Just a couple of weeks ago, I was sitting in a brewery, which shall remain nameless, tasting yet another desultory Brut “IPA” and whining to myself about the seeming inability of Northwest breweries to make one that even remotely measures up to the original, the template, as created at The Social Kitchen & Brewery in San Francisco, by brewmaster Kim Sturdavant. I tasted his two on tap at The Social in February of 2018, and was floored by the almost laughable 180-degree turnabout from the recent trend of milkshake beers and ales infused with all manner of wild adjuncts – gingerbread, marshmallow, pretzels, banana muffins, pancakes, cupcakes, guava, mango, maple syrup, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Lemonheads, slices of actual pumpkin pie, etc…the list goes on and on.
At the EXACT same moment, the two beer styles that are making the most noise and selling the most product, all across America, are two that have NOTHING in common with the pastry Stouts and milkshake ales at all: Pilsners and this new Brut…thang.
Pilsners, I get it. VAST numbers of craft newbies are drifting over from the lifelong habit of watery shit lagers, the BudMillerCoorsPabst cesspool, and “into craft beer” because they now have enough friends who hang out at cool breweries and the craft culture has begun to truly squeeze out the Grandpa Beers, as millions of kids discover that – Oh, yeah – breweries are more fun than dive bars and redneck taverns. (Not to mention safer…and cleaner) But they don’t just throw off an entire lifetime of drinking insipid crap beers, so craft brewers produce Pilsners to help along that slow transition from tasteless lagers to actual craft ales. If it keeps craft breweries in business and profitable, good on ya. And, of course, the Pilsners made by craft breweries are uniformly FAR better than the industrial, computerized, zillion-gallon, mega-batch crap from that gargantuan mega-corporation. So – even if it is a celebration of Wimpy, win-win.
But the Brut is another story: an ale, not a lager, ultra-fine bubbles, dry as Sahara Jerky, resolutely unsweet..okay, where have we heard that before? Answer: Berlinerweisse, Gose, etc. Difference is: Brut is not tart/sour/salty. Brut is, in fact, akin in flavor more to the Pils than other ales, even the universe of Pales. So…why has this been so fuggen hard for some breweries to produce?
I dunno. But, around the PNW, it has.
Now, however, we’re seeing The Real Deal showing up and the best yet came to my door this very week.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that a highly technical beer style – which is a BIG part of the reason for the myriad failures – should be executed to near-perfection by Larry Sidor, co-owner and resident wizard at Bend’s titanic Crux Fermentation Project. After just reading a list of his work at Deschutes, during his eight-year tenure there, you’d bet the farm that Crux’s own Brut would be textbook+ in its final form and you’d win the kewpie doll.
“Gated Community” (I have no idea) took me instantly back to that irrationally sunny, mid-50s-ish day in San Fran and the bar stool I tested my skinny, hillbilly ass on at The Social. I wouldn’t characterize even Sturdavant’s template Brut as perfect, especially as compared to the original blueprint for the “Champagne Beer” style, Belgian gems like Lindeman’s “Cuvee Rene”, Brouwerij Bosteels’ “DeuS”, Brouwerij de Landtsheer’s “Malheur Brut”, and so on. The Social version was our American idea: tartness minimized, slightly more fruit, less overt yeast character. Not astringent, either, which was important in selling the style to its natural audience, craft newbies who are leery of excessive hops bitterness and craft veterans who mine a bit deeper in the style, down to the layers of minerals and yeast and grace notes that emerge as natural parts of the process.
I don’t know exactly how beer geeks in Flanders would see it but Gated is a laser-guided missile strike right in the fat middle of American beer consciousness. There are familiar aspects to it in its surface lightness and approachability and the range of prominent malt-derived cracker, cookie, and nut notes, with a mouth-watering hoppiness that develops quickly and finishes with spruce-like resins and grapefruit and lemon zest. The minerality underneath (Jeez, I feel like I’m reviewing a Loire Valley Sauv Blanc) shows up not as a pushy, chewed-aspirin overdose but as a flattering background tang; a zingy gilding of what is already a fabulous lily. This stuff is ENORMOUSLY drinkable; one of the most compulsively attractive beers I’ve tasted in years and one of the others was also from Crux: the astounding “Play Wave”.
My giving this a gaudy number should not be taken as any sort of devaluing of the Double Mountain Brut that I reviewed a couple of weeks ago. They’re just different. The DM is fatter and more intense than this and represents a great tweak on the style. Gated Community is an absolutely dead-authentic iteration of what the original Brut from The Social was intended to be.
This is a Perfect example of a new and innovative style, driven by chemistry and harkening back to a beautiful, but largely undervalued Euro style that deserves a wider audience. No matter where you are on the craft beer spectrum, Gated Community is virtually guaranteed to become one of the go-to ales of your summer 2019.