Usually, the only thing beer geeks agree on is that they don’t agree on much. But beerophiles tend to put differences aside for a few really stellar beers, and one of them is Boulevard’s annual Saison-Brett. It’s a GABF gold medalist and a RateBeer 100-pointer, not to mention one of Boulevard brewmaster Steven Pauwels’ favorite creations. It’s also a significant beer for cellar folk.
An 8.5%-ABV riff on the brewery’s Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale, the beer’s dry-hopped and bottle-conditioned with Brettanomyces yeast. First brewed in 2008—back when Brettanomyces wasn’t even a blip on most brewers’ radars—the beer was something you could put in the cellar and have almost zero clue how long to leave it there, let alone grasp how it would emerge when you finally decided to pop it open. Over the past five years, the beer has become a teaching tool for both drinker and brewer on how wild-yeast beers age: Because the beer so purely focuses on highlighting the funky, earthy, pungent character of Brettanomyces, the brewery and its customers have spent the last half-decade studying the nuances of the yeast’s maturation.
In May, Boulevard brewer Jeremy Danner told the KC Beer Blog that the brewery bottles and conditions the beer off-site to avoid cross-contaminating its other beers with the notoriously nosy Brett yeast; then, the team constantly monitors Saison-Brett’s development. “We pull several bottles at various times during the bottling run for quality assurance testing,” he told the blog. “In the first few weeks, we’re monitoring CO2 levels, making sure that the beer bottle-conditions. Once it gets past a few weeks, we taste bottles every couple weeks to wait for Brett character to develop.”
The 2012 Saison-Brett vintage released this month, and the beer’s as delightful as it ever was: A snappy, wheaty base makes a great stage for a lemony opus with floral hop and horseblanket notes playing backup. And the yeast: Barely tart and totally funky.
We have a second bottle (No. 17116, thank you very much) that we’re putting away, so we touched base with Pauwels and Danner for a bit of background on how the yeast develops, and their advice on how long to age the beer.
Pauwels had this to say about the yeast’s development: “We release Saison-Brett from the brewery after it is stored at our warehouse for 3 months. At that time, the Brett notes are noticeable and blend with the grapefruit character from the hops. For the next 3 to 6 months (depending on the storage temperature), the Brett notes are increasing, but still play nice with the other aromas. During the following phase, the Brett takes over, and the fruity, estery aroma disappears, while the hop character diminishes. We have found in some bottles that after 2 to 3 years, the Brett character fades and hop notes return.”
Danner suggested a more conservative cellar time. “With extreme aging, the body tends to thin out and the Brett character can become a bit overwhelming,” he says. “For this reason, I don’t usually age my bottles past 18 to 24 months.”
We’ll meet both experts in the middle and age our bottle 2 years… though, in the past, we’ve opened up bottles after a year of aging and been quite pleased with their profiles. If you open yours up sooner, let us know!