Last year at Thanksgiving I celebrated with a bottle of Seizoen Bretta from Logsdon Farmhouse Ales and absolutely loved it. It’s still the only beer I’ve reviewed on this site that has received a perfect 10. So I thought why not make it a tradition and drink a Brett ale every Thanksgiving. The tricky part of that plan is that Brett ales aren’t that easy to come by in Ohio. Fortunately this year I happened to have a bottle of another Oregon-brewed Brett ale in my basement, Flemish Kiss by the Commons Brewery out of Portland. Thanks to my friends Michelle and Andy for bringing me this bottle when we met up in June for a beer pilgrimage to Ashville, NC.
Before jumping into the specifics of this beer, let’s back up a bit and make sure everyone understands what a Brett Ale is. Brett ales get their name from the use of Brettanomyces yeast, Brett for short, during fermentation. Brettanomyces is a slow growing yeast that lives on the skins of fruits in the wild and also tends to thrive in oak barrels used for aging some beers and wines. Normally it is the scourge of brewers and vintners because it produces off-flavors that are not generally desirable, but in some Belgian styles it plays a key role, particularly the sour ales like Lambics, Gueuzes, Oud Bruins and Flander’s Reds. However, in those beers the characteristic flavors that come from the Brett yeast have to share the stage with the acidic sour flavors produced by bacteria. If you want a true expression of the Brettanomyces yeast your best bet is to go with a Belgian pale ale or Saison where Brett has been used in the fermentation process, often in the final stages of fermentation because Brett yeasts like to take their time to consume sugars in the wort. The most famous Brett ale is the Belgian pale ale made by the Trappist brewery Orval.
The flavors that come from Brett are a little hard to describe but in my opinion very tasty. Some of the more common adjectives include barnyard, horseblanket, sweaty horse hair, wet hay, musty, and wet dog in a phone booth. As pointed out in an informative recent post Tom Aguero of Queen City Drinks, there are numerous strains of Brettanomyces and each strain produces varying flavors. For example check out this description of one strain of Brett, brettanomyces bruxellensis trois (WLP644), from yeast producers White Labs in San Diego:
This Belgian strain, used traditionally for 100% Brettanomyces fermentations, produces a slightly tart beer with delicate characteristics of mango and pineapple. Can also be used to produce effervescence when bottle-conditioning.
So this strain of Brett gives you tropical fruits rather than sweaty horses, a pretty big difference in my book.
The Commons is a small 7 bbl brewery located in SE Portland. They are a three man operation and to the best of my knowledge their beers are distributed only in Oregon. Flemish Kiss is one of only two year round beers they brew, and was the recipient of a silver medal at the 2012 GABF in the American-style Brett Ale category (Editors note: my Thanksgiving beer from last year Seizoen Bretta was the gold medal winner that year.)
- Brewery: The Commons (OR)
- Style: Belgian Pale Ale
- ABV: 6.5% ABV
- Availability: Year round but the distribution is limited to western Oregon.
As you can see in the picture the bottle is pretty basic with a hand drawn image that I assume is meant to represent the Flemish countryside. The brewer has the following tasting notes on the bottle:
Right out of primary fermentation this beer is decidedly an American Pale Ale, but as it enters secondary, a bridge to Belgium is built with a dose of Brettanomyces Bruxellensis. A 5 week maturation results in slightly dry, fruity beer with a hint of floral Brett character that will evolve over time.
If I look very closely there is a small label on the neck that says 297 13 14:31, which I interpret to mean that the beer was bottled on October 24 (the 297th day) of 2013. If that is correct this beer was bottled about 13 months ago.
The beer pours a beautiful, hazy golden-orange color with a massive white head from the bottle conditioning. Over time the head settles down to a leave behind a dense pattern of lacing on the walls of the glass and chunks of white head floating like islands on the sea of liquid gold. It has a big nose full of classic Brett barnyard funk mingling with subtle but unmistakable fruity aromas. It smells like sharing a smart car with a wet sheep who has been rolling around in overripe apricots, mangoes, and pears. The taste brings more of the musty Brett funk and a healthy dose of floral, spicy flavors from the noble hops. It is an effervescent beer with a tongue tickling level of carbonation, and a reasonable level of hop bitterness. The finish is as dry as a beer gets, leaving you with a lingering kiss of Brett.
Flemish Kiss is a gorgeous beer for a slightly sophisticated palate. I can’t help but compare it with my Thanksgiving treat from last year, Seizoen Bretta. Both beers have just the right level of barnyard and subtle fruitiness, enough to let you know it is a Bret ale but not so much that you veer into unpleasant flavors like bandaids or toejam. In both cases the Brett accents a beer that has considerable European hoppiness and the dry finish of a good saison. By memory and tasting notes I’d say Flemish Kiss is a little hoppier and Seizoen Bretta a little fruitier. If you have a chance to get your hands on either one don’t pass up the chance.
If you are not lucky enough to live in Oregon and would like to sample a Brett ale the most widely available examples are probably Orval, Matilda by Goose Island (which is brewed as an homage to Orval), or Saison-Brett by Boulevard. Wicked Weed in Asheville does some nice Brett beers (Bretticent being my favorite), and just about everything that that Denver brewery Crooked Stave makes involves Brett.
Rating scale: 10 = perfection, 9 = excellent, one of the top beers in the world, 8 = very good, one of the top beers in its style category, 7 = good, a solid beer I’m happy to be drinking, 6 = average, not bad but not something I’m likely to buy again, 5 = below average, 3-4 = poor, should be avoided, 1-2 drainpour.