On May 14th, 2008 Avery Brewing Company hosted another Insider Tasting Series at the tasting room in Boulder.  Peter Archer and C.V. Howe were the hosts this evening.

The initial discussion centered around the German tradition of brewing, which is fairly rigorous and strict due to the Reinheitsgebot.  The Begian Brewers, on the other hand, did not have such limitations and due to a variety of factors were able to isolate new and different ways to innoculate beer.  They have beers with the typical Saccharomyces cerevisiae (ale yeast) and Saccharomyces uvarum (lager yeast) – but thats where the Belgians differ.  They also use Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus and Pediococcus.

We started with a tap beer during the meet and greet portion of the session. The beer recommended was the LiquorMart 40th anniversary ale which was styled as a belgian IPA with the Karma yeast and orange peel additions. Yummy stuff with a very narrow distribution.

Standard Belgian styles using Abbey Yeast…

    Flight 1:

* The Reverend Belgian Quad
* Salvation Belgian Golden Ale

The second flight featured beers with different yeasts and bacteria, most notably Brettanomyces.

    Flight 2:

* Fifteen Anniversary Ale
* Brabant
* Bad Sally
* Duchesse De Bourgogne

Tasting notes:

1. The Reverend Belgian Quad: Traditional beers dubbel and tripel. The quad is popularized by American brewers who love to do things in an over the top fashion. 10% ABV, Amber. Uses the house Abbey yeast, which is a Westmalle Trappist strain. Belgian Special B grains, dark belgian candi sugar and styrian goldings hops go into this big beer. Notes of dark cherries, currants and molasses blend with a sweet caramel taste.

2. Salvation Belgian Golden Ale: Dry golden strong ale boasting 9% ABV. Styrian Goldings hops, light belgian candi sugar and the house abbey yeast. Hints of apircot, peach, nutmeg and cinnamon (muted.)

3. Fifteen Anniversary Ale: This beer was selected by Adam Avery to commemorate 15 years. It is a rare 100% brettanomyces yeast beer. The brett is an uncategorized variety that is the house strain. It was fermented in steel tanks and carefully temperature controlled. According to the notes “There is very little acetic production… No lactobacillous was added to this beer, therefore there was no lactic acid production.” In traditional Lambics, bretts are used in combination with lacto and pedio and whatever else happens to blow or fall into the fermentor. This beer is a show case for pure brett characteristics. Clear, Amber color, low head. Classic belgian aromatics for sour beers. Very dry. Low acidic sourness.

4. Brabant: Named after the flemish word for “Big Horse”. The label has the art from a painting named the Peasant Dance from Pieter Bruegel. The notes state “Primary fermentation used a Westmalle Trapist strain (abbey yeast used on Reverend and Salvation). Once in the oak barrel, Brettanomyces Bruxellensis was added for a secondary fermentation, which … created the horsey/barnyard flavors. Some variation of brett brux is believed to be what Orval uses for their secondary fermention. Aged for over 9 months in the oak cask.” This was the maltiest beer of the bunch. It reminded me of a Biere de garde. Dark brown from debittered black malts. Aged in Chardonnay barrels. Mention of “dusty cobwebs” as a characteristic. Fruit character from white grapes. 1100 cases of this will be available next year. I may have to do another distribution to my podcast buddies if I can get a case! 😉 On a side note, the barrels are from “Norman Vineyards” who have a Mephistopholes wine!

5. Bad Sally: “BAD” salvation – as in bad ass. This was by far my favorite of the night. It was a WOW beer. This was originally going to be part of the “crucified trinity” – a take off of the devine trinity of beers Avery produces. “Primary fermentation used a Westmalle Trappist strain.” I’m sure the tasting notes from Salvation apply here. Then beer was put into barrels with the same strain of brett that was used in the Fifteen, then aged for 6 months in an oak barrel taking the beer from 1.011 down to a final gravity of 1.003!!! (almost no residual sugar). Fruit forward with some acidity. ABV 10.5%. Some tanic character leaves a chalky mouthfeel. Definite horse blanket/sweat taste. Barrels originally contained Cabernet Sauvignon. This my friends is an amazing beer! I hope they produce it soon!

6. Duchesse De Bourgogne – This was the only beer that was not an Avery beer. They brought it to demonstrate what spontaneous fermentation can result in. This beer is a modified gueze (8 + 18 month blend.) This beer has heavy acetic acid presence and moderate horsey and lactic flavors. 6% ABV, top fermented reddish brown ale from the west flanders region of belgium. Personal opionion – this beer is freaking nasty. I’ve tried it 3 times now and just can’t wrap myself around it. Sorry, the Duchesse is a skank – my opinion.

Other brettanomyces tidbits: In most beer styles (and wine) brett is considered a contaminant and the characteristics it imparts are considered unwelcome “off flavors.” However, in some styles, particularly certain belgian ales, it is appreciated and encouraged. Lambic and Gueze owe their unique flavor profiles to brett and it is also found in Oud Bruin and Flanders Red Ale.

Brett is usually categorized into 3 or 4 different strains, but it’s mainly out of convenience. With Saccharomyces, the industry has spent a lot of money to identify hundreds of different yeast strains. With bretts, the money hasn’t been put into it. There is a good chance that there are also hundreds of different brett strains.