Brettland Amber Ale

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Here is what I did with the other five gallons of wort from Elkland Amber Ale: instead of clean American ale yeast I pitched Brettanomyces Lambicus.

I’ve been wanting to try an all Brett beer for a long time and I’ve finally gotten around to it. The inspiration for doing it with this beer was from Michael Tonsmeire’s great American Sour Beer book. If you haven’t read it yet, move it to the top of your list. Anyway, he recommended a low to moderate gravity recipe that you are already familiar with for your first Brett beer.

This yeast can work in almost any beer style, it is just important to try it as a variable in recipe you know well so you can see what it is actually contributing. This beer seemed to fit the bill perfectly.

If you aren’t familiar with Brettanomyces, I am by no means the person to try to explain it to you. This is my first time using it and my experience in drinking Brett beers is also pretty limited. Brettanomyces is a wild yeast which has made its way into mixed fermentation beers for centuriess. Long aging in barrels exposed old English beers to Brett and changed their character.

Brett is most often associated with sour beers, though it doesn’t normally contribute any appreciable sourness. The bacteria which also works in those beer bring in the acid to make them sour. The character of Brett is often described as “funk” including barnyard, horsey and hay-like flavors aromas, but that is not always true.

Brettanomyces, like Saccharomyces comes in a lot of different strains and they can contribute a lot of different characteristics to beer. That said, the one I chose is known for those classic characteristics from the last paragraph. I decided to start with Lambicus for just that reason. I look forward to experimenting with other strains in the future, but this is my starting point.

There is some wildly varying information about how long Brett will take to ferment. Today is a week after brew day and while it has slowed down, there is still visible fermentation activity. I was surprised by the appearance of the fermentation from the beginning. It didn’t look much different from ale yeast fermentations, though it was not as wild as most of them, including the one going on next to it with the same wort.

I made a starter two days before brew day and didn’t see much activity. I was worried that I waited too long to make the starter or that the yeast was just no good. Once it was chilled, I added the wort right to the starter without decanting. There was no activity that I could see and no sediment, so I just dumped the wort right in. To my surprise, fermentation took of very quickly.

Once the visible activity stops, I plan to check the gravity over the period of another week or so to make sure that it has really finished. If it has, I am hoping to bottle straight out of primary. If it has not cleared, I may rack it and wait a bit longer, but I’m hoping not to.

Once this beer is off the yeast, I plan to start another fermentation right away. I have a few more beers planned for this yeast, in fact. Part of my hold up in getting to this beer was the fact that I wanted to make sure I would be ready to keep the yeast busy once I got started. Unlike ale yeast, I understand that overmatching Brett is not really an issue, the more yeast you have the better and the more you re-pitch it, the more dominant its characteristics become. This first beer may be fairly mild, but by the third and fourth batches, I’m hoping for some serious funk.

I’m not sure what to expect this time out. I have heard that while young, you may get a fruity fermentation character, with leather and horse blanket character not coming on until later. Keep checking back to find out what I get. But be patient.

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