Monday, 20 February 2017

It's only going to get worse

I don't often buy bottled or canned beer nowadays but whenever I'm in the Lake District I have to peruse the excellent selection in Booths. The one in Keswick has been rearranged since my last visit and there's now a section labelled "traditional ale" where all the 500ml bottles can be found.

The 750ml bottles and 330ml bottles and cans are in a separate, unlabelled section. I guess they haven't got the "craft" sign printed yet. The division is as clueless as you would expect from a supermarket, it doesn't matter what the beer style is, if it's in 500ml bottles it's "traditional".

Traditional beer from Adnams

"Craft" beer from Adnams

The two sections also gave me an excellent opportunity to investigate beer pricing in the wake of Thornbridgegate and I'm afraid the news is not good. The Adnams beer in 500ml bottles sold for £4 a litre, in 330mls £5.80 a litre. The best though was from Roosters:

The 500ml bottles and the 330ml cans are the same price, so you can get exactly the same beer at £3.50 or £5.30 a litre depending on your container preference.

Oakham brewery is still flying the flag for lovers of hop juice in 500ml bottles.

But how long will it continue to do so when it could crank the price up 50% simply by putting its beer in smaller containers?

Friday, 17 February 2017

A visit to Meantime brewery

After the excitement of the Wimbledon brewery it was Meantime next.

Here's some cylindroconical fermenters:

 And there's a close up of the conical bit:

Our genial host:

The sink was ten grand apparently, though it is rather snazzy. 

Ready for hop additions:

The Aber perfect pitch which uses capacitance to count viable yeast cells.

Some indoor fermenters:

 With a pressure relief valve and anti-collapse valve:

I know one of these people:

 Then a trainee showed us something he'd been working on...

...which was really rather good, if a little young.

The re-revived Thomas Hardy Ale has been going for three years now and still not a drop sold. I dare say it won't be too long before some finally finds its way to the shops, and I look forward to having some more.

Then it was time for some more thorough research.

Having enjoyed the visit I was in an ecumenical mood and thought it was time to try the tank lager. Though I have absolutely no idea how serving beer in larger containers is supposed to make it fresher the lager was fine. A bit grainy, but it might be how it's meant to be, and it was better than the tank  ale.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

A visit to Wimbledon brewery

I visted Wimbledon brewery last week. It's a 30bbl plant built by Olympus Automation.

These are the same people that built the Old Dairy Brewery's 30bbl plant, though it has a few improvements.

Like a mash tun that mostly empties itself.

And a spreader in the copper.


We were being shown round by Derek Prentice, who was keen for us to try the beers. Which seemed like an excellent idea to me.

They do them in cask, keg, bottle and can and I tried them all. All were bright, and no prizes for guessing which I preferred.

After that it was back to the Goose Island place to enjoy some more of their hospitality before I headed home.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

CAMRA Kremlinology

The workings of our mother church can be impenetrable at times. So I was pleased to be invited to a BGBW do to hear from the CAMRA revitalisation committee.

I didn't make it to my local revitalisation meeting, I was planning to go but a friend arranged a visit to the Dorking tunnels on the same day and I couldn't miss that.

They're dead good, go to a depth of 20m too.

I hadn't read the Revitalisation report either, what with there being things to do and only so many hours in the day. I've stopped questioning our church's teachings anyway. Back in the early days of this blog I used to whinge on about the bits that were bollocks but the Tandleman himself, the defender of the faith, put me straight. "CAMRA is about cask beer, all the rest is commentary" he said. Or something like that. And with those words the demon whispering on my shoulder was banished for good. Cask beer is indeed god's work, and it should have an organisation to defend it.

Michael Hardman
So, unprepared, I was looking forward to hearing about what had been going on. After being introduced CAMRA founder Michael Hardman reported on the 18 months of the Revitalisation project. The first six months were spent discussing what to do, the next six months travelling round the country to 50 regional meetings, and then six months arguing about it! He said he'd met some of the most enthusiastic beer drinkers in the country, and some of the greatest dinosaurs.

That last point interested me, as I suspect I count as a CAMRA dinosaur myself. Certainly given the choice I will order cask beer over keg probably greater than 999 times out of a 1000. I wonder if there's a term for crafties that never drink cask? Oh yes, heathens.

