I said, in 2014, that Crux Fermentation Project “Freakcake” is the best Belgian-style American ale ever made…and my opinion hasn’t changed at all…
Almost two years ago to the day, I posted this rabble-rousing little beer bomb, here in the brand new ThePourFool website and instantly got a mini-flood of emails from disgruntled Euro-Snots who wrote things like – quoting now –
“Have you even actually tasted a Flanders ale? If you had, there’s no goddamned way you’d ever write something like this…”
“…so, let’s get this straight: American ‘craft brewing’ is not real brewing. It’s more like a hobby that’s been taken up by way too many people who don’t actually understand beer. This ‘Crux’ bunch (stupid name) should stick to making the kind of moron-level beers that all their other slacker pals are cranking out, all the British crap that only mouth-breathers drink.”
“Everything made in Belgium is better than everything made in America. I don’t like that fact but is IS a fact.”
Well…I write big, declarative stuff, so I get big, declarative responses. I’m not even complaining because, though hopelessly stupid and condescending, the two-ish percent of readers who send me nonsense like this are, at least, more entertaining than those who send compliments. In case you didn’t follow the link, what I said was that Crux Fermentation Project “Freakcake” is, IMO, the best Belgian-style American ale ever made. At the time, I had tasted about 100 Belgo-American ales. What percentage of the 2014 national total that was, I have no idea. But today, I’ve tasted about 250 and my opinion hasn’t changed at all, with absolutely no disrespect intended for anybody like Jester King or Jolly Pumpkin or Dogfish or Stone or…well, any other brewer. And, after receiving the 2016 version of this, uh, freakish stuff just two days ago (along with a bottle of that seminal 2014, for contrast) that opinion is now cemented – and expanded: Crux “Freakcake” may just be better than all the Flanders Oud Bruin ales I’ve tasted, too.
For the uninitiated, an “Oud Bruin” is an aged brown/red, sour ale. The vast majority of all sours are also sweet, without which they’d be very much like drinking a bottle of cider vinegar with a little Diet Coke dumped in. In a true Belgian version – like Liefman’s “Goudenband” or Petrus Oud Bruin or Brouwerij Van Honsebrouck “Bacchus” – the sour is aggressive and the underlying fruit, nut, and grain elements are, by necessity, big and forthright, just to balance the sour. Many of them are not particularly subtle. They can be, made according to a certain aesthetic, but those are fairly rare and, IMO, not often successful. It’s in that scale of aggression, that impression of powerful forces held barely in check, that many American versions fell short. We have great examples, of course. Any fervent craft beer fan will have had New Belgium’s iconic “La Folie” or its Western cousin, Deschutes “The Dissident”. More exploratory types will have tasted New Glarus Oud or “Thumbprint Enigma” or Ommegang “Rosetta” or Odell “The Meddler” or The Bruery “Gypsy Tart” or my other current fave, Perennial “La Boheme”. But none of those quite catches up to the authenticity, intensity, barrel character, or beautifully integrated sour of even the 2014 Freakcake…and this 2016 may already be even better!
Freakcake 2016 is an ale that, in a blind tasting, would fool not only any American Belgophile but probably a lot of Belgian brewers, too. I’ll be visiting with a Belgian brewer friend of mine in about two months and, if I don’t dawdle and manage to get to a shop and buy some of this ’16, I plan to whip some Freakcake on his skinny, Euro-hipster ass and watch him go cock-eyed. In the sort of beer swapping that goes on in these little reunions, this is the biggest slam-dunk I have ever brought to the table. Freakcake has been aged in oak in Crux’s state-of-the-art barrel room in Bend, babied along for over a year, and tasted all along the process. It poured into my glass with an almost frightening cloud of full-frontal aromas: molasses, vanilla, wood, malt vinegar, roasted grains, and burnt sugar. It looks viscous in the pour; like taking dark corn syrup and diluting it about 1-1 with water. The lacing clings to the top and sides of the glass vigorously but it’s not very effervescent and that’s exactly as God – and Flanders – intended. I actually took its temperature, as I wanted to drink it at an ideal 50-ish degrees, neither lukewarm nor stridently cold. I let it sit for about eight minutes, checked again, and tasted.
And almost fell off my stool.
Jesus…the scale, the intensity, the distinct and emphatic sour, that gorgeous oak illuminating the whole enterprise! Where all three of its predecessors were ample, this one is BIG, bold, assertive, undeniable. Bigger is not always better. Here, it is. The process of barrel aging – in beer, wine, and whiskey – is that of allowing the elements to find Balance, which all three forms of booze tend to do naturally. This process also tends to soften and mellow the flavors, especially in wine, in which the initial tannins, derived mostly from stems and seeds of the grapes, actually go from their initial green state, in vinification, to ripeness, in the barrel and bottle. Hops start out as green, too, but will eventually brown up and mellow, as they do in barrel for an Oud. I’m extrapolating this, of course, because this is a newly-bottled ale, but I fully expect that, starting at the larger and more fleshed-out scale of this 2016, this version will age even better than the 2014 I tasted along side it…and the 2014 was jaw-dropping.
The flavors in both lean toward dark elements like molasses, figs, treacle, toasted bread, horehound, a hint of coffee, dried dates, and Brandied raisins or currants. The predominant impression, as in great Belgians, is a sort of boozy fruitcake, complete with chewiness and the bready, yeasty, spice notes of an actual cake. The sour is fat and rich and assertive; like warm malt vinegar with a spoonful of blackstrap molasses in it. It’s an almost Balsamic character; as if you made a sort of mutant sangria out of it, using all dry fruits. In the ’14, all of this is present and has even backed into balance that is both pleasing and civilizing. It’s a bit smaller in every dimension, as it was when new. Had I not tasted the ’16 the night before, I’d still be writing this but now, after being stunned like a polled ox by the new version, I have to say that the 2014 Freakcake is the second-best Belgian-American I’ve ever tasted.
I’m just going to presume that, at some point, Larry Sidor traveled to Belgium and talked with, listened to, and picked the metaphorical pockets of brewers there who make these ales. Making that rather safe assumption, I can only conclude that he was not so much educated as assimilated. Somebody over there whispered, “Resistence is Futile, American Beer Boy!” and sucked his brain into the Belgian Hive Mind. There is no other way I can think of to understand how a devoutly-wonky, funny Oregonian guy has managed to make an ale which, I absolutely promise you, any Belgian brewery in existence would gladly slap their own label on, with no one tasting it even suspecting a thing. I told Larry’s partner, Paul Evers, in an email last night, that the word that comes to mind in tasting the 2016 Crux “Freakcake” is “Moreso“…and that’s the most accurate and honest description I can give it. From the initial fruitcake impression to the lovely background note of wet blanket funk, this is ale which is deadly authentic…only Moreso. For fans of American-made Belgian-style beers, your experience of that burgeoning art form is nowhere near complete without tasting this. 100+ Points