bottled beer pubs

Brett In Unexpected Places

When is a quality control problem not a problem? When it makes a good India pale ale into a great one.

The Windjammer in the centre of Dartmouth is a funny pub — quiet on both our visits, despite friendly people behind the bar and a well-worn, cosy interior. The counter is literally ship-shape, the walls are papered with nautical charts, and the back wall is covered in at least 30-years’-worth of yacht club pennants from around the world.

What caught our eye, once we’d dismissed the house bitter and guest ale as boring-going-on-bad, were bottles of Goose Island IPA. We used to trek across London in search of it but now, it’s everywhere. But, at the Windjammer, we were offered something that swanky craft beer bars could do well to copy: a choice of bottles from the shelf (room temperature), cellar (recommended ‘for this particular beer’) or fridge.

We went with a cold one and asked for a large wine glass to go with it; it cost £4.75.

It poured hazy and, at first, we just thought it was ‘off’. It took a moment for our palates to recognise what we were tasting: Brettanomyces, plain as day.

We didn’t think we were ‘Brett-heads’ or even that we were entirely confident in spotting it in beer unless cued by packaging but this was so pronounced that there could be no mistake. It tasted like one of our Orval blending experiments, and was utterly delicious. The Brett provided a wild top note, like a Gypsy fiddler sneaking into the violin section of a symphony orchestra. Where GI IPA can sometimes, these days, seem rather on the candied side, this was bitter, lemon-pithy and bracing.

If Goose Island was still a tiny one-man-band as it was at its founding in Chicago in 1988 then this oddity might not be all that surprising, but it is now owned by AB InBev (as in Anheuser-Busch, as in Budweiser) — a company which, if nothing else, is famed for the consistency of its products and the rigour of its quality control. How could this have happened?

Our first thought was that it might not be GI IPA at all but another of the same brewery’s beers mislabelled — Matilda, maybe? — but that seems less likely than that some Brett simply got where it shouldn’t have been, migrating from one part of the brewery to another, perhaps stubbornly lingering in a pipe.

We came back for more a couple of nights later and enjoyed it just as much, perhaps all the more so for the knowledge that it was an un-repeatable experience: a few bottles of this one batch, packaged a year or so ago, are probably the only ones with this particular ‘problem’. If you want to try to find them yourself, though, look out for a best before date of 17 July 2015 and what we think is a batch number of 0947.

UPDATE 09/04/2015: Mike Siegel, Brewing Innovation Manager at Goose Island, has emailed to say: ‘The IPA you had was brewed July 17, 2014 in Chicago at our Fulton Street Brewery.  This batch was actually flagged as having an elevated micro count and held back.  After re-plating and a thorough analysis and tasting, it rechecked as clean and ready to go.  I would love to get my hands on some of these bottles to see exactly what has happened over the past nine months.’ So, not a confirmation based on a QC sample as we’d hoped for, but he doesn’t seem to think it’s impossible.

Sorry for the quality of the photo, which was snapped on a smartphone under ‘intimate’ lighting.

24 replies on “Brett In Unexpected Places”

Interesting stuff – did you happen to spot if this batch was brewed in Chicago or in either Baldwinsville or Fort Collins? (It doesn’t specify between the last two.)

One theory if it’s the latter could be due to overworked, tired and possibly mutated yeast, rather than Brett specifically. GI IPA was never designed to be brewed on the industrial scale that InBev now produce it at and the yeast simply cannot work hard enough to attenuate the flavours properly. I also know from speaking to friends who used to work for InBev before and after the takeover that one practice InBev introduced was increasing the use of each batch of yeast from 9 generations to 15+ generations – increasing the scope for something to happen to the yeast, eg mutating into a strain that could throw out these off flavours.

Not that this should be a problem, Sierra Nevada reportedly use yeast strains for up to 32 generations, according to Ken Grossman.

Similarly, I had some cans of Pilsner Urquell that had a hint of a Brett infection last year – it wasn’t unpleasant, in fact it may have even increased the beers moreish quality, but I’d rather have had the product as described on the tin.

Matt — there was no info about where the beer was brewed on the label. These were quite old bottles with James Clay contact info on and I can’t recall off the top of my head when they started brewing on multiple sites, but they might well have been from before that.

Someone else mentioned that they’d spotted Brett in Pilsner Urquell, too.

Ah – ok – in which case this would’ve definitely come from Chicago as the InBev site produced bottles only started arrived via Greene King this year. Probably an infection due to Bretted beers like Matilda and Sofie being produced nearby!

Fascinating stuff!

As you say, at AB (of old at least) this happening or especially getting to market would have been unimaginable.

The yeast generations question is debatable though – countless breweries use way beyond 9 or 15 gens (last brewery I worked at we were up to maybe 100; at Brakspear’s I was told we had never repropagated from the lab-stored version in a couple of hundred years 🙂

Interesting – I had a bottle recently too, and while I wasn’t paying that much attention, I did think that it didn’t have the superbly clean marmalade-and-digestive-biscuit character that I associate with GIIPA .

This post has made me want to buy GI IPA for the first time since it was taken over…

Good Lord, the price! That’s a mass produced gas station and grocery store beer in northern NY available for nine bucks a six pack. Nice organic unanticipated surprise, though. Certainty is vastly overrated.

It’s available much more cheaply in supermarkets but that’s about the going rate to drink any imported beer in a pub. (Except Wetherspoon pubs, obviously.)

It would take a long time for Brett to become pronounced from a contamination source. Intentionally bretty beers are inoculated with high cell counts to get that character early, ie without having to warehouse it for ages.

I have gotten it in my homebrew, and it turned a train wreck of a recipe into something interesting

“Brett simply got where it shouldn’t have been, migrating from one part of the brewery to another, perhaps stubbornly lingering in a pipe”

Hmm. Am I alone in thinking this unlikely? Is it not more likely that the beer was slightly off through age, oxidisation or poor handling and that you simply liked it anyway?