Hardman stated the conclusions in the report are that CAMRA should keep its name and build on a strong brand with a vision of seeing quality real ale and thriving pubs. It is not a manifesto for the status quo though, as if CAMRA is to survive in the long term it needs significant change. It needs to shift it's focus from a technical definition to a focus on quality, and build knowledge and understanding.

He continued that CAMRA sees real ale as the pinnacle of the brewers art, but not all quality beer is real ale. I thought there was some clever wording here, as it leaves a lot of room for interpretation, but we'll see how it pans out.

He finished saying the campaign must move to improve quality of beer, cider and perry in commercial settings. CAMRA should fight the anti-alcohol lobby. CAMRA's views haven't really changed since it started and with 185,000 members there was some compromise, but the recommendation sent to the national executive was the collective view of the committee.

There were some interesting points in the discussion. It was mentioned there were also three online surveys, and over a 1000 people took part in the surveys who weren't CAMRA members. Meetings also took place with SIBA, the BBPA, politicians and publicans. But for all the questions raised there seemed very few answers though. This could be because the national executive seem to have had kittens when they saw the project's recommendations. OK, that wasn't exactly how it was put but CAMRA Kremlinologists can draw conclusions from the fact that the current national executive decided to delay any decisions until 2018, and three of the Revitalisation committee have decided to stand for election to the national executive. Hearing this moved me to made a rare break from my strict abstentionist position and cast my votes. It will be interesting to see how things develop.

Monday, 30 January 2017

The Brewing Science of Brettanomyces

The Brewing Science of Brettanomyces

The British Fungus

Brettanomyces is a genus of non-Saccharomyces yeast of importance to the brewing industry. It was named by NH Claussen, the Director of the Carlsberg laboratory, in a paper published in the Journal of the Institute of Brewing in 19041. He had identified from English stock ales the organism responsible for “both the condition of these beers and their flavour”. He named it Brettanomyces (British fungus) due to its close connection to the British brewing industry. Stock ales underwent a long maturation and for them to condition a true secondary fermentation, by a secondary yeast, was necessary. Using Hansen's pure yeast culture method for producing stock ales obtained poor results as the pure cultures were free of Brettanomyces. Demand for stock ales was however in terminal decline by the time of Claussen's paper. Mild or running beers served soon after brewing replaced them, and like the cask beers of today they came into condition though the action of Saccharomyces on residual or added priming sugars without the need for a secondary fermentation by Brettanomyces.
Adding Brettanomyces to bring about a secondary fermentation was however used in Courage Imperial Russian Stout, and in Belgium, the method continues to be used in the production of the Trappist beer Orval. It also plays an important role in Belgian sour beer production, and recently interest in using this yeast has grown, to the extent that some breweries now use it for primary fermentation. 

Orval Brett.

Current Classification

As with most micro-organisms the Brettanomyces species have been reclassified as scientific understanding has advanced. Brettanomyces had only been known to reproduce asexually, but the discovery of ascopsore formation in Brettanomyces by Van der Walt and Kerken2 led to its reclassification of the genus as Dekkera. Species have also been reclassified which adds to the difficulty of keeping up with current nomenclature. At the present time there are four species3 in the genus, two of which have been seen to form spores:
The spore formers are Dekkera anomala (into which the species claussenii has been merged) and Dekkera bruxellensis (into which the species lambicus has been merged) and the non-spore-formers are Brettanomyces custersianus and Brettanomyces naardenensis. As it is likely that the genus will be reclassified back to Brettanomcyes4, and it is the most commonly used term by those that brew with these organisms, I shall continue to use it in this article. Genetically Brettanomyces shows a marked degree of diversity, which will no doubt keep the taxonomists busy. Researchers looking at B. bruxellensis have found large variation in chromosome size and number4 and that it has a core diploid genome however triploid strains are common5

Vegetative Brettanomyces cells

Spore forming D.bruxellensis cells

Non-Saccharomyces yeast

As a non-Saccharomyces yeast its metabolism differs from that of normal brewing yeast strains. It is able to use a wider range nitrogen source, which gives it an advantage over Saccharomyces spp. in nutritionally depleted environments such as beer4. This has also been used as the basis for selective media such as lysine agar6.
Brettanomyces will ferment glucose faster in the presence of oxygen than it will anaerobically. This was named the Custers effect after the researcher that discovered this in 19407. It will also produce acetic acid at the same time – one of the reasons that Brettanomyces is often associated with sour beer. However in an anaerobic environment this does not occur so it is perfectly possible to make beers using Brettanomyces that are not sour. As many beers fermented using Brettanomyces are aged in wooden barrels or vats, it is worth noting that the larger the vessel, the less oxygen ingress there is over time per unit volume of beer8, which perhaps explains the fondness the old porter brewers had for giant vats.

