Brewing an Allagash Midnight Brett Clone

My very first trip to the Allagash brewery in Portland, Maine opened my eyes to a whole new world of beer styles, flavors, and quality. At that time I hadn’t had much exposure to Belgian styles or any wild ales for that matter. On that first trip they had four samples on tap, White, Saison, Century Ale, and finally Midnight Brett. They were all great beer in their own right, and all free to sample! But I enjoyed Midnight Brett the most and luckily I was able to purchase two bottles to take home as well.

 

Midnight Brett
Image sourced from Beer Street Journal

I didn’t make any tasting notes that day, or with the bottles I brought home (Doh!) but I did remember how complex the beer was. Not to mention it still stands out for me as one of the best beers I’ve enjoyed from Allagash, along with Nancy and Coolship Resurgam. It was something completely different from anything I had enjoyed up to that point.

Here’s what Allagash has to say about Midnight Brett:

Midnight Brett gets its name from the Midnight Wheat we brew it with. The dark wheat gives it a deep, dark chocolate color. The aroma opens with fresh berries and sour cherries, and ends with a warm roastiness. Each sip offers smooth drinkability met with the zip of tart fruitiness on the palate. We brew this beer with 2-row, Midnight wheat, raw wheat, and rye malt. It’s hopped with a blend of Perle, Glacier, and Simcoe hops.  We then add our house strain of local, wild Brettanomyces yeast. The yeast works its magic over the next eight months where the beer ferments in a stainless tank. Midnight Brett begs to be shared no matter the hour on the clock.

I knew, realistically, that I wouldn’t get extremely close to recreating it. I mean, this brewery makes incredible beer, and they’ve been doing it for a long time. Ranging from their tasty classic Belgian styles (White, Saison, Black, Dubbel, Tripel etc.) to their wild ales and coolship program which create incredible complex and tasty offerings. I did email Allagash trying to get a few details to help me out when I was writing this recipe.  I was mainly looking for approximate grain percentages and a Brett strain as I assumed they used a house strain. To my surprise the Technical Lead at the brewery responded quickly, and they were quite helpful. I gave them what I had come up with for a grain bill and they responded with a “looks good”, they did confirm they used a house Brett strain but were nice enough to point me towards Brett Claussenii, calling it “a beast!”. I didn’t remember hops playing a large role in the flavor of the beer, and there wasn’t much bitterness to speak of. So I settled on using about 35 IBUs, something in the range of a Saison. I didn’t have all of the hops that were listed for their recipe, but since I didn’t find them to have a prevalent role any of the times I’ve had the beer I didn’t worry too much about it, and I tried to sub in something remotely similar.

Recipe Targets: 10 gallons, Efficiency 72%, OG 1.055, FG 1.008, IBU 36, SRM 34, ABV 6.0%

Grain:

7.0 kg 2-row 67.9%

1.0 kg Rye malt 9.7%

0.9 kg Wheat malt 8.8%

0.8 kg Midnight wheat 7.8%

0.4 kg Rice hulls 3.9%

0.2 kg Acid malt 1.9%

Hops:

Magnum (13%) @ 60

Amarillo (8.7%) @ 10

CTZ (13.4%) @ 10

Extras:

1 Whirlfloc tablet @ 10

2 tsp yeast nutrient @ 10

Yeast:

White Labs – Brett Claussenii

 

I normally don’t brew 10 gallon batches, mainly because the majority of the beers I brew are hop forward and I just can’t get through that much on my own before the hops have faded significantly. But I had signed up for a beer exchange within a local beer club, the NBCBA and I wanted half for the exchange and the other half to age for an extended period of time as per the feedback I received from Allagash.

03/11/2015 Brewed by myself, mashed in with 27L @162F for 60 minutes resulting in a mash temp of 147F (target was 149F), mashed out with 15L @207F for 15 minutes. Drained mash tun completely and fly sparged with 4 gallons @168F. Pre boil gravity was 7 points high, 1.054, I assume increased efficiency as a result of fly sparging? Boil for 60 minutes, chilled to 60F, and split wort to two primaries. Shook each carboy for approximately two minutes, pitched about 200 billion cells to each and saved a little to maintain a culture. Shook each carboy for approximately one more minute each.

