Crux Fermentation Project is one of the three to five best breweries in the United States and they haven’t yet even hit their stride.
Big claim? Totally supported by all available evidence, including that last phrase.
When Larry Sidor left Deschutes Brewery, after an eight years that were arguably the greatest similar period of innovation by any brewer not named Steele or Calagione, Larry left to make his beers; no limits, maximum innovation, barrels, weird yeasts, even down to the water used. Larry had Something different in mind. Not that Deschutes maybe wouldn’t have let him try all that there but…Deschutes was already an economic machine; a virtual printing press for beer revenues and Larry knew that.
Unless you’ve been asleep for the past year or so brutally bummed by the whole Trump Atrocity, as I have been, you’re read/heard/consumed some aspect of this brand new, non-accidental, totally premeditated style of American beer. If you haven’t tasted it, a few facts:
1. It was invented – and not at all by happy accident, as MOST brewing styles have traditionally been – by a hugely crafty guy named Kim Sturdavant, brewmaster at San Francisco’s The Social Kitchen & Brewery, who was seeking some means of removing what he regarded as an excess of sweetness in the traditional IPA.
True Story: In the spring of 1992, my actress girlfriend and I, having worked at all the theaters we could reasonably travel to in the Southeast from our home in the Piedmont region of North Carolina, decided to take her sister and brother-in-law up on their kind offer (translation: “constant badgering”) of a temporary place to bunk in if we would move all the way across America to Bainbridge Island, Washington, just across Puget Sound from downtown Seattle. We had pets and two kids and a Toyota Camry and waaaay too much Stuff, so we hitched the car to a 28′ Ryder truck and set off across the map, as she was working at a theater in Mississippi and wouldn’t be able to join us until September.
Before beginning this series, let me offer the only disclaimer that matters at all in reading ANY list:
This is ONE GUY’S OPINIONS.
After ten years of writing this and its precursor in the Seattle P-I, I finally hit the wall this year and decided to stop doing anything called “Best Of”. Two reasons: A) ANY list – EVERY list – is nothing but the individual opinions of one person or an aggregated bunch of opinions from some group. The groups MAY, in what I would have to call rare cases, include people with tremendous acumen and experience. In MOST cases, though, it’s just a bunch of folks with an interest and viewpoints. And B) There is no “best”. Period. And if something does happen to be the best at the given moment, that status is guaranteed to change before the list is even posted, especially in all our distinct and dynamic American beverage cultures. New breweries, wineries, and distilleries are opening almost daily. Established under-performers are beginning to Get It and taking leaps forward.
Learning how to say the word Gueuze is maybe the hardest part of learning about this quirky, exotic style of ale. Broken down into its phonetics, the pronunciation begins with one of those odd, half-swallowed syllables that comes out to “guh-YOOZ-eh”, with just a bare hint of that “eh” on the end, which is the proper Belgian way of saying it. But for purposes of our dumbed-down, non-Euro language facilities, saying “GOOZ-uh” works just fine.
This is probably one of those I probably owe Stone Brewing an apology. This may be too late to do them any good, in terms of immediate sales. Another probability: it’s likely to not matter. This is, after all, STONE Brewing we’re talking about – not to be confused with KeySTONE Light, as the owners of Keystone desperately hope you are – and if they are not, in fact, the nation’s preeminent craft brewery, they are inarguably in the Top Five. I’m going to assume that 90% of this (if not all) is already in America’s bellies. But I fervently hope they’ll make this beer again and, whether you realize it or not..so do you.
I have to confess that, until our trip to the East Bay area (we stayed in Dublin, CA), all I knew about Altamont Beer Works was that they had recently collaborated with Boneyard Beer on – what else? – a big IPA called “Lupulin Advisory”. (Altamont brewmaster/owner Stephen Sartori actually worked at Boneyard, for a time)
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In the burgeoning universe of sour beers, there are some that just suggest sour and some that are almost indistinguishable from those odd drinking vinegars that have been nibbling around the edges of our beverage consciousness for the past five years or so. Breweries have tended to blur the lines between these styles a bit, as their stylistic aesthetics dictate but, in general, beer fans are becoming savvy enough about Euro styles to appreciate that a Gose or a Berlinerweisse are going to land on the tart end of the scale and present less of a challenge for sour beer newbies. But, past that, navigating the murky waters of what may actually be too sour for your tastes is a crapshoot, at best.
The thing that has – for the entire twenty-eight years I’ve lived here in the uber-verdant Pacific Northwest – made Deschutes Brewery my favorite maker of beers that I can just sit, sip ‘n’ savor is their relentless experimentation.
I get bored easily – very easily – and especially with beer. I try, really hard, never to drink the same beer any more than once in any thirty-day period, the sole exception being when we buy a growler of something and have a finite window for draining it. But if it’s in bottles or cans, it’s in a large rotation and is gonna sit for a while.
What I’m setting out to write here is a big damned subject, with tangents and tributaries and tentacles. This could, very easily, go on for the same length as a novelette. And I – not exactly someone who is known for brevity – has to try to keep it some length that you can read without taking a nap in the middle.
Wish me luck…
About five years ago, I started to get inquiries – a lot of inquiries! – from folks who were intrigued/confused by the new and booming subject of steel thermal growlers. There were not many of them available, at the time, and I finally got enough emails, asking for my recommendation, that I began to read up on them. Curiously, about that same moment, makers of these started sending queries, asking if I would be willing to try theirs and maybe review it. The coincidence was hard to ignore, so I started replying and saying yes. Three arrived right away. The first of them was just a flat-out Fail: hard to close, harder to open, imperfect seal, didn’t keep beer effervescent for more than a day, broke easily. The third was better but still tricky to use and dented if you looked at it. Fail, Part Deux.