Monday, January 28, 2013

Brewery Review: The Crux Fermentation Project

On a recent visit to Bend, Oregon I had the privilege of visiting one of the newest and most exciting breweries to land in the beer mecca: The Crux Fermentation Project. The new brewery is the brainchild of Larry Sidor, former brewmaster of Deschutes Brewery, Dave Wilson, former Sales Director of 21st Amendment Brewing, and Paul Evers, owner and founder of TBD Advertising (a company very well-known in the beer marketing world). The extremely high-tech brewing facility opened its' doors on June 30th, 2012 and has been pumping out delicious, creative, high-quality brews since day one. The brewery has been designed with non-traditional methods in mind and the facility is adequately equipped to handle methods such as decoction mashing, (an older method of brewing mostly used today in Germany and Central Europe), open fermentation (a method of fermenting in which the open air comes into direct contact with fermenting wort. This method has been made famous by Belgian brewers who ferment in open vats in the Senne River Valley, a location known to have wild-yeast and bacteria strains perfect for brewing their world-famous wild ales (go here to read more about this kind of beer)), barrel-aging, and experimentation with unheard-of hop varieties (more on this later in the post).

View of the pub during The Sundowner

The setting for Bend's newest brewery could not be more picturesque. It's set atop a hill near the railroad, overlooking a long stretch of the Cascade Mountains. We took a seat at the bar and were rewarded with amazing views of the sunset. Since the brewery is housed in what was formerly a transmission shop and mill supply store, it retains some of its original charm. The front windows are retractable and were actually raised when we first arrived. They also have a patio on the right side of the building which may someday feature live music. The property should be perfect for drinking brews and having lots of good times in the summertime. The venue also features a happy hour so named: The Sundowner, which begins each evening with the setting of the sun and proceeds for one hour; along with The Sundowner comes lowered prices on brews and appetizers. The actual floor plan is rather narrow and proceeds back to the left as you enter. Some of the dark wood used for the decor was constructed with recycled wood from an old house. The coasters are made from recycled cardboard and the lighting over the bar was constructed from unused copper tubing leftover from some of the original copper brewing vessels. The wooden barrels sitting in various locations are full of beer and the rows of stainless steel tanks visible behind the bar were set-up in a stadium-seating fashion; overall it's a very visually appealing pub. The atmosphere was loud and there was not a single seat left unoccupied.

From left to right: Mash Tun, Brew Kettle, Lauter Tun

During our time there we made the acquaintance of one Russell Crecraft, a major investor in The Crux Project. He was eager to hear our feedback and show us around the place. We were invited on a tour of the small facility and heard many stories about the time and hard work invested into getting the brewery up and running. All the tanks were constructed in Japan and when the copper vats arrived, they were polished by hand. The brewery is highly automated, from the grist mill, to the mash tun, lauter tun, and actual brew kettle. We were also given a look (and a sniff) inside the hop storage refrigerator. Some of the hops featured in their beers come from places like Australia, New Zealand and even France! Speaking of which, perhaps now would be an excellent time to discuss what you really want to hear about: the beer!

From left to right: Saison, Four Pound Sterling, Aramis, Imperial Triskel, Outcast, Porter.

In addition to the beers above we also sampled the Nitro Stout, "Sugar Daddy", and the Flanders Red (which wasn't quite ready yet). Looking back I realize I probably should have tried a wider variety as four of the six were IPA's but I couldn't resist as two of them were utilizing two experimental hop varieties from France I had never even heard of (do they really grow hops in France?!?!). My favourite by far was Outcast IPA which showcased Calypso hops from Australia (a relatively new hop varietal). This brew really stood out for its intriguing hop aroma and flavour profile and its' deeply satisfying bitterness. The other two IPA's which really surprised me was Aramis and Triskel (both featuring brand spanking new experimental hop varieties out of France), speaking of which, here's the lowdown on French hops: doing a quick bit of research it would seem that France has had its hand in the hop growing business for quite some time (several centuries to be exact) but has only just seen use in the American craft beer scene. They grow at least 11 different varieties, six of which I have never heard of so I'm sure we can expect many more interesting new flavour profiles to hit American beer markets very soon. Getting back to our new friends Aramis and Triskel; it would seem Aramis is the younger of the two and features lovely fruity, spicy, citrusy, and herbal aroma and flavour profiles. Triskel on the other hand features a much more fruity, floral, citrus, spicy and grassy profile. Both are in the 7 to 9% Alpha Acid range, which for a brewer means these hops have potential to contribute a fair amount of bitterness to a beer in addition to a fair amount of aroma. With regards to these new hop varieties I am excited to see where we'll see them next. In the beers produced by Crux I found both the Triskel to be much more floral than the Aramis but both were fruity with hints of citrus (please note: both hops were used in Imperial IPA's and both beers were 9.5% abv (they like to go big at Crux)), surprisingly the alcohol was extremely well-hidden in both and only slightly detectable in the Aramis.

Taplist at The Crux Fermentation Project

I can't wait to have a taste of their Flanders Red 17 months down the line as it was explained to need this much time in the barrel before it would be ready. Their nitro stout was another stand out and I found their "Sugar Daddy" and "Sugar Mamma" brews (both listed as "sweet" pale ales, mind you) to be rather intriguing. Both beers utilized Lactose (a non-fermentable milk-sugar most commonly used in milk stouts for added body, mouthfeel and sweetness) making them both a milk pale ale? Now that's a new style! "Sugar Daddy" finished with just a hint of sweetness but I would by no means describe it overly sweet or sugary as one might expect from the name. The Porter, which just so happens to be an American Brown style (a style I am growing quite fond of) is such a good example of the style: roasty, toasty, a little sweet, a little malty, but overall an extremely well-balanced easy to drink beer, perhaps a little thin body-wise, but I could see myself craving and going for time after time. And their Saison was everything a Saison should be. There was nothing out of the ordinary with this one, just a stand-up good example of what we have come to know and love of that style here in the US.

The "Sugar Daddy" sweet pale ale

To put this all in perspective it would seem that The Crux Fermentation Project is off to a wonderful start and will only move-on to bigger and better things. Their system is top of the line and will allow them an extreme amount of flexibility to experiment: As for the non-traditional brewing methods: yes please! Cheers to Crux, Russel, and the rest of the crew, keep it up! We'll all be watching and waiting!

Thanks for reading!