It’s the small things that make life worthwhile, right? These kinds of cliches and old saws are practiced truisms, perfected in thought and belief over the centuries of introspection and humans’ innate desire to contemplate his place in the universe. It doesn’t get much smaller, and therefore much more worthwhile, I guess, than microorganisms.
One unassuming little microorganism in particular holds my admiration these days as it’s responsible for altering certain ingredients into the funky, sour ale I love so much. Brettanomyces yeast — as opposed to any other brewer’s yeast — usually forms on the skins of fruit and has the tendency to ruin many styles of wine and beer. In fact, its name is from the Greek meaning “British fungus” as it was officially discovered while examining the causes of English ale spoilage.
As to why brett, as it’s called, ruins some styles of beer and thoroughly elevates others takes a degree in advanced chemistry with a minor in molecular biology. Suffice it to say that throughout Belgium, wild strains of brett ended up on fermenting beer or infecting wine barrels and forever changed how we looked at beer. Its presence is the reason for the tart and sour ale we (or at least, me) all know and love.
Where in wine brett yeast can make a red smell like, say, antiseptic or cheese or Band-aids… even sweaty saddle (I swear that’s a technical classification!), in ale it delivers a sense of dark dried fruits, earth, orchards growing next to a barnyard. Why some of us find this desireable? Who knows? Why do kids like candy so sour their heads implode into singularities? Why do some guys like to wear skin-tight girls’ pants with a baggy, horizontal-striped tanktop? Why does anyone eat at chain seafood restaurants when we live on the Gulf Coast?
Again, it’s about the little things in life; the tiny permutations of self and personality that give us all our unique style. Here’s a beer possessive of brett that was one of the first selections Hopjacks ever purchased 4 1/2 years ago. St. Somewhere Brewing from Tarpon Springs, “rat-cheer” in Florida has an offering called Lectio Divina. The name refers to traditional daily readings of scripture intended to bring the reader closer to an understanding of God by considering the meaning of the words themselves. Sounds like an celebration of the small details to me!
Lectio, the beer, is hazy amber-brown with a fluffy head that settles down quickly. Saison and wild strains of brettanomyces give Lectio two styles at once: the rich malt sweetness of an abbey ale and the tart citrus of an unfiltered farmhouse style. The nose is funky and floral with a wide range of scents from cardamom to corriander to tangerine. Its flavors are at once grapey and malt-forward with dried apricot, apple, fig, candy sugar, raisin, nutmeg and white pepper. It is incredibly complex yet it retains its balance.