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