Carbon source

One of Brettanomyces best known characteristics is its ability to attenuate beer further than normal brewing yeast by utilising dextrins that they cannot ferment. Andrews and Gilliland of the Guinness laboratory described how a secondary attenuation limit was determined after fermentation with Saccharomyces by using a culture of Brettanomyces9. It can produce both an intra- and extra-cellular α-glucosidase, both of which can potentially hydrolyse dextrins with greater than 9-12 glucose units, producing glucose and the next lower dextrin10. In a research project carried out at Heriot-Watt University, Chad Yakobson found that glucose levels could even increase during fermentation as this dextrin breakdown occurs11.
Sugar utilisation is highly variable within the genus9,11. The slow growth of Brettanomyces means that in mixed fermentations it is out competed by Saccharomyces and cannot take full advantage of the wort glucose and maltose. In pure culture Brettanomyces fermentations it is found that most strains can however utilise both these sugars, though this does to some extent repress dextrin utilisation and limit super-attenuation12. Some strains produce a β-glucosidase which allows them to ferment the wood sugar cellobiose. β-glucosidase is also involved in the bio-transformation of hop compounds leading to the release of glycosidically-bound flavour active volatile compounds13.

Esters and esterases

Researchers looking into the complex world of lambic fermentations have found that all the Brettanomyces isolates they examined showed esterase activity not found in Saccharomyces. The esterases found in Brettanomyces do not only break down esters, they also have ester-synthesising activity14. In lambic beers after Brettanomyces growth, high levels of ethyl acetate (fruity, solvent flavour) and ethyl lactate (fruity, creamy) were found, but very low levels of iso-amyl acetate (banana). A similar situation is found in beers that have a secondary Brettanomyces fermentation after primary fermentation with Saccharomyces. The ester profile of the beer is changed, something that will not happen if Saccharomyces is used for conditioning. Other esters, such as ethyl caproate (pineapple) and ethyl caprylate (fruity, winey, waxy) are also associated with the flavour of lambic beers and are likely to be produced by Brettanomyces15.

Phenolic compounds

Some of the characteristic flavour compounds produced by Brettanomyces are phenols16. Flavour active compounds produced include 4-vinylguiacol (clove flavour), 4-vinylphenol (barnyard, medicinal, plastic) and 4-vinylcatechol (plastic, bitter, smoky). Unlike Saccharomyces, Brettanomyces has the enzyme vinylphenol reductase which will reduce these compounds to their corresponding ethyl derivatives3 : 4-ethylguiacol (spicy, clove), 4-ethylphenol (medicinal) and 4-ethylcatechol (medicinal, barnyard). In beer the concentration of 4-ethylphenol is lower than 4-ethylguaicol, though in wine the situation is reversed17.

Other flavour compounds

Mousy off-flavours can be caused by Brettanomyces due to production of ETHP (2-ethyltetrahydropyridine) and ATHP (2-acetlytetrahydropyridine). The amount produced is strain specific, though the presence of oxygen stimulates their production4. During anaerobic growth, Brettanomyces will produce a number of fatty acids, some of which have cheesy or goaty flavours such as isovaleric acid, caproic acid and caprylic acid3,11,15.
As can be seen not all the flavours produced by Brettanomyces are desirable. A number of factors influence which flavours are produced, these include the strain, pitching rate, wort composition and fermentation conditions11,12. Flavours can also change over time, as for example fatty acids are esterified. When Brettanomyces beers are matured for a long time they will require regular sampling to determine if the desired flavour profile has developed. Some breweries will then use pasteurisation when packaging to prevent further flavour changes12.


Brettanomyces can be used to carry out fermentations in a number of different ways. When using B. clausenii (WLP645) for secondary fermentations in a way similar to that first described by Claussen, I found that the gravity of the beer would drop by another two degrees Sacch (half a degree Plato) and the fermentation would be complete after two months at room temperature. As many brewers will be aware, a very small amount of Brettanomyces can have a large effect and the recommended pitching rate for secondary fermentations ranges from 100 to 2,000,000 cells per ml!12 I used approximately 500,000 cells per ml. 

