Behind the Barrels: Who is Brett and why is he in my beer?

As we release our latest bottled beer, Batch 70 / Brett Tripel, it occurs to us that we haven’t given Brett a proper introduction.

Brettanomyces is a semi-wild yeast, and wine makers and drinkers may recognize brett by its dubious reputation. In small amounts it contributes a variety of flavors and aromas, some reminiscent of band-aids or rubber with others enigmatically labelled as “horse blanket” (which, spoiler alert, really does smell like animal sweat and wool. But in a good way). In larger amounts… well, brett is infamous for ruining its share of batches.

Beer and brett have a slightly different relationship. Sure, brett can still add some weird flavors if you don’t expect it to show up in your brew, and homebrewers know that this yeast is part of the reason for the emphasis on cleaning and sterilizing. But if you treat it right, brett can create some really interesting depth and flavors.

We at CQ welcome brett into our brewhouse with open arms, and Batch 70 / Brett Tripel is a fantastic example of what this pesky little yeast is capable of. Though brett is found in all of our barrel-aged brews, Batch 70 has the unique distinction of being fermented only with brettanomyces.

When you get your first glass of this beer, breathe deep. You might notice some earthy-sweet, honey-like aromas, or maybe you’ll pick up on spicy, peppery notes first. Both are the work of brettanomyces as it breaks down sugar into alcohol, carbon dioxide, and the lovely esters and phenols that add the more complex flavors and aromatics to beer.

After your first sip, you might notice the body is nice and light for an 8.8% ABV beer, and despite the hints of coconut and vanilla, there isn’t any heavy sweetness. This snappy, quenching quality is also brett’s doing. While brewer’s yeast is best suited for the sugars contained in malted barley, brett makes short work of just about any kind of sugar, from maple syrup to honey to the fructose that comes from fruit. Strains of typical brewer’s yeast (saccharomyces if you’re fancy) may leave these sugars intact, leaving a beer sweet or syrupy. Brett breaks down all these extra sugars, metabolizing them into alcohol and creating the sort of dry brew we strive for.

Of course, you don’t need to be able to recognize the subtle differences to enjoy brettanomyces’ work. When you try a glass of Batch 70, just know that this wild little yeast is to thank for the tasty brew. Cheers, brettanomyces!