That’s a Crusty Barnacle!
For our parents, that was sometime in the 60s. For the rest of us, it was sometime in 2013.
In the yesteryear of CMBC, when we had about five employees, Ryan said, “Hey! Let’s let our brilliant and knowledgeable employees design a beer!”
And it was so.
Then, in 2015, Ryan said, “Hey! We’ve got waaaaaay too many employees to do an Employee Series, so let’s break into teams and design a new beer!”
And it was so.
The Tasting Room, with its multitude of homebrewers, was the first team tapped, and they knocked it out of the park with an American Pale Ale entirely fermented with Brett yeast. It was so good, we’ve come back to it time and again, and it will make you re-think everything you’ve ever known about Brett: Crusty Barnacle.
One person we’re lucky to have around is our Head Brewer Brian Hink. Not only does he make some killer brews, but he has the memory of a hops-wielding elephant. Both of those things combine to make him invaluable to Straight to the Pint.
“When we moved to HQ in summer of 2015,” he (thankfully) recalls, “we left behind the 15-barrel brewhouse and the four 15-barrel fermentation tanks, which pretty much became my variety playground.”
You all know this space as the Sour Facility, but we’ve recently turned it into the Barrel Room for hosting smaller private events. Regardless, it’s still the space that we more-or-less hand over to Brian and say, “Here. All you, bro.”
“It was awesome,” he says. “I could pretty much brew up whatever I wanted. I would brew there every Wednesday to keep variety flowing over the summer… ahh, the good ole days.”
In that space, we had one dedicated Brett tank, usually filled with Turtle Gut or Coastal with Brett, but the other three tanks stayed clean — we didn’t want to muck them up with Brett, which has the tendency to go forth and multiply. Repeatedly. Like bunnies. So, we were still able to brew Concrete Ship, Watermelon Wheat, Avalon Coffee Stout, and Harvest Ale were brewed in the Tasting Room that summer.
“But then the decision to sell the brewhouse — and greatly expand the visitor area of that building, which was obviously much needed — came, and we decided we were going to turn everything over there into sour beers with less frequent releases.”
We decided to let the Tasting Room devise the last beer that we’d actually brew over there — now, everything is brewed at HQ and transferred over. Assistant Tasting Room Manager Dan Petela and a few of the more senior Tasting Room employees led the charge with ideas of what to brew.
“I stayed pretty hands-off,” Brian recalls. “I wanted to see what they’d come up with.”
“Originally it was supposed to be a simple oat pale ale with Amarillo,” Dan remembers. “It was neat, though, seeing the difference between my 5-gallon system and a production system. With Brian taking the reins, showing everybody the ropes and explaining along the way, I learned a lot.
“Then Brian mentioned using Brett since Crusty was to be the last brew on the 15-barrel system.”
Since it was to be the last beer actually brewed in the Sour Facility, using Brett as the single fermenting yeast made sense.
“It just seemed fitting,” Dan says.
“I couldn’t pass up the golden opportunity to get one of my favorite kinds of beers brewed,” Brian says, “a 100% Brett-fermented Pale Ale/IPA, which were few and far between back then and even more so now, but they were pretty much NEIPAs before NEIPAs were NEIPAs.”
So, let’s talk about Brett for a minute and why you need to throw out everything you’ve ever learned about Brett when it comes to Crusty Barnacle.
Brettanomyces — or, to name the strain used in Crusty Barnacle, Brettanomyces lambicus — is considered a “wild yeast,” mostly because, back in the early days of brewing, it kept showing up and no one could figure out why. When it did, they generally considered it a not-so-good thing. In fact, “brettanomyces” is Greek for “British fungus”.
“By now it’s a well-cultivated and -cultured yeast that we can buy from all the yeast labs out there,” Brian says, but up until more recently — let’s say the last 10-20 years — these yeast strains weren’t commonly available.”
Yet, we still consider it a “wild yeast”, mostly because it does things that normal yeast doesn’t.
