Homebrew Recipe: Hopbursted Brett Session IPA

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Illustration by David Witt, DWITT All-Purpose Illustrations

This recipe appears in Michael Dawson’s book, “Mashmaker: A Citizen-Brewer’s Guide to Making Great Beer at Home.” Learn more at mashmakerbook.com.


Hopbursted Brett Session IPA: this month, we will be just a bourbon barrel short of hitting all the buzzwords.

Our project will be to twist a very hoppy, low alcohol, and easy-drinking ale with a non-Saccharomyces fermentation. We’ll be gunning for sub-5% ABV, close to a 1:1 bittering unit-to-gravity unit ratio, bundles of hop flavor and aromatics but smooth bitterness, and a Brettanomyces funk so mild and approachable Bootsy Collins would find it disappointing.

What makes it tick

Brettanomyces (aka Brett) is a species of yeast that has achieved a lot of attention lately. Up until recently it was generally regarded as a spoilage microbe in all but a few beer styles (notably lambics, Flemish reds, and oddities like Orval). But with increased interest in the sour, the funky, the rustic, and farmhouse-inflected sections of craft beer, Brett is currently enjoying a golden age and is turning up in the offerings of many breweries.

Beer critic and author Michael Jackson was quoted as describing Saccharomyces as being like a dog, and Brettanomyces like a cat: Sacch will come when you call it, behave as expected, and generally try its best to please. Brett, on the other hand, will be more inclined to do its own thing. I am a dog person, and will leave out extending the analogy to litter boxes, but the fact is that even if it’s not very obedient from a brewing perspective, Brett can make some damn exciting beers.

Brettanomyces is a yeast just like Saccharomyces, which means it can be eradicated just like any other microbe. If your cleaning and sanitation regimen is tight, however, you shouldn’t need to worry much about cross-contamination. (After all, a cell of ale yeast in a batch of lager is also a cross-contaminant.)

Similar to Sacch, Brett will ferment sugar and produce CO2, alcohol, and a host of flavor and aroma compounds ranging from light tropical fruit to intensely earthy, phenolic, leathery, and even fecal. Compared to Saccharomyces, the pace of its fermentation can sometimes be plodding, taking weeks or even months to finish up. But it’s a thorough worker, capable of fermenting more complex sugar molecules than Sacch cells can handle and leaving beers very dry and well attenuated.

There are many individual strains of Brett, each with their own characteristics and sensory profiles. The one we’ll use for our session IPA is Brettanomyces claussenii. B. claussenii has a milder, more easygoing profile than its arguably better-known cousins B. bruxellensis and B. lambicus. A high pitch rate will help minimize byproducts and enhance its mildness, bringing out flavors of pineapple, peach, and blueberry that would meld well with dank, fruity hop varieties like citra, el dorado, or Australian galaxy.

Which brings us to hops. Hopbursting, in which all hop additions are added during the final minutes of the boil, is an inefficient way to achieve bitterness but an awesome way to pack on dense hop aroma and flavor. We’ll marry the tropical qualities of Brett c to a bowlful of new school hops, and it will taste very good—but your cat will still crap in your house.

A recipe to try

Hopbursted Brett Session IPA

Target OG: 1.044, Target IBU: 40–45

Shopping list:

Grain
• 7.5 pounds Rahr 2-row
• 8 ounces Weyermann CaraFoam

Hops
• 3 ounces total of el dorado, galaxy, citra, or a combination

Yeast
• Wyeast 5151-PC Brettanomyces claussenii

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