100 Words: Describing Brettanomyces

Steptoe and Son, from the BBC website.

The sacred texts told us Brettanomyces had a ‘horse blanket’ or ‘barnyard’ aroma. It is, they said, ‘sweaty’, ‘leathery’, ‘mousy’.

But none of that worked for us and we couldn’t spot Brett unless we’d been cued to expect it.

We know what the experts are getting at with the animal comparisons — earthy, musky, funky, right? — but it’s like trying to describe the colour red by saying ‘Purplish, but also orangey.’ Brett is Brett, and nothing else.

We eventually cracked it by drinking a lot of Orval, and ‘Orval-like’ is the most useful descriptor for Brett character we’ve yet discovered.

Any other suggestions?

Main image from the BBC website.

14 thoughts on “100 Words: Describing Brettanomyces”

  1. I think that’s true with just about every flavor in beer. You just have such a sophisticated sense of the flavors that you’ve forgotten. I was recently hanging out with a non-beer person who said, “I don’t like hoppy beers. I do like some IPAs, though.” This was actually not a stupid comment; the person was just indicating that he liked hop flavors, not hop bitterness (Oregon IPAs are no longer very bitter, but they’re intensely flavored–like tropical fruit juice is).

    Everything tastes like itself, and a lot of it is hidden to the casual drinker because she hasn’t had the flavors pointed out.

    1. Yes, that’s true, although Michael Jackson’s books said US hops were citrusy and, yep, we knew exactly what he meant when we first tasted Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

  2. Leathery hits it for me most of the time.

    I also enjoy that “horse blanket” and “barnyard” is really just code for “stale horse poo and some dirt”. Because that’s what you’re smelling on a farm.

  3. I don’t get a lot of the normal Brett descriptors either. Brett to me does have a slight farmyard funk like proper scrumpy, I’ve never sniffed a horse blanket though so that is lost on me (like your issue with resinous a while back)z I do get a cherry like sour tang and fizz on the tongue. And yes Orval is a great gateway beer into the murky world of Brett beer.

  4. To me, unsweetened lavendar. If folk are people who notice things, I find they have a lexicon for their own experiences that works perfectly well even it’s not the authorized version. I have no idea what unsweetened lavendar is supposed to mean but that’s what comes to mind when I taste Brett.

  5. Hmmm…there are lots of strains of Brett out there though. Saying Brett tastes like Orval is a bit like saying Saccharomyces tastes like Harveys.

    1. That’s a good point. Orval is a ‘way in’, though.

      Any suggestions for beers which might help us spot other notable sub-strains of Brett?

      1. Tricky one. Most Brett beers are funky mixes. Old dairy use claussenii in their imperial stout and barley wine but its much more subtle than Orval. I’ll send you cultures of these Bretts.

        1. We had something Bretted from Old Dairy (you sent it to us, didn’t you?) and it was enough like Orval for us to say, ‘Ah, there it is.’

          1. That’s interesting, I haven’t noticed the Orval taste in the Old Dairy beers myself. I may have to do some more drinking now…

          2. Looking back on some notes, we didn’t get it in the Imperial Stout, but did in the… er… other one. Was it some sort of stock ale? We drank one fresh and one aged, as per your instructions.

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