“It has the ability to consume sugars that normal yeast can’t,” says Director of Brewing Operations, Jimmy Valm, “leading to it mostly being used in secondary fermentations for added complexity to a beer.”
Brett — a name that definitely sounds more adorable than “British fungus” — can eat up longer chain dextrins than his more commonly used cousin, Saccharomyces cerevisiae. He also has a longer lag time than Sacc strains, meaning that Brett will patiently wait for his turn at the trough, so to speak. Because of that, we usually use Brett for a secondary fermentation, munching up all the sugars that were too long to be fermented out the first time around.
By the time Brett gets to work, it’s in a relatively stressful environment. The Sacc strains have already eaten most of the food out there, and they’ve created a bunch of alcohol and CO2. It’s a mess in there by the time they get to work.
That’s why what they put out is relatively funky. Beers with a secondary Brett fermentation usually get descriptors like “barnyard”, “rustic”, “horsey”, “earthy”, or “bandaidy”.
Usually funky. Usually being the key word here.
However, with Crusty Barnacle, we use it as the only yeast strain. Since Brett and Sacc aren’t competing in the fermenter — and Brett isn’t losing the competition — he can take his time and eat whatever he wants.
The result is more fruity than barnyardy. You’ll get notes of cherry pie, pineapple, apricots, and some floral characteristics. Because of that, we use Amarillo, Centennial, and Citra hops — all primarily citrusy in nature — to bring out more of those fruit-forward flavors.
“With Brett consuming the sugars well past the limit of a normal brewers’ yeast,” says Brewer Mark Graves, “you’ll get a dry, sometimes expressive beer. A Bretted pale ale is similar to a pale ale but often has more yeast-derived funk, fruitiness, and sometimes even tartness. That complemented with the right hops and drinkability of a pale ale make for a really special experience.”
The fruitiness is apparent in the aroma, as well — tons of fruit with a touch of funk.
“The aroma is great,” Brian says. “Centennial, Citra, and Amarillo are all very well known hops, with Centennial and Citra making up the majority of Coastal‘s aroma, and Citra and Amarillo making up the bulk of City‘s aroma, these are hop combinations we all know very well. The way the Brett aromatics play off the citrusy fruity aroma of the hops is really unique — definitely it’s own thing — and really helps it stand out against the waves of other hoppy beers out there.”
So, if you’re looking for funk, you’ll have to hold off until we do Coastal with Brett. Which… you might not have to wait too long. (Wink, nudge.)
However, using Brett as the primary fermenter is not without its drawbacks. Since it could ferment a Toyota, there’s very little left behind in terms of unfermentable sugars. With an attenuation rate that high, you might be left with a brew that comes across a little watery.
That’s why we use oats in the grain bill: they have the ability to increase mouthfeel.
“Oats are exceptionally high in Beta-glucans,” Brian says, “which help promote a more well-rounded mouthfeel, so that’s a big benefit of them in there.”
“Oats have a great ability to easily produce a beer with a bigger body than normally expected and tends to make a beer seem thicker than one would expect from its terminal gravity,” Jimmy says. “This helps cut back on any astringency and bitterness and make for a smoother beer.”
The result: a complex and fruity beer with just a touch of funk and a pillowy head that brings all of those delicious fruit aromas to the nose. It’s Brett as you’ve never known Brett before.
The hot and humid temperatures of August are perfect for Crusty, Mark tells us.
“I’m looking forward to drinking this on a really hot day outside when I’m looking for some complexity, but also refreshment,” he says. “I’d pair it with something that can stand up to the complex nature of Brett. A hearty dry aged steak with garlic mashed potatoes or something with blue cheese in it. The dryness will cleanse your palate and allow your pallet to be ready for the next bite.”
Crusty Barnacle is on tap now in the Tasting Room. It sounds like a growler would be perfect for this weekend’s barbecues or parties or tailgating in the lot before a concert.
Swing down to the Tasting Room this weekend and pick some up!