The question of how a beer begins is complicated. For me, it starts with flavour and aroma and one of two questions: “What would it be like if …?” and “I have this idea, how do we get there?” Raspbretty Bates started with the latter and evolved with the former. Asking how we could create a beer to highlight our house Brettanomyces culture, we decided to ferment and age it in stainless steel rather than wood to make sure no accidental microflora changed the yeast’s character.
That first batch showed a strong cherry aroma, and from there it was an easy step to ‘what would it be like if we added fruit to this base beer, and if we did it, what should the fruit be?’ To the former, we answered ‘probably delicious’ which led to ‘it’s hard to go wrong with raspberries,’ they being among the few fruits that maintain their character through extended ageing. I was as certain as I could be when dealing with a wild yeast that the pairing would be delicious.
Over the years, I’ve read much about brewing with Brett, attended education sessions and talked to other brewers about it. It’s a complicated family of yeasts. While our house Brett, Brettanomyces bruxellensis, is known for producing a distinctively cherry nose, it can also give off barnyardy aromas, an uncertainty which always leads to tense moments in the brewery. I find that barnyard works best when backed up with relatively stern acidity, like you would find in a lambic, while cherry is a lovely note in less acidic beers like porters and IPAs.
The basic process for brewing this beer went like this: We started with a Belgian golden ale base and fermented it with our house saison blend; after a week, we pitched a healthy amount of Brett and waited a month for its character to appear; then we added the raspberry puree.
And we waited.
The fruit passed through a glorious, fresh fruit phase, and followed by a distinctly less glorious period as the Brett started producing some solvent-like acetone notes. At this point, I tried hard not to panic while being reassuring to everyone else in the brewery, knowing full well that there should next come a phase when the magic of Brett shows off its unique ability to tidy up off flavours.
After a month of sitting on fruit, the beer was clean and ready for packaging. After two more weeks of conditioning time, however, it developed some diacetyl or buttery notes, meaning another month of aging. Finally, ninety days after brewing it, I was both relieved and pleasantly surprised that the beer in the glass turned out to be like the beer in my head.
The name is a tribute to my mom, Betty Bates, who died shortly before we opened Shacklands. Although she was more of Mexican lager drinker, with a lime slice if she was feeling fancy, she was always proud and supportive of my work. Cheers, Mom!
First appeared in Original Gravity Magazine #5