Brett is a strain of yeast. But unlike other yeast variations, it can digest any kind of sugar, including wood. This means that it can live in barrels used for barrel-aging beers and infect any beer that is stored in that particular vessel. I use the word infect, because in many beers, Brett is the enemy. This yeast produces a farmhouse, funky flavor and aroma that is undesirable for many brewers. However, some breweries enjoy this quality and use it to flavor sour beers and wild ales. Russian River is just one of those breweries.
It is believed that the first sour beer was created by accident, when the brett yeast strain was living within oak barrels that were used to age the beer. Since then, breweries have been working to control this bacteria and have successfully added it to beers to produce a funky flavor that is unmistakable. Farmhouse is an appropriate descriptor due to the wet horse, hay, leather boot smell and taste found in brett beers. Brett doesn’t make a beer sour. It adds funk to sour beers, which is why many sour beers use brett in the fermentation process.
Within the last few years, breweries have been experimenting with 100% Brett fermented beers. It seems that these beers, and any beer fermented with brett, are exploding in the craft beer community and are available just about anywhere. Some very large companies, including Sierra Nevada, are giving brett a chance. I highly recommend giving them a try. I used to dislike the funkiness that was a sure sign of brett, but now I really enjoy it. I can’t drink it every day, but there are days when I simply want a flavorful beer. Brett definitely provides that. For more information about bretttanomyces, please see below for links to helpful websites.
Russian River/Sierra Nevada Brux
The first thing I notice about this beer is the effervescent bubble popping that occurred the instant it was poured. I swear if I put my ear near the glass it would have sounded like Rice Krispies. That carbonation feeling lasts, even as the beer warms. The initial sips were similar to a Saison style beer, with just a touch of funk. As it warms, the flavor becomes pretty intense. It hits me right behind the teeth. There is this funky flavor that is kind of hard to describe. I definitely get a thick, gelatinous lemon flavor that I feel like I recognize, but can’t place it. The funkiness isn’t overpowering. This would be a great beer for someone who is a bit afraid to jump into Brett. I certainly wouldn’t call it a sour beer though. So for those of you who are wanting a sour beer and know that often Wild Ales have a sour quality, you won’t find it here. Just lemon and barnyard. I really enjoy this beer. It feels like a meal, as opposed to a beverage. It is pretty readily available, or was a few months ago.