I’m not going to ass around with this because there’s no need…
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.
So, he and his two partners – Paul Evers, a design shop owner from Bend and Dave Wilson, formerly of 21st Amendment Brewing of San Francisco (and since returned there to become company president) – rummaged around Bend and found a little dead end, defunct Aamco Transmission building, tucked away into a largely unknown male nipple of Bend, at the convergence of Division Street and SW Industrial Way. It was as remote for a city the size of Bend as Point Barrow is to Alaska. NOBODY knew of the place..quite possibly the reason the Aamco shop went under. They had in mind to create almost a stealth brewery; a place where arcane, slow-churn brewing fetishes like extended barrel aging and brett/sour/wild ales, and authentic lagers made the hard way (unlike Budweiser) and, basically, whatever Larry’s fertile mind could conceive. Along that path to today, Dave Wilson realized that he had left his heart in San Francisco and Paul Evers’ restless creativity led him to exit stage left and embrace other performances, like his new Riff Cold Brewed Coffee, a project that takes the odd similarity of the word “brewed” to the next level.
As for Larry Sidor, well…The Dude Abides.
I received a little booklet this week from Crux’s Jason Randles, another Deschutes alum, and at first didn’t read it because, well, businesses issue these self-congratulatory promo pieces all the time and they’re usually long on style and mostly devoid of content. But my wife picked it up and read it and said, “Have you read this? I think this is pretty great. Makes me want to go to Bend again…and soon.”
So, I sat down and read it…and found this…
Not only are people finding Crux’s weird-ass little hangnail of a cul-de-sac of a home site, they’re finding in in droves. On a sunny Saturday afternoon, Industrial Way looks like an interstate off-ramp.
This was all accomplished in six years. Crux opened on June 30, 2012. In today’s instant gratification, New Shiny Bauble culture, where new breweries are celebrated and routinely praised far in excess of any actual accomplishment, Crux’s development had led many Young Trendies to assign them to the sidetrack labeled, “Less Exciting”. BIG mistake. Crux is and always has been about evolution. Larry knew when he started the place that many of his best ideas could not possibly come to fruition for several years, at very best. Aging takes Time and Crux was not planted with shallow roots, to blossom quickly and then wilt away. There was the, uh, crux of the matter: perfecting beer would come first, money would come in (a close but not dominant) second.
All this is to explain why I am compelled to, here at six and a half years in, state right here that Crux’s signature Imperial Stout – along with Barleywine the style closest to my heart – has finally come to its realization, its entry into its ultimate perfection (which may never happen, at least in Larry Sidor’s mind), and its ultimate stature as one of America’s definitive Stouts.
Crux [Banished] “Tough Love” has been, since its first release, one of the best Stouts in the Northwest. Exceeded only by Deschutes’ immortal “The Abyss” and equaled ONLY Boneyard Brewing’s shocking “Suge Knite” and Pfriem’s Bourbon Barrel Imperial Stout, Tough Love and its new incarnation, the Rye Whiskey barreled One Off [Banished] “Lost Love” have now moved onward in this evolution and, with this 2018 iteration, stand just a shade behind “The Abyss” – and a scant shade, at that – as the Pacific Northwest’s best Imperial Stouts.
Tough Love was always as complex and interesting as The Abyss or Suge or the pFriem but was built on a slightly lighter frame. Every characteristic of this ale – the wet barrel notes, the roasted flavors, the molasses and coffee and chocolate and edgy background hops – were all the equal of any of its spiritual cousins but some heft and oomph were held in reserve. I didn’t get why and never asked but I now suspect that this ale was being nudged to it gradually, allowing the age to develop at its own pace. Whatever has happened, Tough Love is now just about the perfect Imperial Stout. It is still not as dense and syrupy as The Abyss and I think that may be intentional. For me, The Abyss has always been my vote for best beer – of ANY style – made in the US. But a lot of people – my own wife, for one – have been put off a bit by its forward sweetness and the sheer weight of Stouts like The Abyss and Abraxas and Dark Lord and Bourbon County (now fucked up altogether by its Anheuser Busch overlords) and Parabola.
