Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project | Mashtun and Meow: Sheffield Beer Blog

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project

Post-Traditional Brewing

Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project are without doubt forging a name for themselves in the world of sour beer. Whilst still relatively small, their reputation is steadily growing, making slow beer in a way that is traditional yet at the same time truly modern. The techniques at the heart of their processes were long-established before "clean" beer became the mainstream... A time in which bacteria were embraced if not fully understood, a time where tartness was accepted and not a reason to bring a drink back to the bar. Crooked Stave take these principals but drag them full throttle into the modern age, showcasing innovation, knowledge and education in absolute spades.

The brewery is a producer of the kind of beer that is not really feasible for any brewery in the UK - here, we simply don't have the massive amount of space (and money, in the very vast majority of cases) required. America on the other hand, with an abundance of relatively cheap land, enables longer term sour producers to thrive. As well as this, in the case of Crooked Stave and other similar producers, the thriving wine scene across parts of the US is key too. The climate in areas such as along the West Coast and some of the southern states including Texas is perfect for grapes and is now home to an array of seriously up and coming vineyards. While these things don't seem directly linked, the major crossover on these two situations is wood... really big wood.


The foudre (or foeder, as our US pals know it) is an integral part of the large scale, long term sour beer production process. These vessels take up a fraction of the space to hold a massive amount of beer, allowing it to sour with the addition of in-house bacteria and yeast mainly comprised of Brettanomyces (we know it as Brett, coz' we are best buds). These gargantuan oak vats often come straight from wine producers, who often want rid of them as they are susceptible to the kind of bacterial infection that Crooked Stave crave... fortuitous indeed for us sour beer fiends. While Crooked Stave do also host an ageing program consisting of bourbon barrels and liqueur casks, these are mainly used to finish or round off a carefully selected blend of sour beer from different foudres.

Next door to the ageing room, the brew house itself is relatively small, with a tidy little brew kit and an open cooling plate used in spontaneously fermented beers, along with stainless steel holding tanks and fermenters. At the helm of this (cool)ship is Chad Yakobson, a man whose expertise lies in a Masters dissertation entitled "Pure Culture Fermentation Characteristics of Brettanomyces Yeast Species and Their Use in the Brewing Industry”, an intriguing topic indeed and a study which we'd love to have a good read of (the site hosting it is down at the moment, but we're hopeful!).


Not being able to drink on the brewery premises due to local liquor laws, and the brewery itself being well out of the way of Denver's central district, Crooked Stave have an additional brewery tap, quite unlike the majority of the breweries we visited during our Colorado trip. The tap itself is situated within a shopping collaborative that would make even Camden Town blush. The Source is an 1880s brick factory turned boutique food/boozery, consisting of a bakery selling delectable French pastries, a butcher's with an in-house beef ageing room, coffee roasters, an Italian deli with a wall of spice from around the globe, and more.


With 22 different lines across the bar, including a mixture of sour beers, saisons, a couple of more conventionally fermented beers and non-alcoholic Kombucha tea, the tap room was a wood-clad treat. We started off with two different releases of St. Bretta, a delightfully fresh whitebier fermented with 100% Brett. The first was finished with clementines and the second with satsumas and mandarins. Both were thirst-quenching and bursting with fruity freshness, although the satsuma version had a little more in the way of tartness which made it our unanimous favourite. We continued to drink through the list via beers that were dry-hopped, brewed with sage, or aged with apricots, until we reached the two barrel aged beauties sharing the name of Cybies.

The pair are oak-aged, mixed fermentation Belgian beers that sit happily at 9%. The key difference in these two beers is the fruit additions. The first, Salvador Cybies, is finished in barrels rippled with tart cherry stickiness, but it was the second that flew to the top of the list of beers we had in our short time in the US and possibly our joint all time favourite beer: Silly Cybies. Initially fresh raspberries on the nose and palate, exactly like fruits plucked straight from gardens and hedgerows, the alcohol and fermentation added waves of flavour on top of layers of funky depth, coupled with an intoxicating rich wood finish. Fantastic.


We are starting to see a few of Crooked Stave's beers making their way to the UK, as the market increasingly demands interesting tart beers on this side of the pond. What can be a little off-putting for consumers here is the cost, something we would refute as a reason to leave these beers on the shelf because frankly they are expensive to make. It can take years to create a high quality long term sour, which then needs to be blended and often finished, whether through dry hopping in the case of the excellent Progenitor or with fruit as in the aforementioned Cybies Series. There is a real skill in blending that is arguably closer to whisky production than conventional ale brewing. But for us that knowledge, skill and overall commitment to a product is the real cost of this style of brewing. Crooked Stave are proof that this investment is certainly worth paying the price for.

Massive thanks to Zack, Andy, and the rest of the Crooked Stave team for their warm hospitality and taking the time to teach us about their beers and show us round their magnificent brewery. We were beyond inspired!

Cheers,

Jim and Laura

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