Sometimes traditional Belgian beer is accused of being a bit boring, a bit safe. It’s true that Belgian brewing is dominated by blonde, ester-driven beers that often taste almost identical to the next – just as the UK and USA seen is awash with IPA and pale ale.
Many of the older, more traditional Belgian brewers are big companies, significantly less flexible than the small guys around the world. Where most UK craft brewers are obsessed with new recipes, new ingredients and seasonal brewing, the Belgian mindset it to concentrate on a core of beers, making sure they are world class before moving on. It’s a symptom of beers coming down generation to generation rather than through experiments with homebrew kits.
But even the big guys occasionally like to flex their brewing muscles and sometimes the results are fantastic. Think Duvel’s single hop beers, Chimay’s barrel-ageing program and, one of my favourite beers in the world, Straffe Hendrik Wild. Wild is an annual release by the brewers of Bruges Zot, taking their delicious bready and banana-y tripel – a tightly controlled and perfectly formed recipe – and throwing in an element of chaos with a dose of brett at bottling.
Brett is the yeast most common associated with lambic, adding cider, sherbet and farmyard aromas, but more and more it is adding depth to IPAs, porters and all kinds of modern wild ales. Adding brett gives up the beer to nature, becoming a slave to a yeast that will eat every milligram of sugar in that beer and convert it into funky, unique flavours that vary wildly.
Straffe Wild is a tale of two kinds of brewing – the traditional, conservative Belgian brewing and the wild, exciting experimental side. It smells like a young lambic, tastes like a classic Belgian tripel, and then combines the two on the finish with pithy orange, zingy Lovehearts and funky bitterness on the finish.
I’ve always wanted to try brewing with brett, but never really dared to do so with my own Grainfather. Thankfully, Roman on Solvay Society loves Straffe Hendrik Wild as much as I do, and agreed to brew an homage. We used the Chouffe strain of yeast, mashed in super low and added some modern hops to see if it might help tease out some of the pithy orange brett flavours we were looking for. This is the result, our very own brett tripel homebrew recipe.
RECIPE FOR SOLVAY SOCIETY WET & WILD (42 litre batch)
12.5kg Pilsner malt
20g Hallertau Blanc
1.3kg table sugar
WLP550 for primary
WLP 650 (Brettanomyces Bruxellensis) for secondary
Mash in at 45C for 10 mins, then raise to 63C for 30 mins, then to 73C for 30 mins.
Sparge at 76C.
Boil with the magnum at 75mins, then at the sugar at 10mins, the hallertau at 5mins and the Amarillo and Summit at flameout.
Chill to 18C and pitch the yeast. Raise to 22C after 3 days.
Ferment in secondary (bottle or keg) at 16C