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. My favoured descrip­tor is “bret­ty”, so I entire­ly under­stand.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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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