Crux Fermentation Project…Mouthful, right? And that’s just the name, which is why everybody just calls ’em Crux.
I call ’em “one of America’s Best breweries” and I have seen nothing to alter that judgment a millimeter since they opened, back in the summer of 2012. Led by the lone remaining original partner, former Deschutes brewmaster Larry Sidor, they have followed a measured, steady, unfailing curve to what can now only be called greatness and, during my self-imposed health/home hiatus, I abused their generosity and kindness greatly. They kept sending me beers I kept not writing.
Well, that shite is Over, right now.
Several of the things they sent during that five-ish months are now year-round offerings and each of them has become a staple of my beer fridge, including a couple which, surprisingly, I had to warm up to. But when I did warm up, it got all hot up in here. (In the interest of full disclosure, they sent one that I couldn’t review, literally the first beer of any type that I thought was below their standard. I do NOT see this as a trend, more a difference of tastes because it IS a very nice beer, just not for me. And you will not get the name out of me with a court order, a gun, and electrodes on my testicles.)
First is Battlestar IPA, their big, happy, complex IPA, which I admit to being just lukewarm about at first. The first time I tasted it, I was ridiculously distracted by a the first of three family emergencies, one of which is ongoing. But the second time I opened one was on a little quarantine car picnic that Judye and I packed up for a day trip to Washington’s Pacific beaches and I was able to sit and experience Battlestar with no distractions and some rare peace of mind…and, BOY!, did that turn around in a hurry! Battlestar weighs in at just under 8% ABV and 65 IBUs and that is, for me, pretty much right in the slot for a legit PNW IPA. It delivers Galaxy and Mosaic hops by the shovelful, packin’ bright, vivid tangerine and lime and lemon notes, with mango and passion fruit and even a dash of sweet pineapple but without the current gratuitous haze that too many breweries rely upon to suggest tropical fruit and citrus. Like its spiritual cousin, Cigar City’s immortal Jai Alai, it delivers what all the knee-jerk hazy ales do but with clarity and crispness and really none of the cloying character of many hazys. To come clean about this, I and She, who sets my soul “awn fahr” (as we say in the South) have managed, through a TON of trial and not much error, to refine our house IPA stock to a small handful of beers: the aforementioned Jai Alai (which really doesn’t taste a whole lot like Battlestar), Fort George “The Optimist”, Laurelwood “Workhorse”, Ninkasi “Tricerahops”, our local Black Fleet Brewing’s brilliant “Vengeance”, Reuben’s Brews “Crikey” and “Hop Tropic”, pFriem IPA, and Crux’s own basic IPA. Now, we have to add Battlestar. I know, I know: I preach “one chance to make a first impression” all the dammed time and, gotta say, eating those words could use a bit o’ sugar but I think my first impression of Battlestar was My Bad. This is as good a straight-forward West Coast style IPA as anybody is making these days and the newly-purchased four-pack that I have in my fridge is testament to just how pleasing and adroit this stuff really is. 97 Points
Next is Bushy Park Tasmanian Hopped IPA, the name of which Crux took from the source hops farm, Brushy Park Estates – in Tasmania, as it happens…and, frankly, due to the Vic Secret and Galaxy hops they evidently dosed this stuff with by merry bushels. This veers left from Battlestar with one gorgeous shade darker copper in the glass and a bit more caramel-ish malt body. The hops deliver a bit more forthright pine resin and ample pineapple but also lovely orange-rind and pink grapefruit, with a straight-up finish of literal wildflowers as you would find them in nature: herbs, earth, vegetal stems and fragrant petals. The effect is appropriately exotic and a tad wild and perfectly evocative of New Zealand/Tasmania, as wine fans have to come to understand that region’s hallmark character. There is nothing heavy or ponderous in this ale, despite the fat malts and it is sorta urgently drinkable, whispering for you to take another sip. Just delicious stuff and, from what I’m seeing in our local stores, there is still a fair supply, considering that it’s a January thru April seasonal. 97 Points
Lost Love Barrel-Aged Imperial Rye Stout is a ridiculously inspired variant of Crux’s becoming-immortal Tough Love Imperial Stout, banished to a bunch of Woodford Reserve Rye Whiskey barrels to reconsider its place in the universe. Apparently, it has decided to be jaw-dropping delicious because this unhinged my mandible and caused me to have to tote it around in a fanny pack for several hours. All the sinister opulence of Tough Love is there in spades, given some mellowing time in barrel. This, from my review of the base ale, says what applies to the non-Woodford Stout:
“…a near-perfect touch of malt sweetness that is amply balanced by 70 IBUs of firm but unobtrusive hops. It sports some oak-smoked wheat and malted rye in the mash bill and shows a touch, a flattering dash of smoke, again balanced by all the opulence around it. On the palate, it offers up forward notes of coffee – sorry, COFFEE – bittersweet chocolate, oaky vanilla, black cherries, plums, toffee, molasses, leather, faint saline, and a brambly suggestion of tree bark, like drinking it out in the forest. It is, absolutely, dense and chewy but lays on the palate like a proper Scotch ale and completely avoids the cloying oil slick you find in so many Imperials.“
NOW…take that and add the warm caramel, grainy spices, wild aromatics, and earthy vanilla and wet wood of the Woodford barrels and, well, it’s almost a sensory overload. I kind went “tilt” like an old pinball machine, after drinking it and have since consumed two more bottles, just to be really sure. This is a hedonistic, balls-out stunner.
