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A few weeks ago Mr. Brett-man himself was in Nashville to speak/judge at the 2012 Music City Brewoff. I had the chance to sit down with Chad Yakobson of Crooked Stave to talk about brewing darker wort, hoppy, 100% Brettanomyces beers.

Wild Wild Brett Blue

ETF- When you are back building a dark hoppy brett beer like Wild Wild Brett Blue, tell us about some of the things you have to consider? 

Chad- So there’s basically what’s considered a dark IPA or a hoppy Porter, but to me there is still a difference in character. A Porter can be a medium to heavy body, although with a heavy body you tend think it’s more stout like. Whereas in dark IPA I’m still looking for light to medium-light body, so there is some distinction between them. The idea is to make the same exact beer you would make if you were making the IPA, but instead you are going to use a handful of dark malts.

The way I did it was taking the same recipe we had done with the IPA and bring up some of the character with a little bit of chocolate malt and Carafa II. I call it more brown than black even though it was certainly a very dark beer with a dark head.

A lot of what I’m looking for is: How do I retain all the characters of a normal IPA and just get color. But with the Brettanomyces it didn’t really work that way, the Brett really brought out those characters. So what is less than 6% of dark malts and the rest being pale malts…basically 2 row… really brought out a deep chocolate color. Not necessarily the chocolate you get out of malt, the way it really brought out the character really comes more from the Carafa II than the chocolate malt which gives those coffee like notes. So especially with using Brettanomyces in a dark beer I wouldn’t use anything that’s a roast malt, there’s just too much astringency. You have to go with a de-bittered malt like a Carafa II. I know Briess is starting to make some stuff, but I like to use Weyermann.

The Carafa malts are so nice because you get all the color you want, but the character doesn’t come through too much. The brett is really nice at bringing out some of the chocolate notes in that malt, so you get this creamy/chocolate characteristic. It’s crazy the way the brett accentuates too…I’ve had that same beer fermented with a clean strain of saccharomyces and it’s medium-light bodied, more along the lines of a light bodied porter with the same malts. Whereas in this one the brett brought out the creamy characteristic, which went well because of the Blue Spruce we used in it. You have to use something to back up that spruce/evergreen character.

ETF- You hit on this, but talk a little more about why using malts like black roasted are bad in a dark brett beer.

Carafa II

Chad- Astringency. I find beers where it’s big, chalky and has the astringent roast character. Acridness is the term for it, so the acrid roasty character is taken by the Brettanomyces and basically doubles it. That astringency character starts to come through and you just get this chalky, acrid, dryness with nothing to back it up or balance it. So when you are just trying to use roast malt with the Brettanomyces, like in a brett stout it just creates that dry and chalky acrid beer, whereas it’s very much the opposite when you use the Carafa II or these other de-bittered malts. Instead what happens is the same thing when you look at Special B and these malts that have a high kiln temperatures. You have melanoidan characteristics in the malt, that’s where the age characteristic eventually comes out in the beer, but it has to be there from the beginning. The brett instantly starts to pull out some of those dried cherry and dark fruit notes out of the malt. So what you start getting instead of a “chocolate-ness”…you get a really subtle fruity, dry, dark cherry character that’s really complimentary to the beer. That’s what I’ve found with using brett and Carafa II and even low amounts of Carafa II in a black IPA-esque beer you start to get a hint of that which is really interesting.

ETF- As far as hops go, which varieties would you suggest in a hoppy dark brett beer? Citrusy or dank? What about Cohumulone levels in the hop variety?

Chad- I would always try to take cohumulone levels in to consideration. That’s why I don’t use Magnum or any hops like those. I find them to be astringent hops. I know Magnum is a hop that many breweries love, but I prefer for bittering varieties like Cascade.

I would like to play around with hop extracts, they are a great way to keep all the plant material out, but still get really nice character. Most people probably don’t realize the best IPAs they are drinking are bittered with hop extract and that’s one of the reasons they are some the best IPAs… Beers like Pliny the Elder. There’s a brewery in San Diego called Societe, Travis use to work with Vinnie. I had their IPA recently at GABF and it’s awesome…like a Heady Topper or 3 Floyds.

