Brewing a Century: 100 Club Brett IPA
I’ve hit a lot of milestones this year, but the three biggest would have to be (in reverse chronological order) my upcoming marriage, turning 40 this July, and brewing my 100th batch of homebrew.
Sure, some of you have been doing this for decades and can’t even recall when you made your hundredth batch. But I’ve only been at it for a bit under five years, with nearly yearlong hiatus in the middle, and I’m still very much in the honeymoon phase of homebrewing. (Does it end? Wait, don’t tell me.) There are still styles I haven’t tried, or ones I’ve tried and haven’t yet nailed down. I’ve won medals, but not enough that I’m tired of entering competitions. And I still get a kick out of giving a friend some beer and getting feedback, good or bad.
For my 100th batch (which I brewed a little less than a month before I turned 40), I decided to tackle one of those untried styles, one that had (for various reasons) always intimidated me: a 100% Brettanomyces beer. I’d made several beers that used Saccharomyces co-pitched with Brett (the C2C Farmhouse saisons I’ve written about recently, others with Brett added in secondary (primarily my wild ales), and still more with Brett added at bottling (an early rye saison). But I’d never made a beer with my good friend Brett as the sole strain.
I’ve learned through experience that Brett does fun things to hops, and holy crap do I have a lot of them to use up, so a Brett IPA was a natural fit.
What’s in it?
- Method: BIAB, full-volume mash
- Batch size: 4 gallons
- Mash: 150F, 75 minutes
- Boil: 60 minutes
- Fermentation: Pitched at 77F and left at room temp in July
- OG: 1.059 (14.6 Bx)
- FG: 1.008 (6.7 Bx)
- ABV: 6.7%
- IBU: 56
- 6 lbs Mecca Grade Lamonta (Pale Ale Malt) (66.7%)
- 1 lbs Mecca Grade Vanora (Vienna Malt) (11.1%)
- 1 lbs Simpsons Golden Naked Oats (11.1%)
- 1 bs Briess White Wheat Malt (11.1%)
- 28g Strata [12.9% AA, 38 IBU] @ 30 minutes
- 28g El Dorado [11.9% AA, 6 IBU] @ WP 20 minutes
- 28g Mosaic [11.2% AA, 6 IBU] @ WP 20 minutes
- 28g Strata [7 IBU] @ WP 20 minutes
- 28g each El Dorado, Mosaic, Strata @ DH, 3 days
- Yeast: 2L starter Imperial Yeast W15 Suburban Brett, chilled and decanted
- Water: 5.15 gallons Bend tap + 3g CaCl2, 10g gypsum, and 1.7g lactic acid 88%
- Presumed Water Profile: Ca2+ 169 | Cl– 77 | SO42- 287 | Mash pH 5.35
How’d it go?
Brewing a Brett IPA is just like brewing a regular IPA, except that you don’t have to chill it quite as much before pitching yeast, and when you pitch, you… pitch Brett, not Sacc. So, my brew day went fine. Totally normal.
I skipped taking a pre-boil reading, and my OG was a bit under predicted at 14.6 Bx or 1.059 (giving me 72% efficiency compared to my usual 78%), but that’s fine. Whatever. Brett’s gonna do what it’s gonna do, so no need to worry about exact OG or FG. I chilled to about 77F, pitched the yeast, and let it ride at room temp in my laundry room, which would have been around 76 degrees ambient in the middle of July.
While the brew day was a breeze, fermentation was kind of a rollercoaster. The beer finished relatively quickly—it hit a SG of 1.013 in just 9 days, and 1.010 in three weeks. I dry-hopped it at that point, which in retrospect was maybe a bit hasty. I put it in the keezer after a three-day DH, thinking it’d be ready to go. But… nope!
After it had carbonated, the funk outweighed virtually anything else in the flavor. It wasn’t entirely unpleasant, but it was tinged with the blue cheesy, kinda gym sock-smelling thing that really aggressive Brett fermentations can develop before they fully mature. A week after carbing, and after a few tastings, I reluctantly took it out of the keezer. It just wasn’t ready.
I let the keg sit in my garage at ambient temp (high 70s to mid-80s), hoping it would accelerate yeast activity, and hey—it actually worked. (Or at least time did, not sure about the temperature thing.) After another three weeks or so, samples showed it was a very different and more balanced beer.
How’s it taste?
Appearance: Honey gold, with a rapidly dissipating white head. I’ve never met a Brett beer that kept its head particularly well, and this Brett IPA is no exception. Though I didn’t explicitly intend for this to be a hazy IPA, it certainly ended up that way. As I write this, I’m three months out from brew day and it’s still hazy as heck, though not the full-on turbid mess that some NEIPAs are.
Aroma: I have trouble with the aroma of this beer, and it’s 100% because of the Brett. I keep a bucket at my kegerator that I use to catch the stale ounce or two left in the lines before a proper pour. Since I make a lot of wild and sour beers, this bucket is permanently infected with Brett, so it’s always got a pellicle. And in the hot summer months, well… it smells like Brett… on steroids. Flies circle it, nest in it, reproduce in it. (It’s a hot mess, and I need a better solution.) While it’s not as strong as it once was, that aroma is present in this beer as well. It’s a tough smell to describe, but I’d say it’s horsey, with that mix of leather, sweat, and musty hay that the best examples of Brett Brux beers are known for. While that aroma leads, under it there’s a strong current of green hop character and ripe tropical fruit—passionfruit, mango, pineapple. For a lot of people, I think it’d be pretty appealing. I’m halfway to loving it myself, but unfortunately it immediately brings to mind that crusty bucket in my garage.
Taste: The yeast and hops dominate, in that order, and kind of commingle in interesting ways. The horse blanket funk from the nose is readily apparent, but in concert with the tropical hop flavors from the fruit it’s transmuted into an ultra-ripe fruit character that’s altogether distinct. There’s that ripe, ripe mango again—like, almost dripping syrup while still on the tree—but also the impression of bitters, with a strong herbal thing. Almost medicinal, but not in a phenolic, infected kind of way. I know that doesn’t sound particularly appealing, and yet… it is?
Mouthfeel: It’s a strange one, since it feels thin initially, as you’d expect from a beer with this kind of FG, but the fullness of flavor is such that it ends up feeling full on your tongue after a few sips. The carb feels low, which further accentuates the full feeling.
Would I brew it again?
Absolutely! Though next time I’d wait till the beer was tasting right before dry-hopping. I think DHing too early may have dulled the hop edge in the finished product here. The beer tastes great, but I feel like it could be even better if DH’d closer to serving, or perhaps if given a second DH after the extended cleanup fermentation period.
I like the hop profile in this beer, but I’d also experiment with some different varieties—I’ve had trouble incorporating Galaxy into my hazies, getting too much bitterness, but given the way Brett seems to feast on IBUs, I think it’d work really well here.