As a writer who scribbles about beer, I’m commonly asked a couple questions. The first: "What’s your favorite beer?"
I dig into my bag of dad jokes and reply, "The one in my hand," or "The next one I’m drinking."
The second query: "What’s the difference between an ale and a lager?"
This punches pause. Ales and lagers are beer’s two main clans, divided by yeast. It’s bedrock understanding, like asking a mathematician the difference between multiplication and division. Having sipped the hoppy Kool-Aid, I sometimes forget that not everyone knows what’s hidden beneath beer’s hood. Honestly, I have no concept of how cars function. Why should I expect everybody to understand yeast?
Ales and lagers are beer’s two main clans, divided by yeast.
So, a riff on my reply: "Top-fermenting ale yeast favors warmer temps, creating fruitier flavors. Ales veer from dark stouts to bitter IPAs—India pale ale. Lager yeast is like microscopic Eskimos. It thrives in the cool depths, slowly toiling to create crisp pilsners, lawnmower chuggers, and strong doppelbocks. Also, lagers take longer to ferment; lagern means 'to rest' in German."
So much to digest! It’s why I rarely reference Brettanomyces, a genus of yeast that’s oft misunderstood. Brett, as it’s commonly called, is insatiable. Ale and lager yeast devour available sugars till satiated. (The consumption creates booze and carbonation.) Brett treats beer like an infinite buffet, devouring until scraps are picked clean. Its signature descriptors are "earth," "hay," "funk," "barnyard," and "horse blanket," a turn-off to the average drinker. Secretariat’s scent is so not a selling point.
Brett is not so reductive. For starters, the genus encompasses a range of fingerprint-unique strains. Secondly, it’s usually used alongside standard brewing yeast, perhaps in conjunction with souring bacteria, creating a complex flavor stew. Utilized for primary fermentation, Brett acts differently, a supporting actor taking a star turn. The yeast creates flavors and aromas reminiscent of tropical fruit, rustic funk and a tart flash lurking behind. Brett-ferment a beer and complement it with today’s modern, fruit-boosted hops, and you might create a crossover hit.
It’s a director role tailor-made for Allagash. Founded in 1995 by Rob Tod, the Portland, Maine, beer producers have made their bones on White, a Belgian-inspired witbier, spiced with coriander and Curaçao orange peel. The seafood-friendly, sunshine-ready lead dog accounts for most of the Mainers’ sales, meaning Allagash can risk nursing other puppies.
Little Brett drinks tinder-dry, with gentle carbonation, a bit of potentially polarizing zesty funk and palate-enlivening tartness.
Allagash’s diverse Belgian-inspired lineup runs from fruity, peppery Saison to bourbon barrel–aged Curieux tripel, fruity and lightly chocolaty Dubbel, grape-infused Victor and Victoria (both fermented with wine yeast), and Hugh Malone, an IPA with one foot in the Pacific Northwest, the other in Belgium. Furthermore, there’s the Coolship series of lambic-inspired, barrel-aged spontaneous ferments and too many Brett beers to list, fermented with the brewery’s house strain of locally harvested wild yeast.
Many Allagash beers begin as pilot batches, 10 gallons at once, brewers encouraged to experiment. Little Brett was a notable trial, wee in alcohol, walloped with hops, a fast employee favorite. This spring, the test graduated to Allagash’s grown-up brewing system, bottled by the four-pack, an accessible lesson on yeast’s effects.
Poured out, the beer’s a lightly hazy blonde, like early morning sun bursting through breaking fog. The head billows, fat enough to use as a pillow. Inhale that rustic gust of pineapple, grass, and mango, a getaway to the tropics and hay-strewn countryside. That’s Allagash’s strain, its intrinsic scents magnified by mobs of Mosaic hops and their floral, peach-like and citrusy characteristics. Little Brett drinks tinder-dry, with gentle carbonation, a bit of potentially polarizing zesty funk and palate-enlivening tartness. To me, this makes Little Brett—and its session-worthy 4.8 percent ABV—ably suited for sunny-day drinking.
Little Brett flavors are as big and memorable as Andre the Giant, but they remain as surprisingly soft and appealing as his Princess Bride turn. The beer proves that wild need not be unruly, the unspoken answer to this question: What’s my favorite beer this month?
Editor: Kat Odell