Thursday, 30 July 2015

Brewing a 100%-Brett IPA (with Amarillo and Hallertau Blanc)

Despite my severe lack of posting lately, I was actually brewing quite a bit before summer began. Starting with my recently-posted Alpine Nelson clone, I brewed six times in six weeks. This may not seem like quite a feat for some of you out there (you know who you are), but for me to pull this off with the everyday-busyness of work, family, etc., I was impressed! I had planned this a few months ago, but wasn't too hopeful that I could make it work, let alone keep to my schedule, but somehow, I did. The choice to brew so much wasn't due to any particular reason, other than that I don't usually brew during July and August, other than once or twice - I'm often away when not working, and with much-warmer temperatures (and my fermentation chamber now acting as a keezer), it's more practical to brew during the rest of the year.

So, it was time to build up some inventory while I had the chance. As always, I had lots of ideas of beers to brew, but there was one "style" in particular that I had been wanting to tackle for awhile, but hadn't: Brett IPA. Not officially a style, per se, this type of beer is exactly what you would expect, an American IPA that is fermented completely with the "wild" yeast, Brettanomyces. Brett continues to increase in popularity in the brewing world, both in commercial breweries and among home brewers. I've had a few commercial versions of Brett IPA over the past year or two, but I've been doing more reading than drinking on the subject, when it comes right down to it. There's an entire chapter of Mike Tonsmeire's American Sour Beer dedicated to 100% Brett fermentations; the whole book is a great read, but this chapter in particular is very informative.

Something interesting about 100% Brett fermentations - despite what you'd first think, there's less funky character in a beer fermented completely with Brett, compared to when it's used alongside Saccharomyces strains. Because the Brett has access to all of the simple sugars available (no competition with other yeast strains), it doesn't ferment as many of the long-chain carbohydrates. Combine that with a large, healthy pitch of Brett, and there you have it: less of the esters and phenols you expect from a Brett beer.

On the bright side, the beer should be ready to package after several weeks, as opposed to the usual period of months that you see when Brett is used with other yeast. And when it comes specifically to IPAs and other hoppy beers, Brett is a good candidate for a 100%-fermentation, thanks to its well-known oxygen-scavenging abilities - technically, the hop character of the beer should last longer, since oxidation is minimized. And Brett IPAs can be damn tasty - the well-brewed ones have a wonderful blend of tropical fruit (especially pineapple), citrus, and barnyard funk. And while it's repeated quite often lately, I still feel the urge to make clear that Brett beers generally are NOT sour... Lactobacillus and Pediococcus (both bacteria) are responsible for souring in most beers.

So, recently I had to make an online order for some homebrew equipment, and when browsing through their inventory to see if I could get my order high enough for free shipping, I noticed that there were some new yeast strains available, including several Brett strains from The Yeast Bay. The one that interested me the most was their Amalgamation, a "Brett Super Blend" featuring no less than SIX different strains of Brettanomyces, which combine to create a "dry beer with a bright and complex fruit-forward flavor and aroma, accompanied by some funk on the palate". It sounded perfect to me for a Brett IPA, so I quickly ordered a vial.

When it arrived in the mail, it was time to begin making a starter to build up the cell count. As stated on their website, Yeast Bay's Brett vials contain only about 2 billion cells each; recommendations for how many cells to use in a 100%-Brett beer vary from normal ale pitching rates, to hybrid rates, to lager rates. I weighed the opinions and decided to go with ale pitching rates, which for a 1.057 beer is about 200 billion cells; so, I obviously had my work cut out for me! I also decided to overbuild and double the count to 400 billion cells, so that I could save some clean slurry for future batches.

Luckily for me, I recently obtained a stir plate... finally. No, I don't know why it took me so long; I'm usually pretty strict when it comes to yeast health, wort aeration, sanitation, etc. but for some reason all of my yeast starters over the past several years consisted of intermittent shaking. But this was a great time to finally step things up. According to Tonsmeire, a Brett starter should begin with a low volume of wort, so I pitched the vial into 500 mL and let it go on the stir plate for a week. This is a lot longer than your typical 1-2 days for Saccharomyces starters, and I'm not 100% sure that it's necessary, but Tonsmeire mentions that maximum cell density should be reached "in about a week", so I deferred to him. After the first week, I added another 2.25 L of wort, waited another week, then chilled and decanted.