Tough Love 2018 is heart-stoppingly creamy in texture, dense, chewy, complex, and complete. It’s awash in primary and grace notes: dark caramel, licorice, molasses, espresso, cocoa, dark chocolate, horehound, black cherries, brown sugar, vanilla, black currants, brandied raisins, subtle mixed spices, and a fat, oozing, unctuous overlay of wet Bourbon-soaked wood. The mousse is as thick as a milkshake and almost as flavorful as the liquid itself. It fans out on the palate, creating the sensation of drinking something like glycerine. And for all that, it still manages not to come off as cloying in any way. It can’t accurately be called “light” or even “medium-bodied”, in any sense, but is going to give those who don’t favor, as I do, a true 30-weight tongue coating Stout far more of a friendly glassful. And yet for me and others like me, who seek out Stouts that you practically have to eat with a spoon, there is not one iota of satisfaction missing.
In a way – and in a decidedly different sense than The Abyss or Suge or even my own favorite slightly-short-of-The-Abyss American Imperial Stout, Lost Abbey “Serpent” – this is the Perfect Imperial Stout. The barrel aging is expert and dead-on appropriate and never veers off into that realm in which the whiskey takes over and shoves ale to the background. This is not a Stout About a Barrel but a Stout that deftly folds in the wood ‘n’ hooch into a seamless, thoughtful, adroit flavor profile that juggles all its elements like Francis Brunn (see below) juggling balls and rings. 100 Points
Crux One Off [Banished] Lost Love shares every one of its majestic brother’s virtues but adds an earthy, rib-sticking, spicy seam of rye whiskey, trail-ride earthiness to the mix. For those not well versed in rye, it adds that same sort of savory, pungent allure of the rye toast on your classic Reuben sandwich, artfully laid out on a bed of all that Stout bounty described above. The warm Bourbon caramel and vanilla is melded with caraway, white pepper, sumac, and the fresh grain flavors of coarse-milled bread. It’s an almost intoxicating combination and made moreso by the fact of Lost Love’s whoppin’ 14% ABV. This is not an ale for newbies or those who want to have five or six and work a buzz into the conversation. Conversation will become impossible, after two, and the rescue squad is a real possibility for those who want to push past that and on into Drinkin’ Stoopid. This is an ale that requires some miles on your palate and savoring, not excess. But if you’re willing to exercise common sense, Lost Love will instantly become that Rye ale by which you measure all others. 100 Points
Short word on Winter Seasonal beers: lately, there has been a rash of breweries making an Imperial IPA or a lager and calling it a “winter seasonal”. Now, I’m in a real fix. I’m one of the nation’s leading cheerleaders (Yes, I DO have the legs) for brewers calling their beers any damned thing they please and screw the BJCP guidelines. But “winter seasonal”…well, that’s a Thang, a Thang with parameters. It should be malty and contain a good bit of alcohol. It’s also known as a “winter warmer” and that’s not just marketing. Cold weather, a little extra octane to warm the cockles, a little more malt to provide a warm and welcome chewiness. That can be accomplished in a spectrum of styles. One of the PNW’s best is Ninkasi “Sleigh’r”, a big ol’ fat, boozy German style Alt that will set your shivering cockles happily ablaze.
The archetype, the virtual blueprint for the style is Samuel Smith’s “Winter Welcome”, a lovely, boozy, caramely, slightly hoppy masterpiece that’s been warming chilled Americans for almost as long as most of us have been alive. The venerable American template is Deschutes “Jubelale”, which is patterned on Winter Welcome but with Deschutes-gauge hops. Crux Snow Cave is solidly in the same groove as Jubelale and Winter Welcome and the vastly under-rated Pyramid “Snow Cap”, but just a tad less full-bodied than those. The difference is all to the good. Snow Cave is easier to drink and encourages having more than one. At 8% ABV, it’s advisable to make that “more than one” two only but those with greater tolerance can act accordingly.
Snow Cave has the creamy maltiness and caramel/sugar cookie/vanilla/fruit leather notes of any great, authentic Winter Warmer, with a body and texture that can only be called “elegant”. The hops are present and it could be argued that you’ll rarely sample a 20 IBU beer that shows any more hops edginess. It displays a definite but restrained bitterness that flatters the malt backbone but never intrudes. It figures, I guess, that a winter seasonal coming from one of the minds behind Jubelale – arguably my favorite beer in the world to just sit and sip – would be exceptional and even definitive of the style. And it absolutely is. Snow Cave is a modest masterpiece and deserves a place on your holiday table, before it’s all gone. 97 Points