Sometimes you just roll the dice.
That was my approach the first time I dropped (just) Brett into a beer, at the urging of a friend whose pro brewery had recently produced a really good Brett Pale Ale. I believed then and believe now that they had benefitted from luck as much as anything else, if for no other reason than that the precise mechanics and outcomes of a pure-Brett fermentation weren’t especially well known at the time.
Maybe it was that belief in fate that led me to think to myself, “well, you know what? Before I get too wrapped around the axle on how to design a recipe for a 100 percent Brett beer, why not just take a hoppy recipe I already have, maybe tinker with it a bit, and see what we get?” Darned if it didn’t work. I can’t promise the same will be true for you – it remains the case that, for a wide range of technical reasons, Brett beers can still be an exercise in “your mileage may vary.” Start here, knowing that you might get something funkier, or sweeter, or fruitier, or drier than I did.
Like my granddad says, “you roll the dice, you take what you get.” I’m willing to wager, though, that you’ll like what you get, even if it’s not what you expect. Specialty styles (especially those using unconventional fermentations) are like that.
Brett Beers, as defined by the 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines, are a specialty style that can use as their foundation any base style. You’ll often see pale, hoppy beers in this category on the shelves, but you needn’t be constrained by that. This happens to be a variation on my Peachtree IPA recipe, but Brett produces flavors that are complementary to a whole host of recipes. The addition of Brett should generally yield a beer that’s drier and fruitier than the traditional version of that style, often with the addition of some funky notes (sometimes rather a lot of them).
Those tend to come through more as the beer ages rather than when it’s fresh, though, so you may not notice them at first (especially if you go heavy on the hops). It’s also often the case that 100 percent Brett beers can feel a little “naked” in the mouth, so adding some flaked grains (flaked barley, in this case) is sometimes recommended. This should not be an aggressively funky or sour beer.
Although this is an American IPA in construction, it probably won’t seem that way upon completion – more of a straight American Pale Ale, despite the high IBU load. For whatever reason, Brett beers don’t tend to translate IBUs into perceivable bitterness. It’s also helped along by the fact that my American IPA recipe matches my usual practice of brewing all straight American styles to 1.060 OG, which is modest for an IPA.
In any case, the recipe is nearly-identical. Nine pounds (4.1kg) of 2-row pale malt and one pound (0.45 kg) of Munich malt serve as the base grains, along with a half-pound (0.23kg) each of British Crystal 45L and flaked barley (the flaked barley subbing for the Crystal 20L in the original recipe). Dropping the C20 is deliberate; it’s primarily adding a light caramel sweetness in the IPA recipe, which we don’t need/want here (“dry” is kinda the point). Replacing it with the flaked barley also smooths out the mouthfeel. Note that I primarily use flaked barley (rather than flaked wheat or flaked oats) because it’s an ingredient I stock in my standard “library.” It works well, but it’s probably interchangeable with most any flaked grain.
Hopping is similar, but not identical. It’s the same 52 IBUs (roughly one ounce/28g of Nugget) at 60 minutes and one ounce of Simcoe at five minutes, but I add both the Amarillo and Citra (another ounce of each) in the whirlpool rather than dry-hopping with Citra. I don’t like dry hops in this beer; they’re distracting.
Your fermenting yeast here is Brett Brux, Wyeast 5112. Nothing but.
Mash and boil as usual, whirlpooling to add your late Amarillo/Citra addition, and then chill and pitch the Brett (note: this might be a good time to dedicate a fermenter and a set of plastics as your “Brett/Sour” set to minimize the risk of contamination). Ferment this beer at 68F (20C) for four weeks, then check your gravity.
If it’s still above 1.015, wait. Check the gravity every two weeks until you get down to about 1.010 (or lower), then package. Brett is notoriously slow (or can be), and if you bottle too soon you can end up with an over-carbonated mess. Once you’re reasonably sure that fermentation is complete, package and carbonate to just over two volumes of CO2.
The low carbonation target buys you a little more fermentation without creating gushers or bottle bombs – if your finishing gravity is at a pretty-darn-dry 1.006 or so, though, go ahead and bump that up to 2.25 volumes.
Bottle conditioning can take a little while here, just like primary fermentation. While my bottles are usually ready to go after a week or two, this one can take an additional week or two. Be patient. Or just get a keg and force carbonate!
The beer you get from this recipe will seem like a lighter, brighter pale ale with a flavor that is probably pretty clean and fruity. Over time it might develop those barnyard “Brett” flavors, but they should complement the peach/pineapple flavors nicely. Consider saving and aging a few bottles just to see what develops! Roll the dice and see what you get.