But anyway…at first I thought when using Brett the more important thing was to accentuate the fruity hop characteristics because that’s what I liked so much about “that” hop. With the Wild Wild Brett Blue we were going to use Spruce and I wanted to accentuate the Spruce, so I used Centennial hops. Such a beautiful hop…it’s not overly “piney”, I find it to be more on a citrusy, green apple, orange side. I also used a lot of Chinook which also accentuates the “piney” and worked really well with the character.

I’ve now gone back with the series of beers called “Hop Savant” and all those will use different hops. Some will use Colombus, Amarillo, or Columbus and Simcoe…just to play around with the hops. I think Brett can work with a lot of hops. The important thing is not having a lot of astringency. When I’m thinking about what I might use for bittering…it’s low cohumulone hops that have a softer more delicate bitterness and are more just for flavor. Don’t buy any hops with the idea “These are a bittering hop and these are an aroma hop”. I would buy all aroma hops which just happen to be high alphas so they are thought of as a bittering hop. I don’t use hops for typical bittering, so even if I’m going to use Chinook to “bitter” with…I put them in with 15 minutes left in the boil.

ETF- Let’s talk more about the timing of hop additions in Brett beers. I tend to move most of my additions to an all late boil…but what are your thoughts on bittering units in all Brett beers?

Chad- I don’t really like very bitter beers. They are gripping on your tongue and that character stays and the beer leaves. Yeah there’s some flavor in there, but you still have this big bitterness left on your tongue and I think that’s detracting from the beer. So for me the only beers I look at IBUs are our Saisons and sour beers. I’m much more concerned about IBUs in those beers. When it comes to making the hoppy beers, they are exactly that: hoppy. So if I could have zero IBUs that’s the type of hoppy beer I want to brew. Everything is about late hops: aroma and flavor. That perception of aroma and flavor is going to give you enough bitterness to balance the beer. So certainly a beer with no hops is going to come off sweet, but if you have aroma and flavor (hops) you have something that is hard to measure: The perception of bitterness. So no matter what, even if you just dry hop a beer, it will have IBUs. Alpha Acids are slightly soluble in water and oxidized Alpha Acids are soluable as well, so to me that’s enough bitterness. I don’t know what our beers have…25 or 30 IBUs? To me that’s plenty in a hoppy beer, it’s the fact it has all the aroma and flavor the beer needs to be enjoyed.

ETF- So in the beers you are talking about what’s the hopping schedule?

Chad- In both the Wild Wild Brett Green and Blue that had a heavy hopping dosage they were 90 minute boils and no hops during the boil. As soon as I turned off the steam to the jackets on the boil kettle and started the whirlpool, that’s when the first hop additions were added. It’s all aroma hops additions, but you are still getting some IBUs. You still get utilization even at 180 degrees and we’re not getting to 180 degrees until the end of knocking out. You whirlpool for roughly 15 minutes, then rest for 10-15 minutes so that’s 30 minutes already the hops have been sitting. Knock out takes another 30-45 minutes, so from the time you’ve added the first hops they’ve been in there over an hour. So there is isomerization going on…albeit the utilization is not 30%, probably 1 %. But all the same it’s still occurring and that’s where I find more than enough bitterness for the beers we are brewing.

ETF- When you are whirlpooling what’s the temp?

Chad- So when you finish the boil, well for us in Colorado it’s 204F degrees because of the barometric pressure we boil at a lower temperature, but by the time we are whirlpooling it’s 202F. At then end of whirlpooling it’s around 198F then knock out at 195F.

