A new and very high bar has been set for craft beer festivals by The White Hag brewery in Sligo. The purpose of this blog is for beer travel and my own wild/brett brewing but I reckon I can tie the two together after what I’ve witnessed at this festival. Over 60 beers from various European breweries were pouring at this event and for the first time at a festival in Ireland I didn’t feel the need to focus on IPA drinking for the day as there was an abundance of the beers I tend to favour like saison and Brett beers, which is testament to the diversity that this festival provided.
The saisons came from Oersoep, Black Donkey, Haandbryggeriet, Paname, Yellow Belly and Trouble Brewing. All of these were duly consumed with the highlights being Troubles and Out of Hand by Haandbryggeriet.
I knew I didn’t need to order an IPA for the day if Kinnegars Phunk Bucket Brett Pale Ale @6% was to be what I expected from a Brett Pale Ale and boy did it deliver. All tropical fruits on the nose and taste with quite low bitterness and no perceived thin body as can happen with Brett beers. Two people asked me what I was drinking and went straight to the bar to get it for themselves after a taste of mine.
Head brewer Joe guilty as sin.
This beer was going to be the runaway beer of the festival for me but this was a side-by-side tasting and Kinnegar were up against The White Hags Olcan which is a barrel aged Brett IPA. Young and fresh Brett will throw off the stone fruit aromas but when Brett is given time to age it will give off the more distinctive aromas of must and farmyard which Olcan had in abundance but it still retained a fresh hoppy flavor.
The White Hag brewery.
So what is Brett, why do I talk about it so often and why are we starting to see it on our beer menus when we attend festivals?
The literal translation for Brettanomyces (Brett) comes from the Greek for `British Fungus` and was a yeast found in British Ales in the 17th century but these days is mainly seen in American sours and some Belgian styles like Lambics and Flanders Red/Brown.
My glass made it home so I filled it with my own Apricot All The Bretts IPA.
99.9% of all beers brewed in Ireland are fermented out with the yeast strain saccharomyces which can be divided up into bottom fermenting lager saccharomyces (pastorianus) and top fermenting ale saccharomyces (cerevisiae). Lagers ferment at lower temperatures like 12C and ales ferment at higher temps like 18C.
Brett can live inside wooden barrels, on grape skins, on wild fruits or you can order it online from the yeast company like White Labs, Omega or Bootleg Biology. The reason we don’t see too many beers with Brett in them is because it can introduce that barnyard aroma I mentioned earlier into the beer given time but more worryingly from a professional brewers perspective it can slowly keep eating residual sugars in the packaged beer which can result in over-carbonated beer or worse, exploding bottles/cans! A common misconception about Brett is that it makes beer sour and whilst it can produce barely perceptible acidity the sourness in beers is coming from a lactobacillus addition to the beer or possibly even pediococcus if it has been aged.
Package of Omega All The Bretts. My go-to Brett strains.
However, there are some breweries out there that focus solely on Brettanomyces and introduce it deliberately into their brewery to enhance beer styles like saison, Lambic and American sours, styles of beer to which Brett adds a layer of complexity that saccharomyces cannot produce. Breweries like Crooked Stave and Pizza Port introduced a concept of not using any saccharomyces at all in their beer and solely use Brett for styles like IPA. The reason it works so well in an IPA is it has been found to prolong hop aroma and flavor, which is why The White Hags barrel aged Olcan still tasted extremely fresh long past the initial few weeks we are to believe IPA loses its hoppy freshness.
My own dry hopped Brett Cider at 10 months with the funky nose.
Unlike saccharomyces, Brett does not produce any glycerol which is in effect mouthfeel. A beer with no mouthfeel will taste thin and watery so to counter this problem, brewers can add oats and wheat to their beers. Brett has it’s positives in regard that it will make an IPA with extreme flavor and prolonged freshness unlike no other and my next brewing post will detail how I went about brewing my own Brett IPA called Brett Northeast.
Overall I think it’s great to see that some Irish breweries are not afraid to leave the confines and safety of saccharomyces yeast brewing and slowly introduce the beers drinkers of this country to some diversity. It’s been said that we have too many craft breweries in Ireland but this is not true, the fact is we have too many craft breweries in Ireland afraid to diversify and break free from the holy fournity (new word as I had to add IPA to the list!) of stout, red, pale ale and IPA.
Thanks for reading.