Ask the Pros: Brewing a Hop-Forward Saison with a “Touch of Brett,” the Alesong Way

No beer from Alesong Brewing & Blending in Eugene, Oregon, has won more accolades than Touch of Brett, even though the saison is constantly evolving. Here’s how they put it together.

Ryan Pachmayer Jul 1, 2024 - 9 min read

Ask the Pros: Brewing a Hop-Forward Saison with a “Touch of Brett,” the Alesong Way Primary Image

Photo: Jamie Bogner

Few beers represent their makers more accurately than Touch of Brett represents Alesong.

“Even though 500-milliliter corked bottles of Brett-fermented farmhouse ale [are] harder and harder to sell in today’s landscape, I just love sitting on our patio and drinking a hop-forward saison,” says cofounder Matt Van Wyk. In an industry where a lot of brewers who intended to just “brew what they want” end up going mainstream or going hard seltzer, Alesong remains intentionally small and focused.

The small-batch blendery in Eugene, Oregon, has won a big batch of honors for Touch of Brett—including four Great American Beer Festival medals and a gold from the Festival of Wood and Barrel-Aged Beer. It’s the brewery’s most decorated beer.

Where and How the Magic Happens

Typically, they only brew the beer once or twice a year, and the process begins outside of Alesong—which is technically not a brewery. “We don’t own a brewhouse yet,” Van Wyk says, adding that he’s not sure that they ever will. Instead, Alesong brews a 20-barrel batch of Touch of Brett at Block 15 in Corvallis, or at Oakshire in Eugene, where Van Wyk was previously head brewer. They’ve also brewed larger 50-barrel batches at Ninkasi in Eugene.


On brew day, either Van Wyk or lead brewer Joe Giammatteo hauls the ingredients to the host brewery, makes the wort, chills it through the heat exchanger, and pumps it into totes. He then takes the totes back to Alesong and pitches the Brettanomyces. They knockout to 68°F (20°C) and ferment closer to 72°F (22°C). “We’re treating it like a Saccharomyces,” Van Wyk says, but “it kind of goes slow.” The beer ferments in stainless tanks for about 30 days; a faster fermentation would create too many flavors they don’t want in the beer.

Alesong also pitches the Brett at lager-like rates—more than they would for a typical ale. Van Wyk says it brings out more of those tropical, fruity notes from the Brett, rather than the funky horse-blanket flavors and aromas that many people associate with the yeast.

What It’s Made of

The most surprising thing about Touch of Brett? The recipe and ingredients are constantly changing. You might say that the most consistent thing about the beer is that it consistently wins awards. Each vintage is composed differently in ways that cover just about every facet of the beer.

It’s called Touch of Brett—but which Brett, exactly? Van Wyk says they’ve used several different strains—but the working favorite right now is a strain of Brettanomyces claussenii. “It pairs well with tropical hops,” he says. Alesong also has found success with the BSI versions of both Brettanomyces bruxellensis and Brettanomyces bruxellensis var. Drei.


As for the hops? Those change, too. For Touch of Brett, Alesong adds hops at the start of the boil and a bit more with 10 to 15 minutes left, but they “don’t go crazy” with the boil hops, Van Wyk says, because those are going to fade with age. The goal is to inhibit lactic-acid production from any Lactobacillus that might be in the barrels. “We don’t want this to be a sour beer,” Van Wyk says.

The brewery uses 25 to 30 IBUs of whatever quality hops it can find. As a small operation, Alesong buys those hops off the spot market or from breweries that have excess. For this beer, they favor newer tropical- or citrus-forward varieties. Some batches have featured Magnum, Centennial, Huell Melon, and even Citra.

The hopping gets more interesting after primary fermentation. Alesong won its first GABF gold medal for a version of Touch of Brett that was dry-hopped with Citra. “After that,” Van Wyk says, “we decided since we were sort of showcasing hops, [and] we live in Oregon, and we have access to a lot of nice, fresh hops, that we would just do it as a rotating series of hops.” Mandarina Bavaria and Mosaic have featured in other winning recipes, but the team keeps coming back to Citra—and they prefer it.

That said, Alesong is small, nimble, and opportunistic when it comes to fresh ingredients. “Our latest batch has Azacca hops in it,” Van Wyk says. Why? Because Alesong traded a piece of kitchen equipment to another local brewery for the hops. “We smelled the hops and said, ‘These are pretty good.’”


The grain bill uses a lot of local ingredients. Skagit Valley in Washington was a frequent choice, but since that maltings closed, Alesong has been using more malts from Mecca Grade in Madras, Oregon. The specific malts run the gamut, from pilsner to white wheat, rye, unmalted wheat, Munich, oats, and spelt.

Wind malt is another interesting one. Sometimes associated with traditional Belgian lambic, malt that dried out in the air and sun was likely common throughout history. Alesong uses Mecca’s Gateway wind malt; Sugar Creek in Indiana also makes one labeled Lambic Wind Malt. (For more about that ingredient, see “Brew Like the Wind” in our Spring 2024 issue.)

Into the Barrels and Bottles

After the 30-day primary fermentation, the real magic begins. The beer goes into locally sourced French-oak wine barrels—many from King Estate Winery, which shares a property line with Alesong in Eugene. The barrels don’t impart much wine character because the team cleans them with their on-site steamer. “We don’t steam the barrels for all of our beers, but we do for Touch of Brett,” Van Wyk says. The goal is to minimize any influence from Lactobacillus.

The team watches for the yeast to drop from suspension, and they take samples along the way. It may start to taste pretty good after three to five months, but because they blend each batch, they’ve used components more than 18 months old. Co-owner Brian Coombs is instrumental in the blending process, and Van Wyk says he is one of the key reasons that this beer consistently shines, vintage after vintage.


The beer evolves in the barrels quite a bit. Van Wyk says the younger barrels show some hop bitterness, and even some yeast bitterness when it’s still in suspension. “Things just get rounder and smoother as it ages,” he says, both in the barrel and later in the bottle.

At bottling, Alesong uses the EC-1118 wine yeast for bottle conditioning because of its alcohol tolerance, neutral flavor component, and reliably quick work. “Brett can be finicky, and I call it a wild beast,” Van Wyk says—even when it comes from a lab. “I just think it sometimes has a mind of its own, and we’re not willing to let it do its thing in bottle conditioning.”

Inspiration and Identity

The result is a beer that changes from vintage to vintage while still maintaining its familiar soul. “We want the younger bottles of this beer to really showcase the hops,” Van Wyk says, “and then have the beer also be ageable.”

In how the beer’s flavors shift with age—as the hops recede and the Brett has more to say—Van Wyk makes a comparison with the famous Belgian Trappist ale, Orval. “Touch of Brett evolves in a similar way,” he says, “from hop bitterness and flavor to older vintages bringing a more grassy, earthy character that complements the fruitiness—the pineapple, mango, tropical-fruit character.”

It’s obvious that this is a beer the entire team is passionate about not only making, but also drinking. “It’s still our brewery, and we get to make the beers that we want,” Van Wyk says. “We’re going to keep making it available to our customers as well.”