Monday, December 7, 2015

Brettanomyces Drei vs. Brettanomyces Vrai

I'm sure you know the story by now, if not Brandon documented it well at Embrace The Funk. Brett Trois was all the rage until Lance Shaner of Omega Yeast Labs had DNA sequencing analysis done and it was found to be Saccharomyces and not Brettanomyces. Yadda Yadda Yadda, White Labs released Brett Vrai after they publicly confirmed what we already knew about Trois. Immediately the Brett enthusiasts started to speculate what strain it was and where it originated. The most popular, and seemingly logical, assumption was Vrai is Brett Drei. Mistakenly, the same comparison was made with Trois and Drei. But I decided to make an ass of "u" and "me" anyway and brew 100% Brett fermented split batch comparison of Vrai and Drei.

Ideally I would have brewed a super simple base beer for optimal analysis, as we did for The Yeast Bay beta batches, but sometimes those beers aren't all that much fun to drink. So I used my HopWards recipe, sans dry hops, with half fermented out entirely by Vrai and the other half Drei. I tried to pitch the same amount of yeast cells into each batch but being that I was building Drei from 3rd generation slurry and the Vrai was via a fresh vial it was a rough approximation, but should be close enough. 

Drei just catching up to Vrai, you can see the tiny champagne like bubbles on the Vrai ferment.
Never got more vigorous than that.
Fermentation got started on the Vrai batch about 4-5 hours ahead of the Drei batch, but not long after Drei caught up and both were quietly fermenting 36 hours after pitching. Visually everything was pretty normal for 100% Brett fermentations, not huge krausens or super vigorous, tiny champagne like bubbles during active fermentation and a continual "effervescence" 10+ days later on both. Drei finished up pretty quickly for a brett fermentation, reaching its 1.006 FG in about 18 days while Vrai took over 3 weeks to reach 1.000FG, each spent 5 weeks in primary and neither created a pellicle in that amount of time. I bottled a 6 pack of each using carb tabs then blending the rest of each into a keg together as an everyday drinker. I much prefer how these types of beers turn out via natural carbonation in the bottle, I like them fine force carbonated but they are much better bottle conditioned so I figured those 6 packs were best for analysis.

Since this is only a sensory analysis, by a shitty taster like myself, I enlisted the help of Dan Pixley as an independent taster for additional notes. Dan is a fellow Milk The Funker with a super informative YouTube channel dedicated to mixed fermentation beers. He is also a big reason the Milk The Funk Wiki is as extensive as it is, he has been a project manager of sorts, compiling info, organizing it, and encouraging experienced folks to contribute. The wiki has become a massive resource in the community that did not exist even one year ago, and we owe a lot of it to Dan. I chose to send the beers to Dan because I knew he would be able to look at them objectively and give us all some honest feedback and analysis, he might even be a BJCP judge but I could be wrong on that (i should ask). If you've watched Dan's videos in the past you know he is a very thorough and honest taster, which why I thought it would be fun to include him. Plus I value his opinion as a prominent contributor in the mixed fermentation brewing community. I'll start with his video and then get to my thoughts and analysis.

Dan opened my eyes to a few things here, it had been six weeks since I did a tasting and his notes did not totally line up with mine from six weeks prior. I also think I mixed up the samples in my first tasting, which is kind of hilarious, but looking at my old notes and the more recent ones (flip flopping them obviously) the beers definitely changed considerably in the bottle, most notably is the hops falling off. When young they were both different but not dramatically, some time in the bottle seemed to bring out some significant differences. The color difference is surprising though, I'm not sure if its relevant to this analysis but Drei is a few shades darker. The only thing that I have not picked up in my tastings that Dan did is the isovaleric as it warmed. I only have 2 bottles of each left so I will look for it next time, but maybe I'm just not as sensitive to that aroma compound as he is. Here are my notes from my most recent tasting.

Ed's Tasting Notes:

Appearance: Drei is significantly darker than Vrai, could be oxidation or something but that doesn't come across in the flavor or aroma. Vrai is more carbonated visually than Drei with a spritzy Saison like carbonation level where Drei appears more american ale in visual carbonation level. Both pour with a small white cap that leaves lacing on the glass, Vrai's head lingers more due to the higher carbonation. Both bottles were primed identically so this is something of note in my opinion.
Best photo i could get displaying the color difference. You can really
see the difference in the carbonation levels as well.
Aroma: Vrai is a bit light on the aromas, a subtle spice note and some generic white wine like notes but I am really searching for something. The malt actually comes through the most with a bread-y like aroma, surprising given how dry the beer is and how simple the grain bill is for the beer. Drei has a more noticeable Brett aroma, somewhat musty and earthy with something clove like in there and notes of stone fruits, peach jumps out at me. I really like Dan's banana bread descriptor though, after watching his video and tasting again I picked that up straight away.

