I have to confess that late Spring/Summer ’21 has not been a great time for stuff that I have tasted. I got samples but the deal has always been the same: if I like it enough to rave about it, I write it up. If not, I just don’t mention it because I don’t – EVER – write negative reviews of any independent producer of adult beverages. Why, in this, the Gold Plated Age of Snark? Because A) I think it’s tasteless and crass, B) I like small businesspeople and have no desire to take shots at ’em, and C) I see no reason to even mention mediocrity. So, if I can assign 90 points or better, I write it…but not always. If I give it 90 and it should be higher, that stays out, too.
Fortunately, from time to time, the inimitable Crux Fermentation Project – that mouthful of verbiage and exceptional liquids, down in Bend, Oregon – sends me a box with Something Special inside.
And about a week ago, Larry Sidor, Cam O’Connor, and crew outdid themselves.
Crux Fermentation Project “Pert Near” Fresh Hop IPA is a wet-hopped ale starring a spankin’ new flower called McKenzie. Hybrided by West Coast Hops Breeding (an Oregon growers’ cooperative), Mac turns out to give its host ale a ridiculous amount of heft: body, silken texture, full and palate-painting flavors ad grace notes. I got cucumber and cantaloupe and white grapes and over-ripe pears, yellow apples, and jasmine. (Your mileage may vary) It is absurdly easy to drink; compulsive might be a better term. They’ve packages this sweat from an angel’s brow in 16 oz. cans and I blew through a whole one in about six minutes and was reaching for a second when I remembered: Oh, I’m a fuggen geezer now chugging a couple of beers carries its own punishment.
So, I savored…a thing at which I am only now becoming proficient, since I really freakin’ liked chugging, before Father Time mugged me in an alley. It happens, though, that savoring has its own rewards and as I did it with Pert Near, other things emerged. A lovely hint of sweet herbs came out to play. Wildflowers blossomed, teaberry gum appeared, and a creaminess, a sensation not unlike actually tasting fresh cream, dawned on my tongue. All this both coating and vibing off of that edgy, resiny immediacy that is the hallmark of fresh hopped ales and why I so passionately love the damnable things, which cause me to abandon all good judgment, every year, and drink more beer than is advisable.
There have been some notable new hops surface in the past few years: Galaxy, Ekuanot, Ace, Talus, Strata, Lotus, Zappa, etc. Lemondrop haunts me and Ekuanot and Loral lurk around my dreams, too. But McKenzie is Something Else. It adds a gravitas to this ale that is unlike most of what I’ve tasted this past year (or ever) and promises even more delights as it comes available in dry and pellet forms. As a handy primer on what this newborn is about, Pert Near is, as we Southerners say, pert near perfect. 98 Points
Crux “Strange Behavior” Hazy IPA is a legit example of Truth In Advertising. It’s Strange, alright. It’s hazy but feather-light on the palate. It’s fruity but also madly herbal and those two usually-fractious dogs just kinda play together and make nice. It’s one of the most vibrant new ales I’ve tasted in the past year but uses the ancient Scandinavian Kveik yeast, which gives it a notably earthy, loamy quality and colors in all the free space in the flavor profile with something like apricot jam and apple butter(!)(?), all atop a hoppy bitterness that leans toward tree sap and honeysuckle.
My wife has developed a, uh, thang about Hazy ales. I have not and don’t have any idea where hers came from but she says they all taste too sweet to her and frequently a bit dirty. I know what she means but rarely see beers the way she does. She tasted this one and went, “Mmmmm!“, so this is obviously unlike most hazys and it kinda declares itself apart with one small sip. The complexity is a tad shocking, even, and it took me well into a second can to properly place this within my frame of reference for both hazys and kveik ales. Once I did, though, this stuff just knocked me sideways. 96 Points.
To be fair, a small part of this dry spell of 2021 may well be just me. I admit that my bar for new beers has been raised almost through the roof by what came out of the wretched but splendid isolation that fell upon us all during the Quarantine. I think some brewers, forced out of their pastimes and distractions, had more time to think and get outside the twin boxes of travel ‘n’ leisure and social interactions and came up with a bunch of, to be polite, Crazy Shit. But the dirty secret about all innovation and invention is that a LARGE percentage of what advances any sort of stylistic or technical boundaries of beer or wine or whiskey or cars or medicine or space exploration is one of two things: Someone having such a crazy-ass idea that everybody around them says, “That’ll NEVER work!” and then they try it, anyway, and it actually DOES work! OR, they do some mundane thing for the 10,000th time and screw it up…and then find that the accident makes sense and works just as well as what they were after, to begin with.
I don’t know if the obvious and rather stunning creativity that I routinely find in what comes out of Crux is engendered by those dynamics or if maybe Larry Sidor is just so fuggen bright that he actually CAN do that thing that almost never works: sit down and say, “I’m going to make something that alters the freakin’ paradigm!“
But I do know that, if Larry can imagine something, he probably could do it…and that, if he did happen upon a fortuitous accident, he would have the wisdom to recognize it and the smarts to know not to screw with it. Crux is one of the true American sources for real brewing ingenuity and innovation and in these two new ales, they are really hitting on all cylinders.