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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