Flavor: Vrai is dry, with a carbonic bite one the tongue and a super thin body and some white grape character. Drei has a soft carbonation but it doesn't hurt the beer since it has a nice silky moderate body, much more so than the Vrai version. Bitterness hits up front and then the silky body cuts it with some sweetness and peach/apricot notes then the finish is slightly dry and a little bit bitter. Much more complex flavor ride than Vrai.

The initial tasting I did awhile back had me thinking these strains could be similar, not the same just similar, but after that additional time in the bottle the differences are fairly striking. The difference in attenuation was significant as well, initially I chalked that up to pitching rates or something but looking back that should have been an obvious sign that the strains are not the same. That also seems to have contributed to the significant differences in body, Vrai was quite a thin dry beer when compared to the Drei version that had a nice medium silky body yet still had a nice dry finish.

Like Dan I think the Drei is a much more complex beer, the Vrai version is not bad just kind of thin and one dimensional. I really had to search for descriptors for Vrai, it was just quite light. Drei on the other hand is a much more interesting drink that develops and changes as the beer crosses your palate, and especially as it warms and opens up a bit. As for the comparison, also like Dan, I can't say these strains are the same at all. This is just a sensory analysis, by two guys in a not so scientific manner, but the two beers in this experiment were so much different that it is our conclusion that they are not the same strain. It looks like the assumption that Vrai would be Drei is unfounded. For me this is actually good news, I am all for more strains and variability instead of everyone selling the same strains. If I had to choose one of the two, I'm going with Drei all day, considering it's not commercially available to homebrewers that might not be good news for some folks.

HopWards Vrai vs. Drei

Recipe Specifications
Boil Size: 7.00 gal
Post Boil Volume: 5.82 gal
Batch Size (fermenter): 5.50 gal
Bottling Volume: 5.25 gal
Measured OG: 1.047 SG
Measured FG: 
  • Drei: 1.006 SG
  • Vrai: 1.000 SG
Estimated Color: 4.5 SRM
Estimated IBU: 30 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 70.00 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

81.9% - 8lbs 8oz - CMC Superior Pale Ale Malt (3.1 SRM)
18.1% - 1lbs 14oz - Flaked Oats

First Wort Hop - 0.50 oz CTZ [14.20 %] - 16.3 IBUs
Boil: 15min - 1 Whirlfloc Tablet + 1 tsp Wyeast Yeast Nutrient
Boil:  5min - 0.5 oz Amarillo [8.50 %] - 3.1 IBUs
Boil:  5min - 0.5 oz Centennial [10.00 %] - 3.6 IBUs
Boil:  5min - 0.5 oz Simcoe [13.00 %] - 4.7 IBUs
20 Minute Whirlpool 185f - 0.75 oz Amarillo [8.50 %] - 1.4 IBUs -
20 Minute Whirlpool 185f - 0.75 oz Centennial [10.00 %] - 1.7 IBUs
20 Minute Whirlpool 185f 0.75 oz Simcoe [13.00 %] - 2.2 IBUs

Brettanomyces Bruxellensis var. Drei - 250ml slurry into a semi aerobic 500ml starter
WLP648 Brettanomyces Bruxellensis Trois Vrai - 1 vial into a semi aerobic 1000ml starter 

Sacch rest - 60 min @ 150.0 F 

Fly Sparge 5.50 gallons 170f

Misc: 2.5 gallons each went into its own 3 gallon Better Bottle, one pitched with Vrai the other Drei.15 seconds of pure O2 per 2.5 gallon fermenter. Cherry Hill, NJ Tap water. Mash pH 5.35, Water Profile ( 132ppm Ca, 19ppm Mg, 7ppm Na, 147ppm Cl, 146ppm SO4). 


  1. Nice one, Ed. Any idea why TYB doesn't just come out with drie? Are there IP issues? Seems like there would be strong demand for it...

  2. If you set out to make me think today; mission accomplished! I really like your writing style and how you express your ideas. Thank you. source