Pure Brettanomyces fermentations are slow to start due to its inability to produce glycerol4 but will still be completed within weeks with most strains giving an apparent attenuation of 80-90%. The lack of glycerol production can also make pure Brettanomyces beers taste thinner than normal. As the Brettanomyces has easier access to nutrients and is less stressed when no competing organisms are present, the flavour development has been reported as more muted than that found when it is used for secondary fermentations – though in my experience this is not always the case. Pitching rates similar to that of Saccharomyces are recommended for primary fermentation, and some brewers oxygenate as normal whereas others to restrict oxygenation to stress the yeast and increase production of flavour compounds. Some brewers ferment at around 20°C, though others will allow it to rise as high as 27-28°C to promote ester formation12.
In the “spontaneous” fermentations of lambic and similar beers it can be eight months before the Brettanomyces starts to out-compete the Saccharomyces, but once established, it can continue to grow for years18. Growing in mixed cultures with lactic acid bacteria leads to increased attenuation9,19, as does adding lactic acid to the wort11.
Despite its long history in brewing, the full potential of making beer with Brettanomyces is only now being found and there is still much to learn about this interesting organism.

  1. Claussen, NH. (1904). On a Method for the Application of Hansen's Pure Yeast System in the Manufacturing of Well-Conditioned English Stock Beers. Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Vol 10, Issue 4, 308-311.
  2. Van der Walt, JP and Kerken, AE. (1960). The Wine yeasts of the Cape part IV – Ascospore formation in the genus Brettanomyces. Antonie van Leeuwenhoek International Journal. Vol 26, Issue 1, 292-296.
  3. Crauwels, S. et al. (2015). Brettanomyces Bruxellensis, Essential Contributor in Spontaneous Beer Fermentation Providing Novel Opportunities for the Brewing Industry. Brewing Science. Vol 68, 110-121.
  4. Steensels, J. et al. (2015). Brettanomyces yeasts - From spoilage organisms to valuable contributers to industrial fermentations. International Journal of Food Microbiology, issue 206, 24-38
  5. Borneman, A.R. et al. (2014). Insights into the Dekkera bruxellensis Genomic Landscape: Comparative Genomics Reveals Variations in Ploidy and Nutrient Utilisation Potential amongst Wine Isolates. PLOS genetics. Vol 10, Issue 2, 1-11.
  6. Morris, E.O. and Eddy, A. A. (1957). Method for the measurement of wild yeast infection in pitching yeast. Journal of the Institute of Brewing. Vol 63, Issue 1, 34–35.
  7. Custers, M.J.T. (1940). Onderzoekingen over het Gistgeslacht Brettanomyces. PhD thesis, University of Delft.
  8. Sparrow, J. (2005). Wild Brews: beer beyond the influence of brewer's yeast. Brewers Publications, Colorado. p197.
  9. Andrews, J. and Gilliland, R.B. (1952). Super-attenuation of beer: a study of three organisms capable of causing abnormal attenuation. Journal of the Institute of Brewing. Vol 58, Issue 3, 189-196.
  10. Shantha Kumara, H.M.C. et al. (1993). Localisation and characterisation of α-glucosidase activity in Brettanomyces lambicus. Applied and Environmental Microbiology. Vol 59, no. 8, 2352-2358.
  11. Tonsmeire, M. (2014). American Sour Beer. Brewers Publications, Colorado.
  12. Daenen, L. et al. (2007). Screen and evaluation of the glucoside hydrolase acitivity in Saccharomyces and Brettanomcyes brewing yeasts. Journal of Applied Microbiology, Vol 104, 478-488.
  13. Spaepen, M. and Verachtert, H. (1982). Esterase activity in the genus Brettanomcyes. Journal of the Institute of Brewing. Vol 88, issue 1, 11-17.
  14. Spaepen, M. et al. (1978). Fatty acids and esters produced during the spontaneous fermentation of lambic and gueuze. Journal of the Institute of Brewing. Vol 84, issue 5, 278-282.
  15. Licker, J.L. et al. (1999). What is “Brett” (Brettanomcyes) flavor?: a preliminary investigation. In Chemistry of Wine Flavor; Waterhouse, A. et al. ACS Symposium Series. Washington.
  16. Schifferdecker, A.J. et al (2014). The wine and beer yeast Dekkera bruxellensis. Yeast, 31: 323-332.
  17. Van Oevelen, D. et al. (1977). Microbiological aspects of spontaneous wort fermentation in the production of lambic and gueuze. Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Vol 83, issue 6, 356-360.
  18. Martens, H. et al. (1997). Microbiological aspects of a mixed yeast-bacterial fermentation in the production of special Belgian acid ale. Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Vol 103, issue 2, 85-91.

