When it comes to brewing and blending some truly sublime creations, Chris Betts, brewmaster and founder of Transient Artisan Ales in Bridgman, Michigan, has garnered the attention of craft-beer lovers everywhere. His operation—which at first operated with the help of two other breweries in a gypsy-brewing format but now has its own digs to call home—created beers so exclusive and coveted that he had to start a reserve subscription membership in addition to his bottle release parties. We at Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine® have reviewed quite a few of the beers, and—spoiler alert—they are remarkable.
The beers themselves are works of art, with styles ranging from stout to porter, to saison and wheat ale, to pale ales and IPA. Several of them were brought to life using wild fermentation, and many were further conditioned in barrels with fruits. Betts uses local ingredients as much as possible, but when he can’t, he sources them from trusted producers.
Betts shared with us his recipe for his wild saison, Obelus, and discussed some of the many facets of the recipe that make it so unique. Inspired by the Belgian greats, this saison’s flavors are derived mostly from the yeast. “We use very simple recipes, and that’s our approach. We get the flavor from the yeast and not so much [from] the malt and hops,” he explains. “There’s lots of big fruit character in our saison yeast, with some Brett to add a little bit of funk, but for the most part, the yeast flavors include tropical-fruit notes, pineapple, and passion fruit.”
Obelus is a versatile saison, and Transient has created multiple iterations of it using variations of hops, yeast, Brett, fruit, and barrels. “We’ve made several versions—the point behind the beer is to adjust the process based on the hops we’re using. One had lemony hops, so we blended it with sour beer to help bring that character out. Another had orange and citrus hops (Motueka), and for that we added some fruity citrus zest. But for the main one, Galaxy, we use a couple of really fruity strains of Brett.”
Betts explains that each strain of Brett imparts different flavors depending on when it’s added and what’s available at the time. If funky flavors are desired, Brett is added later, toward the end of the brew cycle. When it’s added earlier, it provides fruitier flavors. “We use a few strains of Brett early in fermentation, and at that point we still have a little bit of sugar to ferment, but it’s not really taking over the entire character of the beer at that point.”
For the homebrewer, multiple strains of Brett might not be readily available at the local homebrew shop. Betts has some words of advice to get around that. “Brew the beer as normal with Galaxy hops. Then drink your favorite Brett beer and add the dregs from the bottom to your homebrew a few days into fermentation—we do it about three days in.”
The great thing about this particular recipe is that it can stand up to dry hopping and various styles of barrel aging without losing its character. It’s a pretty straightforward recipe that uses a single hops varietal, and it’s a great base for experimentation for Transient. They use Pilsner malt from a local maltser, which can be difficult to secure at times, so when that fails, they go for a German or Belgian malt. Wheat makes up 12−15 percent of the grain bill, and oats 3−5 percent. The simplicity of the grain bill lets the yeast and Brett…or the barrel…take center stage.
“It’s difficult to get the barrels because they’re so high in demand. We’ve had to source barrels in any way we can. We’re in southwest Michigan, which has a bunch of wineries, and we’re tapping into that now.” The quality of the barrel has a great impact on the final result, so they have to take extra care to ensure it’s not dried out and that it’s been cleaned so that extra bugs don’t make their way into a batch. “We have a lot of room for barrel aging and just tried some absinthe and maple syrup—there’s lots to work with.”
And what’s the best way to enjoy Obelus? Most of Transient’s batches are packaged in larger bottles, and the beers are meant to be shared. Betts says, “The best place to drink it is with other people who are into trying new and different beers. We serve it in 10 oz tasters that are somewhat in the Belgian bulb style. But we don’t discriminate.”
PHOTOS: WES KITTEN