With a healthy number of cells built up, it was now time to hammer out a simple recipe. A friend had recently brewed the recipe for Tonsmeire's 100% Brett Trois IPA, and I liked the simplicity of the grain bill for that beer, so I followed it almost exactly. It consists of a majority of 2-row, along with a healthy amount of Wheat malt (~20%); lots of IPA recipes contain a bit of Wheat malt in the grist, but this is higher than normal. The reasoning makes sense: unlike Saccharomyces, most (all?) Brettanomyces strains do not produce glycerol, a compound which increases the body and mouthfeel of a beer. Therefore, the idea is that adding Wheat malt, flaked wheat, and/or flaked oats to the grist will help boost the mouthfeel so that the resulting beer doesn't come across as too thin or watery. In this recipe, a bit of Carapils for more mouthfeel, and some Acid malt to lower mash pH round off the grist. I aimed for an OG of 1.057 - definitely not very high for an IPA, but with the possible high attenuation of Brettanomyces, I wanted to make sure the ABV didn't come out TOO high. The grains were mashed at 153 F; with the likely absence of glycerol, this higher-than-normal mash temp for an IPA (for me, anyway) was another attempt to help boost the body of the beer.

When it came to the hopping, I had - as usual - plenty of options to work with. I wanted to keep it fairly simple, with 2-3 varieties, tops. Looking at my inventory, I realized I still had some Amarillo to use up from an older harvest; luckily, I had used it fairly recently and knew that it was still smelling and tasting great. So, I decided to bitter the beer with a little hop extract at the beginning of the boil, and then throw in 2.5 oz of Amarillo for a hop steep at flameout, and another 2.5 oz after turning on the chiller. For the dry-hop, I was originally going to use Equinox (I've only used Equinox once, in a one-hop Session IPA, and I loved it), but at the last minute I changed to Hallertau Blanc. I bought a pound of this variety on a whim a couple of months ago; described as having aromas of passionfruit, grapefruit, pineapple, and lemongrass, it's a new German variety that shows they're starting to experiment with hop varieties that mimic the extremely fruity American varieties that are so popular today. Sounded like it would work great in a Brett IPA - and with Amarillo - so I threw in 4 oz for the dry-hop addition.

I brewed the beer in mid-May; everything went fine on brew day, and I aerated the wort with 75 seconds of pure O2. I was aware that higher oxygenation could also limit Brett character in a beer, but I was looking for a fast turnaround to preserve the hop flavor, so I was willing to take that risk. The wort was fermented in the low 70s F. As you would expect, warmer temps will result in more of the classic Brett characteristics you expect to see, but then you also run the risk of the beer having more off-flavors. I erred on the side of caution, pitching the yeast in the mid-60s and letting the temp rise to 70-72 F.

Fermentation was fast and healthy; I took a couple of gravity readings a few days apart after 2 weeks, and it seemed to have stabilized at 1.014. This was higher than expected based on the 85%+ attenuation for the Amalgamation that is stated on the Yeast Bay website; however, it appeared to be in the normal range when I compared to other homebrewed and commercially brewed Brett IPAs, so I was happy with that number. I then added the dry-hops into primary, and bottled the beer 5 days later. This is normally a beer I would keg, but I was curious as to how the aromas and flavors would change over a few months (assuming the Brett character would increase as the hops faded), and bottling was the best option for me, what with limited keezer space and all. A note about bottling 100% Brett beers: basically, use the same sugar calculations that you would for non-Brett beers, and just keep in mind that it may take a little longer than normal for full carbonation to be reached. Yes, I was slightly concerned about bottle bombs in a Brett beer with a final gravity of only 1.014, but I aimed for 2.2 vol CO2, and have been drinking it for 6 weeks now, and all seems good.

Speaking of drinking... this beer came out almost exactly as I was hoping it would, which is rare. As mentioned, I've never brewed with Hallertau Blanc before, and maybe I got lucky pairing it with Amarillo, but the fruitiness to this beer - especially in the first few weeks - was fantastic. Very tropical, backed up by a mild funk/barnyard that has been slowly becoming more prominent, as expected, as the beer ages. I find the beer very hoppy, while some people who have tried it don't find it very hoppy at all; they still enjoy it, but they've said that it's the funk that comes through most. And at least one beer friend thought that the beer could use a little more bitterness, but personally I'm happy with it right where it is. More detail in the tasting notes below, but I would easily brew this beer again, and I'm looking forward to trying the same recipe with different hop varieties in the not-too-distant future.

