The science of brewing is something I never thought much about nearly 40 years ago when I first started drinking beer. Cheap and available was about all I cared about. So at that time, I drank a lot of crappy beer because it cost less than $2 a six pack. In college, for example, we lived on Wiedemann, a beer I’ve seldom seen since 1981 — but I was happy to learn that it’s still out there, somewhere, providing a cheap buzz for those in need of one. We called them the “Weeds,” by the way. We weren’t accustomed to the expression “in the weeds” at that time, but that’s precisely what we were, “In the Weeds.”
The Weeds served their purpose. And we drank a ton of it. A lager, it was light and didn’t taste like much — just the way we liked it. Our palates weren’t very developed, I’ll admit.
After college I moved on to better brews, largely European. I wanted to sample better beer and wasn’t so interested in a cheap buzz anymore. I did have a few friends who home brewed, some better than others. Making my own beer seemed like an interesting hobby, in theory. Then I realized I wasn’t really interested in a hobby. But I was still interested in beer
When the move toward more intriguing domestic beers began and then exploded into craft breweries on every corner, I was ready to hop on board (inadvertent pun there and I apologize). For the past several years I’ve sampled hundreds of different beers from all parts of the nation. Anytime we travel to a new place I order the locally or regionally produced brew there.
It’s been an interesting experiment. I’ve developed a taste for hoppy beers — something I didn’t think possible when I began sampling the overwhelming number of IPAs at the market or in restaurants. I once avoided stouts, but not anymore. Aged in bourbon barrels? tequila barrels? Yes to both. Along the way I’ve found I’m not a fan of beers that are overly sweet (no vanilla or chocolate flavors). I have yet to taste a sour I like very much but I’ll still try one every so often.
Which brings us back to science. A couple of regional brewers dabble in brewing with Brettanomyces, a volatile yeast that some beer makers have worked overtime to avoid. I found several references to it via a Google search. Particularly helpful was a New York Times story, “Brettanomyces, a Funky Yeast Makes Flavorful Beers,” published in 2012. here’s one small section from it.
“Often called wild yeast — a reference to its natural habitat (fruit skins) and to its volatile temperament — “Brett,” as it is widely known, can lead to unpredictable fermentations and gushing beer bottles, aromas politely described as funky, and fear. Most brewers work hard to keep it out of their tanks by sterilizing every piece of equipment.”
“Complex” is a word used to describe the taste of the often barrel-aged Brett brews that have captured the imaginations of craft enthusiasts. It’s like beer, but with a tartness that accompanies some wines. Other Bretts have a more off-putting flavor. I tried one recently from a craft brewer in Asheboro, Four Saints. It’s a brand new Brett-inspired IPA called Exile on Worth Street (great name, by the way) and I was drawn to it at the Company Shops Co-op in downtown Burlington by a manager there. It had just arrived a couple of weeks ago and had a cool rock album inspired label.
So I had to try it.
Sadly, I won’t be going back for another. The aroma after pouring was reminiscent of a barn. I couldn’t clearly define the immediate taste until I saw a Brett story that captured it perfectly, “horse blanket.” After that experience I started to research Bretts and discovered that it was a common element in other beers I’ve tried over the past couple of years that I didn’t like very much.
Noted for future reference.
I look forward, though, to trying other brews from the Four Saints stock. But I think I’ll stay away from the Bretts, at least until my palate further develops.