To clarify, the title of this blog is a play on the Afrikaans phrase, “boer maak ń plan” (farmer makes a plan), which has genuine relevance in brewing as things don’t always go according to plan. One of the biggest challenges for brewers is to figure out what to do when “Plan-A” fails. Repeatability and consistency are critical in commercial brewing, and two of the most common sources of variability are starting and ending gravities. With mashing errors aside, yeast performance is generally the culprit for terminal gravity
variability. Some yeast strains are notorious for going to sleep on the job. For instance, the “Belgian Saison” yeast produced by Wyeast, which was isolated from Brasserie Du Pont in Belgium, has a renowned reputation for suffering from narcolepsy. So what can a brewer do when his yeast has gone to sleep despite numerous attempts to rouse it have failed? Throw some “funk” in it!
This very situation happened to me brewing a batch of Devil's Peak Silver Tree Saison about a year ago. To make a long fermentation story short, the beer ended with a terminal gravity of 1.007, which is excessively sweet for a Saison with a target terminal gravity of 1.002 or 1.003. (I’ll save the fermentation failure analysis for the upcoming blog on fermentation). Fortunately for me, this unexpected fermentation ending was the ticket for a series of beers I was planning anyway – Belgian-style beers aged in wine barrels with various strains of Brettanomyces (archenemy of the wine industry) and “bugs” such as pediococcus and lactobacillus.
Brettanomyces have the ability to ferment to very low terminal gravities and can metabolize sugars, like dextrins, that normal ale and lager yeasts cannot. While they work very slowly in fermented beer lacking of oxygen, but not alcohol, they will chip away at the excess sugars and give a beer a very interesting character that will continuously evolve over time. One of the best known beers, and one of the
best beers in the world in my opinion, that possesses “Brett”character is the Belgian Trappist beer Orval. This beer is fermented first with a typical Belgian fruity strain of yeast, and then it is dry hopped and dosed with some Brett. When Orval is consumed fresh, it is a surprisingly hoppy beer with no Brett character. But when it is enjoyed a year or more down the road – cellared properly, of course – it is all about the
So with this in mind, my former partner picked up two used wine barrels from Meerlust – one white and one red – and I went for it. The Saison was dosed with Brettanomyces Bruxellensis in one of
the barrels and Brettanomyces Lambicus in the other. Over the next couple of months, the gravities dropped and Brett character continued to evolve.
Now, about one year down the road, I reckon it’s time to bottle these beers. Hopefully “Plan-B” worked! Perhaps there is even a possibility of them being released into the market in the near future? If so, these beers would be another first for the South African craft beer industry. Either way I would be interested to
see how they turned out and what consumers think as they were my first attempt at barrel aged Brett beers. I look forward to being part of other barrel aged beer projects in South Africa – stay tuned! Until then, go out and enjoy an Orval at Den Anker in the Waterfront!