Activity took off within 24 hours and continued strong for a few days. Temperature never rose above 68F, within a week krausen had fallen and SG had already dropped to 1.008! Brett C is a beast indeed. I left it in primary for another five weeks (after which time it had settled in at 1.006) before bottling to meet the exchange deadline. I tried the beer a week later and I found it, well, boring. It tasted of light roast character, had a smooth mouth feel and minimal Brett presence, it tasted similar to a dark saison, but not a good dark saison. I was worried I was going to be “that guy”, you know, the guy that brings the worst beer to the exchange and everyone is stuck with drinking or dumping the mess he created. I decided to leave the bottles for another six weeks before reevaluating and luckily it’s coming along and gaining some complexity. Below are the tasting notes as the beer is now, I do still have the other carboy that will be left for another four to six months in primary with some Brett dregs added to, hopefully, improve this even more.

 

Obscurity - midnight Brett clone-3
Tasty for this time of year.

14/02/2016

Appearance: Pours with a medium, brown and tan  head which fades after several minutes to a quarter finger. Dark brown, almost black in color.

Aroma: Some dark fruit, light roast and slight leather.

Taste: Again dark fruit, cherry followed by leather Brett notes and finally moderate roast with almost no bitterness to speak of.

Mouthfeel: Medium-high carbonation, medium body, smooth.

Overall: I am enjoying this beer more now that it has some age,complexity, and Brett character. The roast character is still a little too prevalent but I know that will fade with time. I would likely reduce the midnight wheat to 6% next time. I am looking forward to comparing this batch with the batch still in primary, I will update my tasting notes at that time. I believe this is a solid recipe and an easy one to brew, it’s going to be nice to have bottles of this around for quite some time. I hope to get my hands on another bottle of Midnight Brett next month when I get back to the brewery so I can do a side by side comparison.

 

Brewing a 100% Brett Pale Ale

A friend recently encouraged me to start a brewing blog and I was hesitant, to say the least. But after some thought I decided to give it a shot. I think it can only help to write out the progress from developing a recipe, to brewing, to the best part, tasting! So here goes…

The same friend brews awesome beer and has a very well written blog, if you’re not reading it yet you should be!

I debated for a while what beer to start with and two reasons brought me to this Brett pale ale. Firstly it’s my most recent beer, having only kegged it about a week ago. Secondly, I had some issues on brew day. Issues with brewing, fermentation, carbonation etc are all part of home brewing. Everyone experiences them at some point. So, despite having some issues on brew day I thought this was appropriate for my first post.

I mainly brew hop forward styles. Over the past couple of years I have become pretty picky, for better or worse, on what I expect out of these styles. I generally want a prominent hop aroma and flavor up front, with very little in the way of specialty malts (especially Crystal!), and I want the beer to finish dry. As dry as possible! I’m not saying this is the correct way to brew IPAs and pale ales, it’s just what I prefer.

I’ve especially been enjoying hop forward beer using Brett as a primary strain lately. You still get some classic Brett barnyard character this way, though it’s far less pronounced. What you lose in barnyard character gets made up for with lots of over ripe fruit and tropical flavors. The Brett only seems to accentuate hops that fall into that category, which is why I think I enjoy Brett as a primary strain so much.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m about as far from an expert with Brett as one can get, this being only my third time using Brett as a primary strain, and only the second time in a hop-forward style. From everything I’ve read Brett used in primary creates a fairly stable flavor profile, showcasing mostly fruity flavor and aroma. But this can change as the beer ages to produce more of the characteristic Brett funk. This changes a great deal when Brett is used in secondary, in this situation it exhibits a much more leather, horse blanket, barnyard profile. As I’ve said, I’m no expert, if you’d like to read more I suggest this post by The Mad Fermentationist.

