Tuesday, December 4, 2012


Brew Day 11/16/12

American Pale Brett Ale. This is my riff on Orval, which is probably the greatest beer ever. It has inspired so many fantastic “covers”, many of which are up near the top of my list of favorites: Rayon Vert, Brux, probably all the Anchorage beers… For those of you who haven’t had  the pleasure of  partaking in these greats, they are pale, yeast forward,  hoppy, and Brett’d.

I reckon we all essentially have Orval to thank for the beauty of that certain strain of Brett- Brettanomyces Bruxellensis- and its ability to lend its rustic funk to hoppy beers without grating too hard against their herbal bitterness. So good. So farmy. Some folks’ll call the funk “goaty,” “sweaty horse blanket,” or “urinal cake,” especially when it goes wrong, but I’d say “grassy,” “wet hay,” “lemony,” “pear skins,” and “herbal,” are better descriptors of how glorious it can be. I love the way it plays against a simplistic malt bill and lots of hops- Noble or American- and the depth it adds without detracting from a beer’s drinkability. Super complex, super crisp, super refreshing. Some med toast american oak should really spice things up too.

The “vision” for this recipe: Basically this should be the middle ground between Orval and  Rayon Vert. Closer to Orval in size and balance but without the phenolic Belgian primary fermentation profile, and closer to Rayon’s big fruity and piney hop aromatics. The nice Brett complexity will develop in the bottles for a couple of years while the hops fade into oblivion. If all goes well I’ll get a few cases of beer that start relatively clean and hoppy (although some funk is in order) and then transition into a great rustic farmy pale that smoothes out over a few years in the cellar as the hops fade and the Brett matures (if they last that long).

The recipe formulation was easy as pie… nice and clean pilsner malt with a touch of caravienne for color and body, with moderate doses of Centennial for layers of pine and that almost strawberry-like fruityness with some Calypso in the late dry hoping to compliment the lemon/ herbal/ apples/ pears from the Brett, and a relatively neutral yeast strain. Very easy beer to do on brew day. But… what to do with the Brett post brewing to get the beer where I want it? Brett is pretty slow acting, and produces a lot of the great funky flavors it is known for by eating the left over complex sugars that normal brewer’s yeast leave behind after primary fermentation. It is still kind of unpredictable though, and can leave you with a beer with nuances of sheep pee instead of pear skin if things go wrong, so based  on the experiments of a few great bloggers I came up with some strategies that will hopefully help get the beer where I want it:

The Proud Parents
-          Produce a very fermentable beer with a high- attenuating primary strain so that there aren’t a ton of residual sugars for the Brett to eat, thus keeping the Brett profile on the mellower side.

-          Brett’s funky flavors are partially a product of it working on phenolic compounds in the fermented beer, so I’m hoping that by using a clean English yeast instead of a Belgian strain in primary I will limit the source of some of the Brett’ less desirable characteristics

-           Bottle early (in bomb-proof thick bottles, of course) because many sources attribute Orval’s Brett quality to the fact that it develops under pressure and some aromatic by-products can’t escape. Also, oxygen allows Brett to take on a whole new level of harsh funk (like in a great Geuze). Also, this way  the hops can be enjoyed while young and fresh!

-          Brett strains are varied and abundant, but not all that well documents, so instead of rolling the dice with a strain from a lab that may be a propagation of cells that aren’t exactly what I want, I went straight to the source and just pitched the dredges from Orval and Brux into primary with no starter. The idea here is that the WLP007 Dry English Ale yeast would get a big head start to keep the Brett in check. 

This is probably the “riskiest” beer I’ve made, and could go terribly wrong. But, if all goes well I’ll get what I’m looking for and make what has the potential to be a true great.

The Recipe (for 5.5 gal into fermenter):

11.5 lbs Castle Pilsner Malt- 92%
.5 lbs Caravienne- 4%
.5 lbs Table Sugar- 4%

1 oz Nugget @ 30min

2 oz Centennial @ 15min
2 oz Centennial Dry Hop after 1 week in primary (DH total of 7 days)
2 oz Centennial Dry Hop in Secondary 1 week prior to bottling (DH total of 6 days)
2 oz Calypso Dry Hop in Secondary 1 week prior to bottling (DH total of 6 days)
2 oz MED Toast French Oak chips in secondary for 5 days. **the shipping got all F'd up, otherwise I would have gone with just one for more like 2 weeks**

Pitched 4 cup starter (cold crashed) WLP007 “Dry English” ale yeast and dredges from two bottles of Orval and Brux @ 60F with .5 tab Servomicies. Allowed to free rise to ambient high 60 in the house. Will most likely stay around 65 ‘cuz it’s getting cold outside.

Used Sonora Tap H2O with 1.5 g/gal gypsum for pale hoppy water profile.

Mashed at 145F for 45min. and the 152F for 30min.  Mash Out at 168F for 10 min.
Double Batch Sparge
90min boil

Collected 5.5 gal after boil and hop trub removal.

OG: 1.053= 69% efficiency
FG: = 1.008 for ABV~5.9%

Calculated SRM: 5
Calculated IBU: Garetz 42, Tinseth 70

11/16- Pitched yeast and put in tub with a blanket wrap for house ambient.
12/2- Transferred to secondary to get off  yeast and first dry hop addition trub. Added 1oz gelatin.

12/20- Dry Hopped with 2oz each Centennial and Calypso.

12/26- Bottled: 4.5gal into 16oz swing-tops primes with .5c table sugar for target CO2 VOLs 2.5. FG @1.008. Hydrometer samples were pretty wild... bret funk is very grassy and nice, hops are much more floral than expected... like lemon verbena, and something about the combination of the WLP007, Caravienna malt, and French Oak is making for something very candy-like about the base beer. Wow!

1/15/13- Cracked the first bottles over the weekend. Holy cow, very exciting beer. Like a fruity hop flavored hard candy with a great, sublte brett finish. Tasting pending.

2/1/13- First review. This is so good. Hoppy now, but already has some nice Brett development. Aromatic, floral, lemony, apples and pears with some hay and a clean finish. Can't wait to bring 'em to Bellingham. 

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