There seem to be a number of people in the craft beer world who are purposely introducing brettanomyces into the brewing equation to see how interesting things can get. ‘Wild yeast’ beers are barely (not) controllable but they are rapidly becoming cult items.
Case in point, this quote about a Sierra Nevada brew, taken from Good Morning America:
Sierra Nevada/Russian River Brux
“This one seems to bring everyone to tears,” said Richards. “A collaboration between brewers of this auspiciousness ought to be magnificent, and it measures up to expectations. Hugely carbonated, and with the unmistakable funk of Brettanomyces yeast, it’s hard to mistake it for anything but a wild yeast beer, but it has an array of flavors and aromas competing for, and often winning, your attention. Fresh pear and apple fruitiness; grassy, floral aromas like a spring meadow, and those signature barnyard aromas all play a part to complement a dry, effervescent, tart and light bodied brew. Substitute at will for champagne on New Year’s Eve.”
In the wine world the economies at most operations may be too severe (e.g. how much you need to charge for a bottle off leveraged land in Napa or someplace similar) to allow such horseplay, but don’t really know these days who’s getting creative on smaller operations where the owner/winemaker has more freedom. Certainly have fond memories of a number of wines from the bad old days in Europe (pre-'90s) where brett was a recognizable joker in the bouquet-and-flavor deck. Chateau Musar over in the Lebanon seems to have been upholding that tradition even after Beaucastel cleaned up their act. So who else is going crazy with ‘wild yeast’ in the wine world, in ways that bring brett and other supposedly-unfavorable effects to the fore in interesting ways? And no, I’m not particularly talking about biodynamic operations, et al., who purposely don’t introduce commercial yeasts but count on those native to their environment while taking other efforts to keep things clean-and-controlled. I’m asking about more radical departures…
Fond memories of many bottles of '89 and '90 Beaucastel over an extended period of time. Brett wasn’t just under, but well above the recognition surface. Certainly C9dP was awash in those spores in the '80s, '70s and earlier. In those days finding cellarable bottles was a real crapshoot (pun intended).
This is an interesting question. My gut feeling is that even before the mushrooms-after-the-rain success of wild yeast beers somebody somewhere in the wine world must have been/is experimenting with low-level brett and other yeasts that add stronger distinctiveness. My current base in Tokyo makes it exceedingly hard to do hand-to-mouth research, however. Certainly Musar has always had such ‘issues’, and I have memories from Sicily and Sardinia as well, though haven’t been on the ground there recently. Intuitively easy to think no UC Davis grad might be doing it. In CA you might need a Thackrey level of iconoclasticism.
I have run into at least two Washington wineries that intentionally introduced brett,
one in a Syrah, one in Cab! These were confirmed, not just my suspicions.
Another time I thought I detected brett, but the wine maker said that his wines were all tested for the presence of 4EG/4EP, with negative results, and what I was smelling was wild yeast.
I don’t know if the Tablas is intentional, but it has been a joke among my circle of wine drinkers about the authentic Beaucastel character. I think both Tablas and Beaucastel have cleaned up.
My experiences with brett in beer is significantly more positive than my experiences with brett in wine. For whatever reason, the flavors seem to harmonize better with beer, which I suspect has something to do with the stronger grain/malt (as opposed to fruit) flavor profile. Brett beers definitely taste funky, but they’re not particularly objectionable to me.
On the other hand, high levels of brett are ruinous for pinot. I had a 2002 Olivier Guyot Clos St. Denis last year, and I was told that Olivier had some serious issues with brett blooms that vintage. There was so much funk on the nose and palate that the fruit was nearly invisible underneath. Needless to say, this went down the drain.
I’m not sure a wine that is fermented primarily with brett would be anything other than undrinkable, though I’d love to hear any winemaker thoughts on this point.
Thanks for the link Larry, that’s really interesting info. Could well be a trend to watch out for down the road. The comparison to Malo might be a stretch, but it gets the point across at the potential here.
Definitely recommend checking out the article Larry linked above. The line of thought that all Brett is a fault in wine doesn’t appear to be factual in any way. However, as you suggest it may work better with beer and Rhone grapes, like Mourvèdre.
Thanks for the article Larry! I think that the one point that settles the issue for me is the reference to the uncontrollable nature of brett and its ability to mutate quickly. That doesn’t sound like something you want to bet your life savings on.
Not sure I’d go that far. Brett IS a fault and should always be considered one, regardless of the attributes it may contribute to the wine. The fact is that it is a spoilage yeast, pure and simple. It lives and breathes by sticking around when hoses, barrels, tanks etc are not cleaned as well as they should be. Period. Or if cellars are not kept in ‘clean’ conditions . . .