By now, you’ve read and heard quite enough wordplay about “Can Do” and the other dozen or so can-related descriptors that are applied to breweries which “buck the conventional wisdom” and put their suds into sealed metal cylinders. I’ll spare you another one and just observe that, if you are one of those benighted souls who STILL believes that cans are some cheap marketing trick or that you can “taste the can“, you should seriously think about getting with it. Cans are a FAR superior vessel, in nearly every way that matters, to glass bottles. They don’t suddenly spring leaks from the cap, don’t shatter and cover your floor or car or cooler with blood-seeking shards and stale beer aroma for two weeks, and they chill LOTS faster than do the traditional glass packaging. They also don’t admit light, which can damage beer, and they are perfect for lining the bottom of a cooler and piling all your picnic bizibitz atop them. They welcome that task, in fact, as opposed to your clunky bottles that do NOT stack and are in constant danger of destruction.
So, when Crux Fermentation Project – one of the nation’s most significant “new” breweries of the past ten years and as “serious” a maker of ales as there is in this country – started putting ales into aluminum, it actually made a lot of can detractors sit up and take notice. If a brewery like Crux is doing it, maybe, uh, there’s something to this can thing?
All those aluminum virtues taken into consideration, (today’s improved aluminum is very nearly as chemically inert as glass) though, the ball game is still very much what’s inside that can. After all…Budweiser, Coors, Pabst, Miller Lite, and all those other shit beers come in cans. So just being in a can is indicative of nothing except sense enough to know what package works best.
Crux has recently put a near-shocking series of beers into cans, in a rapid succession, and one of the most impressive and DELICIOUS series of beers of any brewery, anywhere. I first reviewed a Crux can back in 2017, with the release of the best new American Porter in years, “PCT Porter“. After that the jaw-dropping NWPA, “Play Wave“, the new standard (along with Deschutes “Red Chair”) for the elusive, still-evolving Northwest Pale Ale, then one of the top three of the new Brut ales, “Gated Community” (No, I have NO idea what the name means)…and now two newbies that each raise the bar for both their styles.
Crux “Lawn Party” is a “hoppy Golden Ale” that rescues the concept of “golden ale” from its near-death experience as a flabby, unambitious, water-treading style of ale that appeals mostly to people who are put off by the modern IPA or increasingly bitter Pale ales.
There is not a damned thing wrong with Golden ales. There is also, usually, nothing very memorable about them. In many brewery rosters, they’re something of a place-holder; a beer for craft newbies and those who don’t enjoy the challenge of Big Hops. Just seven years ago, Goldens were not really even a Thing. They existed, usually under the vague rubric of “Belgian Golden Ale” or, depending on the brewery, “Belgian Blonde Ale”, and were occasionally notable as a sort of scaled-back idea of a Saison or farmhouse ale. Belgian Golden Ales are notable and different by virtue of the pretty tropical fruit, spice, and floral character of their Belgian yeasts. But as the American Golden Ale emerged, to woo all those hops-averse craft newbies, that jazzy yeast character went away, leaving…Meh. Part of their description of the American Golden is that they are less assertive and hoppy than a Pale Ale from the same brewery. They’re Ale Lite, low-ambition, and undistinguished enough that I have a hard time remembering any one, over fifteen years, that really stood out.
Right on the can, Lawn Party states its ambition: “Hoppy Golden Ale“…”hoppy“, as opposed to that tsunami (most breweries have at least one) of Goldens that deliberately suppress their hops. This is NOT one of those pandering Golden Ales that lays back so far it disappears into Bud Territory. It shows all the virtues that lead so many people to drink them: the sunny, happy, uncomplicated lemon and melons and sugar cookies and a fine-grained, subdued malt character that is perfectly offset by a bright, crisp, edgy hops gilding that lifts this undistinguished style into a serious contender for the title of Your Lawn Party/Patio/Picnic Beer. Lawn Party recognizes and honors the undeniable fact that forward hops have gone mainstream and that using them judiciously and emphasizing the florals and mild spices and citrus aspects of the flowers can allow you that Edge without unseemly bite.
This is a crafty ale that shows, just as much as anything brewed at Crux, the aeons of experience and depth of knowledge of Crux brewmasters, Larry Sidor and Cam O’Connor, who seem to leave any style they decide to touch exponentially better for the attention. Lawn Party is a Golden that both craft newbies and grizzled veterans can sip and enjoy throughout this too-short, climate-changed summer to come. 96 Points
Crux “Cruising Altitude” IIPA is the best new Imperial/Double IPA to come out of any West Coast brewery in the past five years. That definitive enough for ya? Before that – and remember that this opinion is a product of my tastes. Yours are almost certain to differ – Ninkasi “Tricerahops” held that title. There are certainly IPAs around that are more bitter, higher IBUs, more resiny, more…more. But Ninkasi’s Jamie Floyd and Crux’s Larry Sidor, as both are inclined to do, don’t want their new beer to be indistinguishable from everybody else’s new beer. “Tricerahops” broke all kindsa new ground by playing down the hoppy bitterness in favor of the myriad spice, floral, herbal, citrus, and tree fruit notes of which many of those gem-like little flowers are capable. Both are products of THINKING – Jaysus, can I get an Amen? – THINKING!! Knowledge, creativity, inspiration, and the chops to realize whatever idea you came up with.
Cruising Altitude may be Tricerahops’ spiritual cousin but CA injects a bit more straight-forward resins into the flavor profile, expertly balanced so that the rote, predictable, savagely BORING trap of IPAs that taste like a fistful of pine sawdust and acrid herbs, washed down with a Pale Ale, is neatly avoided. CA alludes to those “bitter for the sake of bitter” IPAs but tucks the reference into an overall flavor that balances everything hops can do with enough malts to keep it wildly drinkable. Pine resins, lime, lemon, red berries, mango, shortbread, baked apples, honey, and gorgeous toasted notes play off those hops-driven spices and citrus fruits and sweet herbs to produce a round and complex flavor profile that can easily pass muster with those who just drink and don’t think about it and with all the chronically-analytical dorks like me and thousands of other craft mavens, who dissect beers and enjoy that process. 99 Points
I fear that Cruising Altitude has become lost, a bit, in the flood of new, trendy hazys and glitter beers that younger craft newbies slobber over. It’s really the shits when a brewery hits a target square-on and produces something which SHOULD be a bona fide landmark and people miss it altogether. I’m praying that doesn’t happen here. The $$$ that I’ve spent in the past six years, buying Tricerahops, has to now run into the hundreds and I just picked up more this week, mainly because I didn’t find any Cruising Altitude when I went out to ransack Tacoma.
Make no mistake about it, Cruising Altitude IS that landmark IIPA, a beer that packs in the hops but without being stupid or obnoxious about it. As with everything else from Crux, Job One is drinkability and in that both Lawn Party and Cruising Altitude prove out among the best beers from the Northwest, in 2019.