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Success with radical beers

Radical beers was the topic of a presentation by Chris White, president of White Labs, and Tomme Arthur, brewer at Pizza Port in Solana Beach, at the Craft Brewers Conference in April 2005.

The two brewing professionals explained that although the word "Brettanomyces" can fill brewers and winemakers with dread, it has a past of historical importance and a future filled with promise.

A growing body of professionals are learning techniques for making the best of what many in the past have viewed as an unwanted flavor in beer. They explained not only how to accept Brett in your beers but to exploit it for all of its potential virtue. The taste of Brett, if handled properly, brings complex flavors to beer and helps us connect with earlier generations of brewmasters.

The world of Brettanomyces dates back to the origins of European brewing, but the word itself is relatively modern. N. Hjelte Claussen, director of the New Carlsberg Brewery, Copenhagen, Denmark, introduced the word at a meeting of the Institute of Brewing in 1904, and named it for the connection between yeast and British ales. He demonstrated that strong English stock beer underwent a slow secondary fermentation, and that this secondary fermentation produced flavors characteristic of British beers. The flavor was duplicated by inoculating primary fermentation beer with a pure culture of this newly named Brettanomyces. At this time, there was still no connection made to the wine world.

Specifically, Claussen showed a Brett inoculation of a 1.055 specific gravity beer would achieve the "English" character. In 1947, J.L. Shimwell confirmed the conditions: a 1.060 OG beer was essential to achieve a "vinous" wine like flavor, a beer under 1.050 would produce an unpalatable and turbid beer with insipid flavor and aroma. Shimwell said Brett can behave "as a desirable organism in one beer and an undesirable one at one and the same brewery."

In future issues, we will look at some of the techniques brewers are using to get the most out of Brettanomyces.