Craft Beer of the Week

New Belgium/The Lost Abbey Brett Beer

Beer: Brett Beer Brewery: New Belgium Brewing/The Lost Abbey Style: American Wild Ale ABV: 7.5 percent

A little bit of wildness is an indispensable quality. Consider the duo of Roger Murtaugh and Martin Riggs. Murtaugh tempers Riggs' madness; Riggs pushes Murtaugh to do shit he thinks he's too old for. When paired with staid partners, crazy individuals can work fairly harmoniously with others. But what happens when the rational member of the team isn't there to control the wild side? Would a police precinct composed completely of Riggses last even a day?

Brett Beer is that precinct. The wild brew first appeared in 2004, after Lost Abbey brewmaster Tomme Arthur and New Belgium's Peter Bouckaert met up at the Pizza Port in Solano Beach. The brew they created, called Mo' Betta Bretta, was one of the few brews fermented solely with brettanomyces. Brett Beer, the second iteration of Mo' Betta, was brewed in February 2012 at New Belgium's facility in Fort Collins, Colo.

Brettanomyces isn't a new player in beer -- though the bane of most winemakers' existences, the wild yeast makes its way into plenty of brews. But it's usually used in addition to other, more restrained yeast. Like spices added to baking bread, Brett usually plays a secondary role, complementing the base flavors provided by the workhorses doing most of the fermentation. In Brett Beer, however, the wild yeast is given the helm, and the result is what you'd expect when you put uncontrollable beasts in charge: madness.

Into a tulip glass, Brett Beer has the soft golden hue of saffron rice, hazed slightly by lingering yeast particles. A wispy, half-inch head of cloud-white foam fizzles gentle away, dotting the sides of the glass like a Bingo player.

Funk can be a difficult beast to master. Give the wild yeast too much rein and you can quickly edge from pleasantly piquant into downright smelly. Brett Beer toes the edge of the latter -- notes of unripe pear and banana rise above a base layer of wet hay and rotten pineapples. Brett runs amok in the nose, delivering musty, earthy undertones along with a whisper of white vinegar in the back.

The flavor is more subdued, though it still shows some signs of abundant funk. The brett, interestingly, has imparting some very Belgian flavors like pear juice, banana and canned, processed pineapple. These swirl with gentle sweetness at the front of the flavor, while Target, Centennial and Sorachi Ace hops lend a healthy bitterness that settles into the back of the tongue. Hop flavor is nearly nil, but alcohol flavor isn't -- a large helping of clean booze strikes upon the swallow. The wild yeast lends a musty undercurrent to the whole affair, but has done its work to eat away residual sugars -- the beer evacuates the palate with the cleanliness of a hotel maid.

If wildness and rampant funk is your thing, Brett Beer will likely be a fun brew to try. Pair it with some James Brown or George Clinton, who knew a thing or two about controlled amounts of funk. For my part, I'll look for brews with a little more Murtaugh and a little less Riggs.

Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, an accredited guide to beer.

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Zach Fowle
Contact: Zach Fowle