I gave the original Stout 100 Points and, by damn here I am doing it again! 100 Points
Crux Gypsy Coolship #3 bears a bit of exposition: a “coolship” is an open-topped tank, usually something like 4′ x 8′, and about two feet deep. As opposed to the closed tanks in which beer is normally fermented, with yeasts that are either cultured in-house or purchased from one of the brewing supply companies, the coolship takes advantage of a near-magical phenomenon that used to be the way MOST of the original breweries in Europe made ale: from the native yeasts that exist in the very air we breathe, everywhere. In most conventional coolships, the tank is closeted in a room in the brewery, windows open, with whatever precipitates out of the air driving fermentation. Crux decided that, since those native yeasts are not the same in any two places, the answer to making new and interesting variants was…take the coolship to other places. So, Larry and company had a trailer specially constructed, to be towed behind a brewery pick-up, and left open at different parts of their Oregon surroundings, which, honestly, is crawlin’ with all manner of wild, airborne microorganisms. This is a state in which breweries make beer from the yeasts found in their brewmaster’s beard(!)(?), so doing this is not that far-out an idea at all. I tasted and reviewed the two previous versions and found them lovely and exotic but this #3 is, to me, the best yet. It’s a genuine farmhouse ale, a bright orange-red in the glass, and lit up with tart complexity, mouth-watering tropical fruit and honeysuckle and pomelo and tangerine flavors. The texture is a surprising velvet and the mousse is large-grained but creamy.
We all hear about “experimental ales” and the breweries which do ’em gain a moment or two of notoriety for making them but this is NOT one of those things for which somebody tossed a few baseball bats into the bright tank or infused with some shiitake mushrooms or aged the beer with bull testicles. This is “experimental” in the sense of casting backwards into the historical record of world brewing and resurrecting a style that modern technology had almost rendered extinct, to the detriment of your and my taste buds. Crux is hardly the first to use coolship fermentation. Paul Arney, up the hill from Bend at the brilliant The Ale Apothecary, has made a virtual religion out of it. But, to my tongue, out of the forty-ish examples I’ve now tasted, this is the most purely delicious and the most likely to win over new fans of the whole concept. When all is said and done, beer is something for people to DRINK and ENJOY, not an art piece to be appreciated from some different, lofty perspective and the Crux Coolship series never loses track of that aesthetic. GREAT ale, by any definition. 98 Points
NOTE #1: I will also refer you back to this review, from April of 2018, when Crux “Playwave” NWPA was brand new. In the review I called it “The Perfect NWPA” and I have not changed a word in that opinion. AND…it’s available now and year-round! You have NOT? DO!!
NOTE #2: I recently did a blind tasting of various craft pilsners for members of my family, mostly because our grandson is about to turn 21 and we wanted to ease him into craft beer appreciation the right way. So, I went out and rounded up six excellent examples of modern American Pilsners and had some fam taste them and give feedback. I’m not going to name the other five because I am not about to impute some sort of inferiority to any of what was a STELLER line-up of lagers…but the winner by acclamation was Crux Pilz.
To be honest, Pilsner is mostly a pain in the ass. It is a small-gauge style of beer, the adherents of which invent complicated rationales for finding differences in what is a tiny range of flavors and muted everything: yeasts, hops, and grains. I’ll get pissed-off emails and messages about this but, to me, Pilsner fans and Pinot Noir geeks are two sides of the same dull coin. Both adopt elitist stances and fixate on terms like “nuance” and “elegance” and “restraint”, which most beer fans find secondary, in choosing a Pils, to “light and refreshing”. I LOVE a great Pilsner. My personal fave is from the great German brewery, Pinkus Mueller of Münster, an organic lager that is unforgettably clean and perfect and balanced. And, here in the PNW, where almost nobody but Chuckanut and Heater Allen and Airways Brewing and the late, lamented Orlison was making Pilsners eight years ago, we now have brilliant examples, as does the rest of America. And, for my (literal) money, nobody does one better than Crux Pilz. YES, it is NOT very authentic to the German ideal (they call it a “New-Old-World Pilsner”) but that’s because it’s being consumed by Northwest drinkers, who want and appreciate more hops than in any German lager. But by judicial tailoring of its recipe, Larry Sidor and assistant brewmaster, Cam O’Connor, have scaled up a perfectly-balanced, definitive PNW Pils that delivers the clarity and crispness and drinkability that rivals the best Germans. This is a characterful, complete, damnably tasty American lager and I suspect that, if you compare several of your own choices, you’ll agree, too. 95 Points