It’s possible, although, as we say above, it did seem to us unmistakeably and distinctively Orval-like. Hopefully, if we ever hear back from Goose Island, they’ll be able to confirm/deny by checking against a QC sample from that batch.

Well adding my two cents, or two pence, my guess is it is a Fulton original, i.e., never pasteurized, and brett was resident perhaps in one of the hop strains used particularly if whole flowers were used for one of the hops in the hop back or dry hopping.

Even now I’d doubt that the beer is pasteurized. The company’s website refers to cold storage of the bottled beer before shipment and advises consumption within 6 months, which seems consistent with a well-filtered but unpasteurized product. Even if they are pasteurized now from outside Chicago (and maybe inside, hard to say), maybe a flash system is used which is not thorough and can leave scope for brett to survive.

In sum, this is one of those gladdening and unpredictable experiences that can occur in the beer world, and I don’t doubt a palate similar to an exported 1800’s pale ale resulted. Your own experiments with Orval proved it, basically.

I am starting to understand that “off” flavours in very small amounts add complexity and interest including DMS for lager in Europe, diacetyl, etc. It’s like “la pourriture noble” for Saauterne wine or the cat’s pee flavour of Sauv Blanc. There is a lot to be said too for a fresh clean taste which highlights each ingredient to the max but it can also go the other way. Vintage Champagne and regular Champagne neatly illustrate the spectrum at both ends.

Interesting comment from another about Brakspear. I had the beer numerous times when the original brewery was still operating and never liked it. I am wondering now if its yeast management had something to do with it, but maybe I was just unlucky as I drank the beer in London always and perhaps it never got there in good condition. The last time I had it was Angelsea Arms in South ken, about 20 years ago.


I like the Windjammer a lot and I enjoy their boring brown beers too – the Royal Oak and Bass in particular.
If you’re really lucky they may also have a batch of their homemade pork scratchings.
Easily the nicest pub in Dartmouth.

Entirely possible there’s a brett infection. The Orval similarities could be resulting from the house brett strain they use in Matilda specifically, which is still brewed on-site at Fulton. They have new safe-guards in place but they’re very recent and the date you have on the bottle pre-dates that change.

Goose IPA is brewed in Baldwinsville, except for the batches going to the UK because the packaging requirements essentially demand a smaller batch than Baldwinsville could produce. So most likely you have a Fulton St batch. However, future UK batches will be indeed made in Baldwinsville also.

Sounds like a moment in time either way and I’m quite jealous of the opportunity to try it!

This is where the old learning comes in handy. The writers approved dry-hopping for many reasons including that it would assist an “after-fermentation” of the type desired for India Pale Ale. Today, dry-hopping or placing of hops in the hopback, or some other way of imparting flavours of unboiled hops, is legion. Yet you dont hear much about unintended brett. Why? because the beers aren’t stored long enough, usually. I’d wager this kind of thing is more common than one realizes with many bottled IPAs, but they get used up too soon to notice the effect; as another commenter points out above, brett takes times to manifest unless innoculated in a particular dose. It could have been a crossover effect from Mathilda, possibly, but incline to the other explanation simply because I have noticed it in a number of long-stored beers where hop character is imparted in the ways mentioned.


I meant, I incline to this explanation, I’m not dictating. 🙂

This is a salutary discussion as many people should consider keeping their IPAs for a year or so in a cool cellar – or even the fridge pace the worry-worts – especially where you know it is dry-hopped or treated with unboiled hops.

I just had a bottle of Ballantine IPA stored in the fridge 7 months on its side. There was no brett at all but the beer had changed for the better, the grapefruity hit which Ballantine IPA never had in its original phase (IMO) declined and the overall effect was to make the beer more English-tasting.



I can’t help but smile.
Lengthy cogitation about infections in a bottle of once-trendy craft beer in a post entirely dismissive of the regular and popular output of ales in a friendly and welcoming boozer.
Sometimes the crafterrati disappears up its own arse.

I think that’s unfair. We are enthusiasts and while I don’t know the, “regular and popular output of ales” in the establishment in question, I would be very happen to drink them if they are sound and well-made, otherwise, not, which I won’t apologize for. I can’t glean what this has to do with appreciating a beer which by happenstance has a character our ancestors might well have appreciated.

The beers in the Windjammer were blithely dismissed as ” boring-going-on-bad.”
The family who run this pub take a lot of care about the food and drink they offer and if the comments were on anything other than a niche beer blog they’d have every right to be pissed off about the possibly effect on their business.
Of course Boak and Bailey should be able to express their opinion but for every smuggerati waxing lyrical about some obscure craft beer there’s a thousand pubs banging out good honest ale by the dray-full,day in day out.
I admit I’m biased – I’ve often rolled out of the Windjammer full to the cap badge with BBB.
I just think the people who run a good pub in a town devoid of great pubs deserve better than a throwaway comment.

Just on the point of the reply from Goose Island, I think it’s commendable that they showed interest in this story and so promptly. But from a craft beer standpoint, there is (IMO) nothing unusual in a non-pasteurized beer evolving in flavour over 8-9 months or more. Indeed many craft fans look forward to various changes in artisan-made beers. IPA in particular as a style is famed for having been long-stored and undergoing some change over time. I’ve had countless craft beers kept for a similar period which showed similar changes or other changes and to me it’s par for the course.

One thing one wouldn’t want is the beers to be processed in a way to have a fixed taste that never changes as (bearing in mind too the GI ownership change of some years ago) there is always a risk of the beers moving too far in the industrial dimension.

Right, now, “it’s all good”, as the Americans say.

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