ETF- So obviously not much change then…

Chad- Yeah, what’s nice about a whirlpool is once you run it through that’s another vessel taking temperature out, so now you can be down to 185F. So at 185F that’s where you are able to pull the “sesquiterpenes” and “terpenes”, which are highly volatile aromatics and compounds that are in hops. Normally when you hops to the boil they just “vapor” off because they are so volatile, but when you are at 180F…you are pulling them in and those compounds aren’t being driven off the beer. That gives the aroma and flavor you are looking for.

Colorado Spruce Tips
*photo courtesy Chad Yakobson

ETF- When you are adding spices and herbs to your recipes, like the spruce tips in WWBB, are you going by feel or some other “scale” so to speak?

Chad- I do go by feel. Part of me says Ok with hops I want to preserve these aromas and flavors, that’s why I add them as late as possible…the later the better for extraction. So for spices sometimes I’ve tried the same thing. I wanted a very light, subtle and genuine spice character so I added it at whirlpool and it was almost non-existent. It’s different.

When you cook with hops…imagine you are making a soup with hops on the stove you are just extracting bitterness. At a very low temperature is where you extract the flavor. But on the other hand with spices, they are all about extracting that out of the material. Spices I find more and more do need to be boiled. There are some spices we play around with every once in a while in a beer. I’ve done stuff on the cold side (which takes longer and is very subtle) and hot side anywhere between a 5 minute boil to a 15 minute boil is what I’m seeing. Anything longer than that and you are just cooking the flavor out and the plant material out of the spices. For me I feel like 5 minutes is the magic number, but again I’m always looking for a light and very subtle spice. I want more of the floral characteristics out of the spices.

ETF- A majority of brewers can’t just go to the store and get CMY001. What strain advice can you offer them for 100% Brett beers?

Chad- I think one of the best ways to get some of these yeasts (for instance the one we use since it’s kept at a yeast company and they grow it up for us) is from our bottles. The 100% Brettanomyces beers like St. Bretta and the Hop Savant, which I hope will be staples I our portfolio as a year round offering, are released really fresh. So the Brettanomyces in there is in fairly good condition. It’s great to be able to take the yeast out and grow it up to get the Brett going. In those it’s just the one strain of CMY001 we’re using and even if we’ve put in another strain from time to time maybe for secondary…those 2 strains of Brett are great to ferment with. So that’s a good way to get yeast out of our bottles and have those characteristics that are more fruity flavor forward, very delicate and a more approachable yeast to ferment with.

ETF-So to recap…what are your top 2 or 3 things brewers need to remember when making a 100% Brett, dark and hoppy beer?

Chad- The points to hit home…

  • I’d say not to go over the top and shoot for a 6-7 % beer. Realize that in shooting for that it’s going to attenuate 90% over time. You should get the fermentation in 2 weeks. So I would wait 2 weeks until dry hopping. I like to dry hop, let that sit for a week, then dry hop again letting that sit for a week. After those 4 weeks the beer should be ready to keg and bottle. You are waiting longer to dry hop and getting quite a dry beer.
  • In your mashing profile make sure you are mashing for a good beer. Nothing low and nothing high: 150-152F, mashing out at 170F, not sparging too hot and you’ll have a clean beer through fermentation.
  • A lot of late hops. The late hops really accentuate the beer…and again more dry hopping. Don’t be afraid to use a decent amount of hops. We are using anywhere from 2 to 4 pounds per barrel. In the black IPA I went a little lighter using 2 pounds per barrel so for homebrewers we are looking at half a pound to 1 pound per carboy. A 1/3rd of that for late hopping and 2/3rd for dry hopping, it’s something you can play around with even doing half in late and half in dry hopping. Both those should work pretty well.

Thanks to Chad for sharing some awesome brewing tips and knowledge.

One last thing…I do want to put my seal of approval (whatever that’s worth haha) on Crooked Stave’s Cellar Reserve membership which is about to wrap up it’s first year. All the beers were really good and very well received by the people I shared some of my allotments with. I’ve had selections from other cellar memberships and I really believe this is top to bottom the one that offers the best and most unique beers. Here’s the link to the 2013 lineup. 

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