One more scary frontier in home brewing: Brettanomyces. The name itself causes one’s knees to quake.
Let me explain. There are a many different yeasts with which you can brew your beer, and they will all lend the beer different characteristics. To simplify, the biggies are Saccharomyces cerevisiae—the generic “ale yeast”—and Saccharomyces pastorianus—the generic “lager yeast”. Ale yeast is usually put to work at approximately room temperature and creates fruity compounds as it works; lager yeast, much cooler (45-50° F) and cleaner.
But there’s a panoply of other yeasts out there that do a whole lot of other things. Hefeweizen yeast that creates banana and clove flavors. Wild lambic yeasts that create sour flavors ranging from citric to balsamic vinegar.
And then there’s Brettanomyces. Earthy. Leathery. Sweaty. “Horse blanket”. It reads strangely on the page, but it’s a key component of some of the most elegant European beers, such as Orval and Boon Oude Geuze. In the right context, these exotic flavors just shine. (If you don’t believe me: next time you drink a Sauvingon Blanc, think “cat pee” and then tell me I’m wrong.)
Brettanomyces’ superpower is that it never stops working. Most yeasts just conk out at a certain alcohol concentration. Brett can remain industrious for years in the bottle—it doesn’t create much more alcohol, it just slowly creates more flavor compounds that get funkier as time goes on.
So, whereas a hazy IPA should really be consumed pretty soon after it’s brewed, a Brett beer theoretically ages like a fine wine. Geuze brewers will mix “vintages” of various years to create a beer with just the right funk.
I’m also told that you can’t get it out of your brewing equipment—once it’s there, every subsequent beer that you brew will be a Brett. So be careful.
With this warning (and a new fermenter that I’m dedicating to Bretts), I decided I wanted to try my hand at a Berliner Weisse—a low-alcohol, non-hoppy, sour wheat beer from (naturally) Berlin. Taking a cue from various sources I consulted, I decided to apply a three-phase process: first, a two-day Lactobaccilus kettle souring; second, a weeklong primary fermentation with a clean Kveik yeast; third, a secondary fermentation with Brett. Once the beer’s gravity had flatlined, rack it and then try to be patient and forget about it for several months.
As usual, we added a twist. For whatever reason, Berliners frequently add syrups (either red—raspberry—or green—herbal) to their Weisses. I, on the other hand, had a quart of apricot puree (acquired in a bid to size up some past Northern Brewer order to free shipping status) and a fond memory of drinking Brasserie Cantillon’s Fou’ Foune at The Muted Horn (a Berlin bottle shop) on my first trip there. This felt like the perfect complement to the flavors I wanted to develop.
I really do want to let this beer sit for six months or more before really going at it. Happily, I managed to eke an extra sixpack beyond my standard two cases out of this brew day, giving me plausible deniability to crack a few to see how it’s going. I like it—it is clearly very low alcohol but has an intriguing blend of flavors with that elegance I was seeking. I look forward to giving you a report on it as of January 2024.
As for the name: one of the high points of the Yo La Tengo concert I attended at the Terragram Ballroom in February was when Ira Kaplan brutally detuned his guitar and sent it crowdsurfing during “Ohm”, the opener from 2013’s Fade. Fans enthusiastically mangled the guitar in some semblance of a guitar solo as Ira hypnotically chanted the song’s refrain, “Resisting the flow”.
This hit me deeply as a call to continue to stand up to all the forces of the world that try to bend you to their will—and to use that resistance as a source of strength. And so this beer got its name.
I’ve been meaning to do a label featuring a mecha (giant Japanese fighting robot of anime fame) for some time. Ohm means resistance, it means electronics—it clearly means mechas. This mecha is filled with beer and is fighting some ilk of mutant hop monster, courtesy of issanai from the UK.
You think you want to listen to Billy Joel. But you know you don’t. I know you don’t. And Britt Daniel knows you don’t—so you can listen to this instead.
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