Not much more to say here; I fully recommend this Brett blend if you can get your hands on it, and it seems that Amarillo and Hallertau Blanc are a fantastic combination! Watch for future posts featuring this blend in the near future; I plan to do some experimenting with both 100%-Brett beers, and combinations.
Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 75% efficiency) OG 1.057, FG ~1.010, IBU ~45, SRM 4.1, ABV ~6.5%

3.7 kg (71.2%) Canadian 2-row
1.1 kg (21.2%) Wheat malt
200 g (3.8%) Cara-Pils
200 g (3.8%) Acid malt

Hop extract - 5 mL @ 60 min (or 28 g of a 10% AA hop variety)

Amarillo - 70 g (7.8% AA) @ 0 min (with a 20 min hop steep)
Amarillo - 70 g @ 0 min (when start chilling)

Hallertau Blanc - 112 g dry-hop for 5-7 days (in primary)

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: Yeast Bay Brett Amalgamation (500 mL starter, then 2.25 L starter, decanted)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 3 g Gypsum and 3 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on May 19th, 2015, by myself. 50-minute mash with 15 L of strike water, mashed in at 153 F. Mashed-out for 10 minutes with 6.75 L of boiling water. Sparged with ~3.5 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~6.75 gallons.

- SG 1.049. 60-minute boil. Final volume on target of 5.5 gallons; OG a bit high at 1.058. Chilled to low-60s F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 75 seconds of pure O2, pitched half of yeast starter (~200 billion cells) at 66 F.

- Fermentation going strong by about 24 hours after pitching, kept up for several days before starting to slow. Temperature never got above 70 F.

- 2/6/15 - Added dry hops into primary.

- 9/6/15 - FG of 1.014. Bottled with table sugar to 2.2 vol CO2.

Appearance: Pours with a stark-white, medium-sized head that shows pretty good retention; fades eventually to 1/2-finger. Body is a light-golden color (lighter than the picture appears), with a permanent haziness.

Aroma: Huge wallop on the nose, lots of pineapple, tropical fruit, citrus, with a fair amount of barnyard funk. It all pairs together really well, IMO.

Taste: Again, huge; this is not a mild beer, but it works! As in the aroma, plenty of tropical flavors and funk, with a medium-light bitterness in the finish.

Mouthfeel: No worries about the likely lack of glycerol... this is a medium-bodied beer, quite creamy, with moderate carbonation. Smooth.

Overall: I really love this beer; it's almost exactly what I was hoping it would be when I put the recipe together. I'll likely brew it again with different hops, but I wouldn't be surprised if I come back to this exact recipe at some point again.


  1. How did you find the bitterness? I've found with the 100% brett beers I've done that the bitterness disappears, even when I use different strains. I did a double batch of IPA, one Brett and one Sacc, you could tell the bitterness difference in the two.

    1. Yeah, like I mentioned in the tasting notes, I find the bitterness medium-low. Hasn't really changed much since I started tasting it, but I guess around 45 IBUs for a beer like this is perfect for me; it's pretty much right where I want it.

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  3. What a coincidence Im making my 3rd all Brett IPA tomorrow with this same blend. This will be the first time I use this blend though. What fruit flavors ended up coming through? Though I suppose its hard to tell where the hops end and the Brett starts, at least that's how it was with my 100% Brett beers. I'm actually using Hallertau Blanc too along with Nelson Sauvin and Citra (19oz in total). I've read Hallertau Blanc is the closest thing to a substitute for Nelson, just less funky and more floral, so I'm banking on that being a winning combo. I'm also a huge fan of a large portion of wheat in fruit forward IPAs. I feel like it brings out the "juicyness" of the hops. This ones gonna have 25% flaked wheat like I usually do for saisons to help with the similarly attenuation levels. I've found that the attenuation levels for Brett blends from the spec sheets are for when you use it in the secondary. My Brett IPAs usually finish around 1.010

    1. I wish I was more eloquent when it comes to my palate! I don't think I can specifically describe most of the fruit flavours I get from this beer, although I do detect pineapple in there. Lots of tropical as opposed to straight citrus, I guess is one way to put it.

      Your beer sounds great, I can't see Hallertau Blanc pairing badly at all with Citra and Nelson; in fact, that sounds like almost a perfect combination to me!