Serious question: where have all the brett beers been hiding?
Time was, about six or seven years ago, that you couldn’t move for small breweries releasing their latest bretted beer (whether this was intentionally so is anyone’s guess). More recently though, it feels like the yeast strain has fallen out of vogue, giving up its dwindling share of the limelight to more fashionable cultures, such as kveik.
But what exactly is brett – or brettanomyces, to use its full name? Well, the clue begins in the name, with “brettano” meaning British and “myces” meaning yeast. According to various online resources it was officially “discovered” in 1889 by the mysteriously named Seyffert at Kalinkin Brewery in St Petersburg, who isolated the strain from English beers and noted that it was what gave them their unique taste. In 1903, it became the first ever microorganism to be patented, and the following year N Hjelte Claussen of the Carlsberg brewery became the first person to publish a description for the strain.
Unlike more conventional brewer’s yeasts such as saccharomyces cerevisae, brett ferments beer very, very slowly. It could be accused of being a lazy yeast, but it’s also a tenacious one. Standard brewer’s yeasts will typically leave a certain amount of residual sugar in beers, which ensures good body and mouthfeel. But not brett. It will keep on chomping until it has consumed every last iota of sugar it can find, eventually leaving beers tasting immensely dry and “funky”.
A common misconception about brett is that it makes beers sour. This is not the case, although it does make them incredibly dry and in some cases tart (and in some cases it can make a beer smell quite literally like a goat… hence the name of the brewery that’s the subject of this review). There are quite literally hundreds of strains of brett and while not all of them are presently used to make beer, many of them produce a fruity-tasting by-product called esters, which can add flavours similar to pineapple, or passion fruit.
One particularly fruity strain has been used in Dragonaut, a fruit sour from Dundee’s Holy Goat Brewing, although “tart fruit beer” might be more appropriate, because while it’s not that sour, it is acidic, punchy and downright delicious. However, the first thing that stands out about this beer is not how it tastes, but the day-glo shade of fuschia it pours. I’m unsure what the dragon fruit adds in terms of flavour, but it makes it look amazing.
The touch of lime in the recipe is evident though, mingling with pineapple and passionfruit flavours to add a touch of zest that's funkier than a Louis Cole bassline. The finish is very dry, but over time it will become even more so, and much, much weirder. This is a beer to enjoy now or stash it away for a bit to see just what exactly the brett might do to it. As tasty as this beer is right now,
it might also be a keeper.
Matthew Curtis is a writer, photographer and editor of Pellicle Magazine. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @totalcurtis and @pelliclemag. Sign up to our All Killer No Filler subscription box and you'll find incredible beers like this one every month, plus more great writing from Matthew and our food writer Claire Bullen.