Tag Archives: beer aficionados

Sour beers a taste worth acquiring

Brettanomyces, also known as "Brett"...

Brettanomyces, also known as “Brett”, is a yeast strain commonly found in red Burgundy wine. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Want to see a grown brewmaster shake in his boots? Just bring a vial of Brettanomyces into his brewery and toss it up into the air a few times. Brettanomyces is a strain of yeast that, given the opportunity, will absolutely take over a brewery and infect every surface, fermentation tank, and bottle in the place. In most beers, the organism can produce undesirable sour or acidic off-flavors. But, to a brave few brewers, those off-flavors are a source of complex and often delicious artistry.In Belgium, sour beers are nothing new. For centuries brewers have been crafting brews that are sour, acidic and utterly delightful. One such style that has been gaining ground in the United States is Flanders Red, an aged ale that obtains its sour characteristics from Brettanomyces or lactic acid. An excellent example of this style is Rodenbach.

Another Belgian sour style is Lambic, a spontaneously fermented brew that is aged for a minimum of three years before leaving the brewery. Because the yeast that inoculates this brew is only found in Belgium in and around Brussels, the style cannot be made anywhere else. The brew that results from the combination of wild yeast inoculation, aging, and blending is powerfully sour and yet refreshingly bracing. The brew is often fermented with various fruits to produce sweet and sour combinations such as kreik (cherry), framboise (raspberry), and peche (peach).

But, back to Brettanomyces. Brett, as it is called by many in-the-know beer aficionados, competes with brewer’s yeast, and other microorganisms, in fermenting the wort, giving the beer a distinctive sour taste. The yeast is notoriously difficult to clean and can easily get out of control and colonize a brewery spoiling other beers that are not supposed to taste sour. In fact, the yeast strain is considered a spoilage organism in the wine-making industry that can impart “sweaty saddle leather”, “barnyard”, “burnt plastic” or “band-aid” aromas to wine. But, in beer, the yeast can create aromas one might consider musty, and flavors that are often described as funky.

Brett turns beer sour by eating the sugars that are left in beer by normal brewer’s yeasts. The result is a sour-tasting brew that is something of an acquired taste. Other organisms that bring on the funk in beer include lactobacillus (also found in fermenting yoghurt too) and pediococcus, which  provide sour, tart notes and acetobacter, which gives a beer vinegary component.

The best way to decide if you like these unusual, yet rewarding brews is to seek one out and just give it a try. You may be surprised at how much you enjoy the labors of the little beasties that some might call an infection while others might call a blessing. Just be careful if you do decide to toss around a vial of Brett, you certainly would not want to cause your local brewmaster to ban you from his brewery.

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Posted by on March 1, 2013 in Beer, Beer Education


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Samuel Adams Utopias, a potent and rare acquisition

utopiasIn the world of beer enthusiasts, there are a few beers that are so desirable, yet so difficult to obtain, that it is considered a major coup to actually acquire one. Last week, that rare beer was Westvleteren 12, the legendary beer brewed by Trappist monks at the Saint Sixtus Abbey in Belgium. The monks, notorious among beer-lovers for their maddeningly low production and frustratingly difficult procedures for obtaining the beer, released a quantity to the United States for the first and probably last time in order to finance badly needed repairs to the monastery. The allotment was snapped up in record time. I was among those dedicated fans who braved the rain in Jacksonville to snag the brew.

This week I again obtained a rare and highly sought after brew, one that is just as valued by beer aficionados as Westies, but this time is domestic. I refer to the bi-annually released Samuel Adams Utopias. Thought the brew has only existed for ten years, it has garnered the same type of reverence and demand as even the elusive Westie.

Samuel Adams founder and chairman, Jim Koch says of the Utopias brews that his original idea was not to copy the European styles of beers like all the other brewers, but to create a style of beer that had never been brewed before. His first foray into brewing a unique style resulted in the creation of the coveted Samuel Adams Triple Bock, a brew that weighed in at an astounding for the time 18% ABV, the strongest beer in the world then. Another first for the brew, Triple Bock was aged in spirits barrels and bottled in distinctive cobalt-blue bottles. The year was 1994 and the brew sold out within just a few months.

Next Koch wanted to make a brew to commemorate the upcoming millennium, so in 1999 he set his sights at creating a brew that would honor the once-in-a-lifetime event and named it Millennium. According to the company’s website, this 40 proof brew was fashioned with, “with overtones of vanilla, butterscotch, pear, and a hint of cinnamon. Noble hops give Samuel Adams Millennium a touch of herbal and orange rind-like bitterness that delivers a balanced finish.” A recent auction on eBay had a single bottle of this brew selling for nearly $1,000.

With another success under his belt, Koch began to formulate his next big beer. This time the plan was to release the brew every other year. The brews were named Utopias, and the first batch was released in 2002. That first batch hit the market at 24% ABV and was marketed as the strongest commercially available beer in the world. Subsequently, Sam Adams has released Utopias with increasing ABVs up to this year’s 10th anniversary release that comes in at 29%.

This year’s release is brewed with, “Samuel Adams two-row pale malt, smoked malt Munich, and Caramel 60 to impart the rich, ruby-red color.” The brew also incorporates three varieties of Noble Hops: Hallertau Mittlefrueh, Spalt Spalter, and Tettnang Tettnanger. But, perhaps one of the most interesting ingredients in the beer is a blend of the other Utopias including the nearly twenty-year-old Triple Bock. To obtain the higher alcohol content, Sam Adams used a strain of champagne yeast that is known to survive in the higher alcohol environment. Finally, the brew was aged in a succession of barrels to enhance its notes of vanilla and maple. Those barrels included bourbon barrels from Buffalo Trace Distillery, finishing casks of Tawny Port and Vintage Ruby Port from Portugal, and rum barrels from Nicaragua.

The end result of this time-consuming and labor-intensive process is a beer that is reminiscent of the best cordials. The company says that the brew, “invokes the flavor of a vintage Port, fine Cognac, or aged Sherry while feeling surprisingly light on the palate.” The brew is said to include flavors of fig, chocolate, raisins, vanilla, and spices.

For the brew’s 10th anniversary, only 15,000 bottles were produced. The individually-numbered bottles themselves are a work of art shaped to look like a brew kettle but colored black with roots painted on it to represent the roots beer’s that are nearly 20-year deep history.

Because of the limited number of bottles, Utopias are extremely difficult to come by and, if you are fortunate to find it, rather expensive at $190 per bottle. But, if you do manage to acquire this remarkable brew, be sure to savor it. Unlike many beers, this brew can be opend and resealed without fear of spoilage. Many take a small amount upon receipt and then pour themselves a small amount yearly on their birthday or New Year’s Eve. However you decide to drink the brew, if you are in possession of a bottle, you can feel privileged to know you are one of the very few to have that opportunity. I do.

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Posted by on December 20, 2012 in Beer, Beer News


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