100% Brett Brewday: All Brett Night at the Amarillo

This is a SHaSY, which is a less catchy name for a beer than a SMaSH brew (Single Malt and Single Hop), but since I used a few different malts, I went with a Single Hop and Single Yeast.

I’m fermenting with 100% Brettanomyces Clausenii, which is a nutsy yeast — it’s a dice roll with this thing, as far as my research suggests, though one can get great results. (Usually Brett is used as a secondary yeast, to get interesting effects because as an originally wild yeast it can ferment sugars that the various strains of Saccharomyces Cerevisae (“beer yeast”) can’t chew up. But a lot of people have been experimenting with making beer using Brett as the primary yeast, and getting a wide range of results. I’m curious what results I’ll get.)

The recipe is here, and as you can see it’s a simple grist — mostly Pilsner malt (the acidulated malt is really just Pilsner I soured myself overnight, as I mentioned here, though damn it all, I forgot to take a pH reading of the wort after the boil) and a little Munich and Carahell for richer color and flavor. The hops, of course, are Amarillo, which I’ve never used before, and I’m curious to try. I’m omitting spices and other adjuncts, which makes this maybe my second all-grain beer brewed with no added sugar or spices.

I mashed the grains at around 65 degrees Celcius, which is about medium temperature for mashing as far as I understand it. One thing I learned from the Clarion West workshop for writers is this: if you’re going to play complexly with one thing, keep everything else simple. For example, if you want to tell a complex, intertwining set of stories about secret societies and conspiracies, your reader will want something to hold onto, so set it in a world like ours, if not in our world itself. Make the characters relatively simpler to start with, using familiar archetypes. Don’t throw in all kinds of crazy new technologies, at least not till the reader has got a chance at establishing a sense of things. If one thing is complex, everything else needs to be simpler.

So I kept the grist (relatively) simple, went with a single malt (a bittering and an aroma addition, that’s it, to allow the Brett flavor to come through), acidulated the pilsner only because the Brett likes a lower pH, and left out the usual “funny business” (adjuncts, spices, and so on). I will throw in a little Irish moss, for clearing the brew, but even then I expect the beer will turn out a bit cloudy, like the starter has been all the way along. Hopefully the Brettanomyces will do something interesting with my big huge bucket of wort. (I’ve seen many others counseled to be patient, because Brett can take a long time to show signs of fermentation. Then again, some people find it ferments like a bullet. I’ve heard, though, this is more often the case when you’re fermenting off a built-up yeast cake, ie. the second go with Brett. So I will think over what kind of recipe I want to try for my second try at an all-Brett beer. I’m also thinking of reserving some of the starter to add to some of my Abbey Wheat at bottling time, as I suspect a little funk would be a nice addition to what I hope it’ll turn out like. But as always, we’ll see.

I’m feeling a bit meh and this brew is going to keep me up a bit late tonight: it’s been boiling for 20 minutes, and has another 70 minutes to go, plus cooling, a rest, and then moving to the fermentation vessel. (In this case, a nice big bucket with, I hope, enough headspace. As I said, I’ve heard the Brett is a slow starter, so for tonight, I’m just putting in an airlock. I’ll see whether it needs a blow-off tube tomorrow.) Still, it feels good to have gotten another brew going. And it’s warming up my house, which is cool because the knob on the floor-heating system is kaput and won’t be fixed till tomorrow… and it’s cold outside!

One more thing: this brew, like the last one or two, is a little greener than before because my friend Mark is using the grains for his wormery — because apparently spent grains are an excellent form of bedding for a wormery. The grains are spread out a tarp on the fire escape, cooling, and they should dry out a bit tonight, and a lot more tomorrow in the sun. (And into the next day, if necessary.) Knowing that the grains aren’t just going into the trash is nice — my campus doesn’t seem to have a separate food trash for the on-campus residences, so the grains were going to the dump, which is the last thing that should have been happening to them. (But one can only make so much spent-grain bread, you know? And I need to get my oven fixed before I can experiment with making spent-grain energy bars.)

In any case, I have a little over an hour left for boiling, so it’s time for me to get some cleaning up done, and then relax a bit. As I said, I’m feeling a bit meh, but I will feel even more meh if the kitchen is a mess tomorrow!

