Wild Brettanomyces: Boulevard Brewing Saison-Brett

July 10 2012 - 10:59 AM

One of the more talked about beers of late has been Kansas City’s Boulevard Brewing’s Saison-Brett, their saison farmhouse ale brewed with that dangerous wild yeast, Brettanomyces.  This potentially uncontrollable culture, Brett, as it’s popularly called, actually plays a prominent role in beer and wine couture.  It has been a longstanding ingredient in various French wines and also beers such as lambics and other varieties.  For American brewers, it’s the next level.  Stateside brewers have begun playing with it of late to some stunning effects.  That, of course, assumes they avoid all-out disaster.

Brett grows slowly under barrel conditions due to oxygen deprivation, but once it takes residency on the brewing premises, it’s difficult to oust.  Sanitation practices of the highest order must be employed by any brewer nurturing Brett. If it infects your batch, its presence is unavoidable and it stands a likelihood of imparting your fermentation with undesired flavors and odors, possibly as harsh as a ghastly funk.

Word on the street was that Boulevard used Brett quite effectively in its latest saison.  That glaring 95 rating at Beer Advocate spoke volumes. I don’t always agree with their ratings, but it’s rare that a beer scores in the 90’s that I don’t like. So, I had to go try it.  Sure enough, Saison-Brett proved BA right yet again; it’s truly a remarkable beer.  It arrived to me in a goblet that released its bouquet and proudly presented its fat, spongy white head replete with tiny bubbles.  The saison yeast overtakes the nostrils.  You also get grainy hops, spice, lemon zest, and a bit of banana, maybe a nectarine on the nose.  Carbonation briefly nips at you, ala a champagne.  The hazy orange beer smooths out into a red wine-like density, with light-but-sharp carbonation continually prickling your palate.

The flavor is gorgeously rustic.  You get a bit of sweet fruit and nectar and some grainy hops.  Naturally, the Brett features most prominently, adding a rugged, earthy undertone to the mix, turning a traditional saison on its dainty head, and providing an irresistible bite.

Boulevard has again created a remarkable beer; their large-format series, aka the Smokestack series, continues to produce singular, delectable beers.

–M. Sheppard