Flemish Sour Brown Ales
Lambic & Gueze
there are also a growing number of American craft brewers who are utilizing barrels and Brettanomyces to their full potential. Some of which include:
Russian River Brewing
...to name a few.
while sometimes a Bretty bug can intrude upon a beer for which it was not intended, sometimes the best success is the worst mistake. that isn't to say that all beers who come across some accidental Brettanomyces character are good, but sometimes the brewer finds that it adds just that little extra zip that the beer was unknowingly looking for.
today, let us give tribute to the bugs in our beer that make them taste as wonderful as they do, especially the Brettanomyces strain. there may be no more beautiful miracle of nature.
(an original written work by Kristyn Lier. plagiarism is not tolerated)