Brettanomyces is a word that even the most sober of tongues might trip over. Better then not to try saying it, but instead let the tongue get on with tasting this type of yeast that is particularly good at producing palate-pleasing yet complex flavours when grown in alcohol – preferably in one of Somerset-based Wild Beer’s selection of adventurous blends.
“Yeast has been industrialised over the past 150 years by brewers training it to be quick, clean and neutral,” says the craft brewer’s co-founder, Andrew Cooper. “This is great when you’re looking purely at production numbers, but not if you’re trying to make a beer that’s as flavourful as possible. We use yeasts not just on their own, but in different blends. Few companies are prepared to do that.”
Take the 5.8 per cent Evolver IPA (£2.70 for 330ml), whose name reflects the fact that its taste changes depending on how soon it is drunk; like a wine, it can be opened straight away or left in the cellar to mature. Wild Beer recommends cellaring for at least six months to let the brettanomyces really kick in. And this isn’t the only way the company’s brews are comparable with wine; it was the waxy-topped 750ml bottles that first caught my eye, and many of its beers come with food-pairing suggestions. Its 3.6 per cent Sourdough beer (£3.50 for 330ml), which uses 58-year-old sourdough yeast alongside brettanomyces, should be sampled with a brunch of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, while my personal favourite, the 9 per cent Ninkasi (£9 for 750ml), fermented with Somerset apple juice, wild yeast and champagne yeast, works well with an aged cheddar.
The brewery also uses a range of different barrels to expand its flavours. Its 7 per cent Modus Operandi (£4 for 330ml, pictured) – a dark, jammy beer – is split between bourbon barrels and red-wine barrels and then blended back together, while one of its five annual limited editions, 4.7 per cent The Blend (£18 for 750ml; the 2016 iteration has just been released in a batch of 1,800 bottles), combines 10 different sour beers from barrels between six months and three years old. “By bringing different ages of barrel together, you end up with a very complex and layered beer, with lots of different things going on,” says Cooper. “It’s something we’ve learnt from winemakers, cidermakers and new-wave whisky makers like Compass Box.”
As a longtime aficionado of Trappist beers who has been underwhelmed by many British craft brews, I never thought I’d find anything bottled in the UK worthy of being spoken about in the same malty breath as Belgium’s monastic masterpieces. Yet now I am more excited about Wild Beer’s next release, due out this month – the full-bodied and tangy 6.5 per cent Shnoodlepip 2016 (£14 for 750ml; limited edition batch of 2,500 bottles), which has been aged in red-wine barrels with pink pepper, hibiscus and passion fruit – than my next trip to Bruges.