Sometimes I just don't give a damn for the style guidelines. This is a bit of a bastard beer: spiced like a wit, but with rye grain instead of wheat, and instead of getting its fruity esters from a belgian strain, I've chosen to go for the fruity flavors from Brett trois.
Rye malt on the left, barley malt on the right.
Personally, I absolutely adore the flavor of rye in a beer. It lends a sort of spicy graininess that is very unique. One of my favorite recipes is a malty amber ale with a heavy dose of rye to blend that complexity with some caramel flavor and sweetness. As you can see in the picture, rye malt looks a bit different from barley with a bit of a smaller kernel and a slightly greenish color. The smaller size of the grain calls for a small adjustment of the grain mill to get a good crush before mashing. You can get either flaked rye or rye malt, I've only ever used rye malt but I hear that flaked rye has more of a grassy, earthy flavor to it. Rye malt has some mash characteristics like wheat malt in that it has a higher protein content than most barley varieties and it doesn't have a husk so it will give a very thick mash that tends to stick and lets the sparge trickle out. To mitigate this, you can either crush a little rougher to improve draining, or toss in a few handfulls of rice hulls into the mash tun.
Fermenting with Brettanomyces is one of the many joys I have in homebrewing. Their uses vary wildly, and their characteristics are diverse as well. Brettanomyces is generally associated with wild and sour beers where it is used alongside Saccharomyces. When Brettanomyces is used with Saccharomyces (normal brewer's yeast), it creates "funky" flavors that can range from earthy, to leather, to rustic flavors reminiscent of hay, horse blanket or mustyness. For other strains of "Brett", they lend more fruity flavors like pie cherry or citrus alongside a hint of funk. For most, these are an acquired taste. I like to describe sour beers as the "stinky cheese of beer". If you've lived your whole life eating mozzarella, then brie or blue cheese is going to be quite a bit of a shock to your palate.
These wild, weird (and delicious) flavors are typically produced mostly when you ferment Brett with typical ale or lager yeast. More recently, brewers and homebrewers have been experimenting with fermenting beers completely with Brettanomyces, which gives some interesting results! Logically, you would assume that with more Brett comes more funk, but it's actually the opposite. When beers are fermented entirely with Brettanomyces, the beers end up rather neutral and actually quite ale-like. Different strains of Brett will yield different minor characteristics, like the hints of tartness and pie cherry from Wyeast Brett. lambicus, or the Passionfruit, orange and guava notes in this case from White Labs Brett. brux trois. Usually, secondary Brett makes the beer very dry, and takes several months to complete fermentation, but with 100% Brett primary the beer finishes in a few weeks and doesn't eat all of the larger chain sugars. Another thing is that Saccharomyces produces some glycerin that gives some mouthfeel to the beer, while Brett doesn't which can give a more thin feeling beer.
When pitching the yeast for 100% Brettanomyces beers, most guides suggest using lager like pitching rates, about twice the amount for your typical ale. In most cases, this would be a double stepped up starter, or one that could easily reach 3-4 litres. In my experience though, it depends on the strain. With every other strain so far, I would heartily agree that you should build up a thick strong starter moreso than you would for your usual ales, but with this specific strain, Brett brux trois, I found that it was vigorously fermenting and happy at your usual ale pitching rate!
This can't be too surprising considering that Brett trois is hailed as the best strain for 100% Brett fermentations. It lends itself very well to IPA's with its tropical fruit esters, but these are done all the time, and I wanted to try something a little different with this wit.
I built up the small white labs vial to a 200 mL starter and then a 1600 mL starter before pitching it to the wort. The beer was healthily fermenting 24 hours later, and was left for a month in the primary to make sure that it fermented completely in my cool basement. Brett usually prefers temperatures like belgian yeast strains around 70-80*F.
With wits, I don't usually add the spices to the boil as I know that the CO2 produced during fermentation can scrub out some of the flavors and muddle them. I usually make a spice tea and add it at bottling in order to keep the spices bright and apparent. For this, I used the typical orange zest and coriander, but also a touch of chamomille and grains of paradise.
OG: 1.042, FG: 1.008
2# Rye malt
0.5# Crystal 40
1.25 oz Hallertauer 60 mins
1.5 L starter of Brettanomyces bruxellensis trois, stepped up from a 200 mL starter.
Fermented at basement ambient ~60*F
Fermented at basement ambient ~60*F
O2 injected with diffusion stone - 60 seconds
Spices at bottling (in tea)
Zest of 4 navel oranges
1/2 oz coriander (cracked)
1/4 oz chamomille
2g grains of paradise (cracked)
Appearance:Very clear, deep yellow colour bordering on golden. Thick pure white head that stays for a prolonged period and fades to a half finger over a half hour.
Aroma: Malty graininess, apparent orange zest smell, and a pepper grain smell.
Flavor: Bright fruit flavors, mostly orange with some definite other tropical fruit flavors backing it up. The coriander comes through in the finish with a bit of pepperiness that might be from the grains of paradise. The malt flavors are obscured by the fruitiness, but the rye still has a bit of a bite at the back of the mouth.
Mouthfeel: A little thin and light. A dry finish but leaves a sort of "sweetness" from the orange flavor. Moderately high carbonation.
Overall: Very refreshing, albeit a bit too strong on the orange zest. I was really hoping the rye would be more apparent. I might try this again, as I usually brew a wit or two every year. Next time I will bump up the rye to 3#, bring the orange zest down to 3 oranges, and maybe bump the GOP up to 3 grams.
I may save a bottle and repeat the tasting in a few months. I hear that 100% Brett fermentations can start to pick up some funky flavors after a few months in the bottle.
Thanks for reading!