For strains there are obviously numerous choices. I know someone who has made a couple of fantastic Brett IPAs using Brett Amalgamation from the Yeast Bay, so I felt this was a safe choice. From there, choosing hops wasn’t overly difficult considering what I had on hand. Vic Secret and Kohatu are a couple of new(ish) varieties from Australia and New Zealand, respectively, with both boasting fruity and tropical characteristics. Even though I hadn’t used either before, they also seemed like reasonably safe choices. From there I went with a simplified grist similar to this recipe which I’ve had and really enjoyed.

amalgamation

I built up a starter to about 300 billion cells. I only needed about 200 billion, but I wanted to over grow so I could set some aside to keep an active culture for future use.

As far as the brew day issue I had mentioned previously, this was supposed to be an IPA, not pale ale. I had recently made some changes to my equipment profile and I ended up with a lower than expected efficiency and OG as a result. I ended up 7 points low which lead me out of the IPA category and into pale ale.

Recipe Targets:

5.0 gallons, 74% efficiency, OG 1.058, FG  1.008, IBU  56, SRM 3.7, ABV  5.7%

Grain:

3.50 kg Pale Malt (2 Row) 68.1 %

0.50 kg Oats, Flaked 9.7 %

0.50 kg Wheat Malt White 9.7 %

0.30 kg Carapils 5.8 %

0.20 kg Rice Hulls 3.9 %

0.14 kg Acid Malt 2.7 %

Hops:

20g Polaris [21%] @60

40g Kohatu [6.40 %] – Steep/Whirlpool 15 minutes

40g Vic Secret [17.40 %] – Steep/Whirlpool 15 minutes

35g Kohatu [6.40 %] – Chiller

35g Vic Secret [17.40 %] – Chiller

70.00 g Kohatu [6.40 %] – Dry Hop 7.0 Days

70.00 g Vic Secret [17.40 %] – Dry Hop 7.0 Days

*Dry hop additions were split. Half added to primary, the other half added to keg in weighted muslin bag.

Extras:

1 whirlfloc tablet @10

1 tsp yeast nutrient @10

Yeast:

The Yeast Bay – Amalgamation Brett Super Blend

I generally mash in quite low for IPA’s, usually at 149F. But I have found some brett beers to be a bit thin so I mashed in a little higher this time, 152F. I also knew from my last experience with this strain that it attenuates quite well.

09/01/2016 Mashed in with 14L water (165F) to attain mash temp of 152F for 45 minutes. Added mash out water, 8L (200F) for 15 minutes. Drained mash tun completely then sparged with 3 gallons of 170F water. Pre boil volume 7.2 gallons. 60 minute boil, chilled to 62F and transferred to primary. Shook for about two minutes, pitched yeast and shook for one more minute (I really need to get an oxygen system). Measured OG 1.051 which is why this ended up a pale ale instead of an IPA.

10/01/2016 Vigorous fermentation within 24 hours. Temperature never rose above 70F.

17/01/2016 Added dry hops

22/01/2016 Racked to CO2 purged keg along with keg hop addition in weighted muslin bag

Force carbed at 35 psi for 36 hours. Vented keg and lowered to serving pressure.

Final gravity 1.004

IMG_0315

Appearance: Pours with a medium, white head which fades to a thin ring within about a minute. Straw colored (lighter than it appears in the picture above) with touch a of orange.

Aroma: Mainly over ripe fruit, a little pineapple, with some Brett barnyard rounding things out.

Taste: Similar to the aroma, light pineapple and maybe a little mango and orange. Brett barnyard funk comes through mid taste. Light bitterness that fades quickly, finishing quite dry.

Mouthfeel: Medium carbonation, light body, crisp and dry.

Overall: Despite my issue on brew day this turned out fairly well. I’m enjoying having it on tap and it seems to be mostly well received by friends (even the honest ones). Having said that if this was an IPA I would like a little more punch from the hops, but as a pale ale I think it works. If you get a chance to purchase either of these hops I can definitely say I recommend them. I’m excited to try a new strain of Brett and my favorite hop (Nelson) for my next Brett IPA. Coming soon…