This article apperared in the December 2016 issue of Brewer and Distiller International magazine. It was based on at talk I gave at the Carnivale Brettanomyces. Thanks to my colleagues Chris Rice and Chris Raleigh for the pictures of the cells, the picture of the D.bruxellensis is the first one I've seen of this bug when it's formed spores.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

The UK's first craft beer pub

An invitation to the opening of the UK's first craft beer pub was something I could not turn down. I've always wanted to time travel, and going back to when this momentous event occurred would be fascinating. Though come to think of it you'd probably have to go back a further ten years so you could trash out exactly what you mean by craft beer first anyway.

Sadly no TARDIS was involved, the invitation was to the opening of Goose Island's (ABInBev) first pub in London, the Vintage Ale house in Balham. It's more a bar than a pub, having no hand pumps or carpet, and being in a shop unit sized space. Interestingly, the guy who founded Goose Island was there and he said they normally have a cask ale on at their brewpub in Chicago. It's nice to think that even in barbarian lands it's possible to receive the sacrament of the one true living beer. I've always quite fancied a visit to Chicago, though admittedly mainly to visit the Martyrs' Monument.

With no cask beer available in Balham I stared on the keg IPA, which was the best I've had in a long while. It seemed to have got back some of the zing it's been missing since production moved to a bigger brewery. I discussed this with one of the Goose Island people and he said to try and match the flavour they actually had to increase the hopping rate when they upscaled production to a new plant.

Next we were given a beer cocktail, a mimosa, made with Sofia, orange juice and (I think) Gran Marnier. I was very nice, but tasted nothing like beer, and I was wary about how strong it might be so didn't finish it. I wanted to save as much of my sadly reduced alcohol capacity for the coming main event, a five course beer and food matching meal:

The beer and food matching was by all accounts a great success, with the bloke who founded Goose Island even coming over to tell the guy who'd organised it how it was one of the best beer dinners he'd been to. It was mostly wasted on me though.

I mean the food was great, and there was some nice beer, but I'd have quite happily stuck with the beers I liked best (the IPA and Matilda) thoughout the evening. Matilda is Goose Island's take on Orval, and very good it is too. As Brettanomyces is one of my obsession it was interesting to hear the Goose Island people talk about, as it featured in the Matilda and some of the other beers. They didn't get much wrong either. Intentional use of Brett. in breweries is clearly growing. And come to think of it unintentional probably is too.

It was a cracking do Goose Island put on, but as I was ligging I've no idea how much it would cost to go there as a paying punter. Probably more than I'd fork out to be honest, I am quite tight.

Friday, 27 January 2017


It was the SIBA South Eastern AGM last week. There were a lot of people at the meeting, including the managing director Mike Benner and the operations director Nick Stafford. The meeting was well attended, and there was a lot to discuss so at times it felt a bit rushed and chaotic.

Nick Stafford spoke on the recent drop in the money that Enterprise Inns will pay under SIBA's Beerflex scheme. Rather than the negotiated price drop they mentioned in emails it was clear that the price drop was imposed by Enterprise, and also that he himself didn't think the prices paid by Beerflex were worth it. He said Beerflex now only accounted for 5% of the sales from his own brewery.

Mike Benner also spoke, a slightly surreal intervention particularly sticks in mind. After saying that he was not here to influence decisions taken by the members he argued at length against a proposal for members to have control over SIBA's decisions that affect them financially, leading one brewer to interject with the impressively sarky comment "That's you sitting on the fence then?". Brenner's arguments were that all decisions were overseen by 24 brewing representatives. This got me thinking about the gap between small and very small breweries, which Hardknott Dave sums up very well on his blog. He also points out why most SIBA members' interests are different from that of the Small Brewer Duty Reform Coalition (SBDRC), so I was quite surprised to see a proposal from Hogsback's Rupert Thompson backing their case get voted in. Turkey's voting for christmas I thought.

So far SIBA seem very opposed to the SBDRC and it will be interesting to see how things pan out at the national AGM. Now the practical benefits of SIBA membership are much diminished their main use seems to be for political lobbying.