First things first. What is a ‘crooked stave’? Even if you are not a fan of wild and sour barrel-aged beers you can appreciate the symbolism and story behind the Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project.
The stave in question is one of the narrow wooden planks placed edge to edge in the making of barrels. Certain beer styles, especially ones using wild yeast strains such as Brettanomyces are placed in oak barrels for secondary fermentation, where with the help of bacteria certain acids are produced that account for the complex sour flavors. For example using Lactobacillus produces lactic acid which results in a clean sour taste. This is the case with the beers made by Crooked Stave Artisan Project – the use of barrels for conditioning is a pivotal trait.
Chris and I have deep appreciation of their work and we often buy whatever we can find locally. For his birthday this past week we went to their taproom inside The Source artisan marketplace in Denver. I want to tell you about the experience – we had a blast.
At Crooked Stave they pinch wild yeast strains (in a controlled manner) in combination with traditional ale yeast strains and/or a variety of wild microorganisms. (They are venturing into spontaneous fermentation though, we learned that they now have a coolship). The flavors that develop are all over the map. Several of the beers aged in wine barrels had pronounced tannic flavors and a dry finish characteristic of wine. They even make beers entirely fermented with Brettanomyces such as their Persica Sour Golden Ale aged in oak barrels with the addition of Colorado peaches. We totally went at it before it occurred to me to take this picture…
If you are a fan of wild and sour barrel-aged beers and have a chance to stop by their taproom in Denver – by all means do so! You will appreciate the treasure trove that it is. I cannot even begin to describe the palatable excitement among patrons in the taproom.
If you are new to wild and barrel-aged sour beers, the beers of Crooked Stave are an exciting place to start. We often come across wild aged/sours that are not executed all that well and say to each other that if these were our first taste of sour beers, we would probably be turned off. Crooked Stave’s creations are impeccable. The owner/brewer, Chad Yakobson is one of the contemporary authorities in wild fermentation and a wizard when it comes to using Brettanomyces.
The selection at Crooked Stave is always changing, so going there periodically to taste new releases is something we look forward to. There were so many different styles with unique touches being offered that we literally could have stayed at the taproom all day instead of just two hours. Our most favorite were their well established Nightmare on Brett (American Wild Ale aged in whiskey barrels) and the Blackberry Petite Sour Wild Ale, aged with blackberries in oak barrels (pictured above).
All that being said, we were very surprised to taste their Von Pilsner. It is quite a departure from the rest of the selection and we decided to buy some to have at home. For one, they do not make many lagers. In addition, they didn’t use Brettanomyces or other wild microorganisms to ferment the Von Pilsner. We found it to be a much more drinkable beer (ahem, as much as you can be in love with funky wild/sour styles if you really feel like downing a pint or two they are not the best contender in our opinion).
As a German lager the Von Pilsner still had the typical bready malt flavors balanced by Noble hops aromas and bitterness characteristic of the style. It is actually a take on an old Franconian (South Germany) style known as Kellerbier (literally “cellar beer”) because it is fermented in casks, inside cool cellars.
Kellerbiers are traditionally not filtered which is why they lack the landmark brilliance of German lagers. Typically the casks where these lagers are slow fermented have a small opening, allowing CO2 to escape. In result the beer pours hazy and forms almost no head (the Von Pilsner, being a variation of kellerbier, formed a thick, fine white head).
Kellerbiers are medium bodied – sightly thicker than a regular German lager but not nearly as heavy as bocks. This was the case with the Von Pilsner.
On our way out of the taproom, a cool looking bottle growler with Von Pilsner in hand, we passed by a place called Mondo Market. The Source was built as a brick foundry in the late 1800s and apart from the Crooked Stave taproom now houses an artisan bakery, a flower shop, a liquor store, a photography studio, a butcher’s shop, two hip eateries and the meat and cheese shop we stopped by.
We asked for a cheese recommendation to pair with the Von Pilsner and were quickly offered several samples of praiseworthy potential options. Super friendly people manning the place. We picked an aged goat cheese that they insisted paired really well with most of Crooked Stave beers.
We also bought a quarter pound of beautifully cut and arranged slices of Bernina Bresaola. This was our very first taste of this lean grass-fed Uruguayan dry-cured beef. Absolutely loved it! As well as the artisan wheat crackers and duck & pork pate with orange that completed our purchase. A breeze to assemble a tasty Sunday beer snack to accompany the Von Pilsner growler.