A wild yeast that brewers struggle to keep out of their beer is being carefully cultivated by a small coterie of innovators, reports Daniel Fromson in The New York Times (1/2/13). Known as Brettanomyces — or Brett — it “can lead to unpredictable fermentations and gushing beer bottles, aromas politely described as funky, and fear.” However, Brett “was common in beer before the advent of modern sanitation in the late 19th century,” and Chad Yakobson of Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project, among others, “prizes the hints of tropical fruit, earthiness, spiciness, and yes, funkiness that it lends to his beers.”
Chad thinks Brett creates “an entire new category of beers.” Tomme Arthur of Port Brewing agrees: “There’s so much complexity that’s gained from Brett usage,” he says, although the often sour notes that recall “lemons, sour cherries or balsamic vinegar” clearly are not for everyone. However, beer aficionado Vedran Mehinovic is among those who appreciate the “pronounced earthiness and occasional barnyard aromas.” Among his favorites is a wild beer called Interlude, via Allagash Brewing, of Maine. “I would say that it is more complex than any wine,” he says.
The wild beer trend is seen by some as similar to growing interest in heirloom vegetables, and driven by “enthusiasm for reviving the tastes of the past.” Ron Jeffries of Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales simply sees it as part of the craft-beer boomlet. “I mean, Americans started making craft beer because they were dissatisfied with the flavors that were available … it’s about the flavors, great flavors, that you can’t get anywhere else.” Given its funky flavor, Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing thinks wild beer probably won’t go mainstream, but “is likely to keep growing as long as younger brewers take up the cause.”