UPDATE: Post-boil OG is 1.055, which places my brewhouse efficiency at ~72%, assuming I got 18.9L of wort. I think I did, though. Maybe a little more. More interestingly, though, I goofed the sparge (realizing I’d failed to add my soured mini-mash before sparging), and ended up recirculating a large amount of my wort. Like, almost all of it. The interesting thing was that while I ended up with a stuck sparge, it happened only very, very close to the end anyway, and it happened because a bunch of proteinaceous gunk — hot break — precipitated out of the wort and then was filtered out by the grain bed. I could see the hot break right on top of the grains, thick and gooey. So… why don’t people vorlauf their complete wort? Inquiring minds want to know. I’m guessing it’ll do something funny to head retention, but I guess we’ll see!

UPDATE (Next day, 3:15 pm): There’s finally (within the last twenty minutes or so) some airlock activity — a bubble every second or two, fairly constantly now. I credit two facts:

  1. The floor-heating system was repaired this morning, and the wort has been warming on it for a while now, and,
  2. I agitated the wort inside the sealed fermentation vessel for a minute or so. (The starter, which I pitched with a certain amount of the “starter beer,” was insanely heavily oxygenated, but the wort I just let splash into the fermentation bucket (through a sanitized tube that led through the hole in the top, of course). It was mild agitation, though, and I think there had been a lot of activity already — just, not significant enough for the gas to start coming out the airlock. Seems like the Brett has replicated itself, and is now working on turning the sugars into alcohol. Whee!

Anyway, there’s steady activity now, after a terrific burst of outgassing immediately following the agitation. Sounds like a good thing to me. I’ll probably raise the fermentation vessel when I get back from my office, where I need to go for a while, in a few minutes.   I’m hoping while I’m away the lid isn’t blown off — it happens in some Brett fermentations, and I really wouldn’t want it to occur while I’m not home! But since I need to go, that’s a risk I’m going to have to take!

Update (9 Nov. 2010): The lid did not blow off. But today I racked it to carboy, and it had fermented down to a nice dry 1.008. Going to leave it in the carboy to see if it ferments down just a little more, before setting outside to clear for a week, drop some gelatin finings in, and then bottle. There’s a nice hop bitterness; I didn’t notice much aroma, and notably there’s not much hop flavor, as I’d planned–hops out of the way to let the the Brett flavor shine through.

The Brett yeast cake is now nice and built up. I am not brewing anything till Friday, though at the moment I am wondering whether I might want to do a good hardy light-amber all-Brett IPA. But for today, I’ll be busy enough just harvesting the yeast cake. I’ll think over the rest for the next couple of days.

By the way, I did not get 18.9L of wort. More like 16L. So my efficiency is a bit less than 72%, but hey, life goes on. A bit more malt in the mashes, from now on.

UPDATE (18 Dec. 2010): Well, I let this beer sit a nice long time before bottling it last night. The result is that it is pretty clear, and very mellow — quite drinkable as it was, though I think I would get tired of it, and next time I do an all-Brett beer I think I’d rather do a smaller batch (as well as using Brett L., since I’d prefer a dark cherry character to the tropical fruit). The F.G. was 1.011, as far as I can tell, and the taste is, well, a little unusual. Fruity, especially tropical fruitiness, and it’s under-hopped.

After bottling the beer, I put an intensely bleach-heavy solution into the carboy after bottling it, and soaked it overnight, along with the siphon and hose. I’m hoping that’s enough to kill the Brett C. Also, it was the second beer I bottled last night, after my Pseudo-Sahti. I figure having a little Cry Havoc in these bottles is no big deal, while having a little Brett C. in the Sahti might lead to bottle bombs if I leave them to sit.

Update (24 Dec. 2010): Well, one should not taste a beer while it is still green, but I wanted to see how the carbing was going on this beer, and weirdly enough, it seems not to have carbonated much at all. At least, the bottle I opened was flat after nearly a week, and tasted… well, let’s just say that under-hopping an all-Brett beer in the hope of letter the Brett character shine through can lead to some problems in balance. I’m hoping it balances out a little in the aging process, but it’s just… well, while it’s green, anyway, it’s not so very drinkable.

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