Friday, February 8, 2013

The Lost Belgian Brett

The label of a recent Lips of Faith bottled by New Belgium Brewing confirms what I've said in the past, "[t]he best part of collaboration is discovering mutual passions."  I have tried a wide range of collaboration beers, which usually showcase the brewers' interests and passions, often with some rather interesting and unique ingredients.  There are the collaborations that feature green tea in an India Pale Ale or the use of rye malt in a Saison.  Other collaborations seek to transform existing beer styles, such as "imperialize" a Flanders red ale

With the recent collaboration of New Belgium Brewing and The Lost Abbey, it was the use of Brettanomyces, a wild yeast strain.  The term is Greek for "British fungus."  Why it is referred to as "British fungus" is a little unclear, although Wikipedia notes that, in 1904, N. Hjelte Claussen discovered one strain of the yeast, Brettanomyces claussenii, while investigating the spoilage of English Ales.  Whatever the origin of the name, it is the bane of the wine world, causing wines to exude smells or display tastes that have been described with words and phrases like "barnyard," "horse stable," "sweaty saddle," and "cheese."  With respect to that last description, wine may go well with cheese, you just don't want your wine tasting like cheese.

Many of these elements may also be present in beers that are fermented with Brett.  However, the elements seem to work much better with hops and malts than with grapes.  Indeed, the Brett often provides a distinctive, yet agreeable character, such as a grassy aroma or a tart flavor.

This is what the brewers of New Belgium and The Lost Abbey were striving to achieve.  As they note on the bottle, "[u]sing Belgian inspiration, we fermented the beer with Brettanomyces, to bring out tropical fruit notes, crisp haziness and bright flavors."  They also brewed the beer with pale malts, along with Target, Centennial and Sorachi hops, which were intended to bring a slight citrus flavor to the beer.

The Brett pours a light golden color, with a substantial amount of "haziness" and a decent amount of foam.  The aromas were definitely suggestive of fruit, such as lemon, pineapple or tropical fruits.  However, the distinction comes from the flavor of the beer.  Of all the Brett beers I've tried (and I've had several), this beer was perhaps the most distinctive.  There was no significant barnyard or horse stable element to the beer.  Sure, there was a little funk, but it was relegated to the background or edges of the beer.  The principal feature of the taste was the citrus fruits from the hops wrapped in a bread-like notes from the malts and yeast.   This was by far the most drinkable Brett beer insofar as the funk was relatively tamed and not running wild through the aroma  and taste of the beer.

Beers brewed with Brettanomyces are often very difficult to pair with foods, precisely because of the unique flavors added by the yeast.  The brewers at New Belgium do offer a suggestion: Roasted Salmon with Lemon Scented Goat Cheese.  It might be worth a try the next time I have one of these beers.  And there will be a next time. 

I found the Brett beer at a local beer store with a large selection of craft beer.  If I recall correctly, it sold for about $8.99 per bottle.


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