If you read this thing regularly, A) you need a hobby, and B) you’ve read quite a bit about Crux Fermentation Project of Bend, Oregon, and I sincerely hope you’ve checked them out, if you wanna call yourself any sort of beer fan at all. Knowing nothing about Crux, at this point, is like calling yourself a movie fan and never seeing “The Godfather” or “Citizen Kane”. Really.
So, I’m not plowing that ground again, here. If you have tried the Crux beer oeuvre, you need no introduction. If not, this post is NOT your primer. This is about diversification, something which has caught fire under Crux, lately, like live embers under your camp chair.
In keeping with owner/brewmaster Larry Sidor’s encyclopedic and passionate fixation on All Things Fermented, Crux, just last year, released a couple of wines, a blended red and blended white. I have not tried them because I have committed the HEINOUS sin of Not Living in Bend, Oregon, and the wines are NOT available here in my Seattle/Tacoma treehouse.
Larry Sidor, at Pursuit, checking bottles.
But for their first – and, I would suspect, inevitable – foray into hard liquor, Crux partnered with a distillery rather miraculously located exactly 27.4 miles from my own front door. Armed with this shocking knowledge, the Fabulous Judye and I drove over there – one frigid and gale-force Saturday, three weeks ago – and tasted the 100 Proof Crux Very Small Batch Straight Bourbon Whiskey which was the result of this, well, unlikely collaboration. Nutshell: We wound up taking two bottles of them home, as well as a bottle of Pursuit’s own Blended American Whiskey and two bottles of a (NOT kidding) jaw-dropping Gin that combines all the best aspects of a refined botanical and an even more elegant London Dry. More on this later. This is a Crux post, after all…
Any distiller, any winemaker, any brewer will tell you that there are certain irreducible bottom line factors that determine the quality of what they make. Winemakers famously say that “great wines are made in the vineyard” – they will only be as great as great grapes allow them to be. Brewers juggle grains and hops and yeasts and will testify – loudly – that bad quality in any one will make, at best, a mediocre beer.
In distilling, a great wash makes a great Whiskey.
Sure, you CAN take a great wash (the term is usually used to refer to the liquid at the end of the fermentation, before being distilled to produce the spirit itself) and wind up with a bottle of dog piddle but anyone worth their money as a distiller will make damned sure that his/her gorgeous, aromatic, sweet wash is babied along at every step, barreled properly, and released not a day short of Ready.
Larry Sidor, a guy who knows more than about 99% of mankind about producing the sort of complex, intensely flavorful wash that starts all fine beers and Whiskeys, came up with a truly mind-boggling liquid, here, that was passed along to Enumclaw, Washington’s Pursuit Distilling, where the casually expert staffers gently cooked the stuff down to a gorgeous, perfumed liquid that became, with just two years in barrel, one of the most interesting, engrossing, complex, and replete YOUNG Bourbons, I have EVER tasted. It was decided that two years was ample time to have this become a serious Whiskey and I can’t argue with that at all. It’s a bit hot, of course, as 100 Proof (50% ABV) always is, but far less heat than I find in MANY 100 Proofers and a thoroughly engrossing flavor profile I have never found in a Whiskey this new. The barrels used were obviously of fine quality because even that 24 months imbued this stuff with a firm and nicely complementary wood character that does nothing at all to obscure the bonanza of yeast and grain-driven flavors. The complexity of it is literally eye-opening. My wife and I both went wide-eyed as we took that first sip, over in Enumclaw and it has hit me the same way the other two times I’ve sat with it in my living room. I don’t want to cheapen my review of it by dissecting it like a deceased cocker spaniel. It had some notes of strictly grain, some caramel (natch), some oak-derived vanillin, some cookie-like sweetness, and a faint dash of something smoky and is completely substantial and warm. And a LOT more.
In sipping as I write this, which I almost always do with Whiskeys, I’m struck once again at how complete it is versus so many, MANY young inexpensive Whiskeys I get sent as samples. This is a whole other animal; a Whiskey which has entirely different ambitions and potential longevity than those value editions. And, appropriately, it is NOT cheap. We paid $75 a pop for the bottles and were happy to do it.
Pro Tip: I messaged a friend I met in Seattle, about five years ago, a Scotch Whiskey expert who works for a front-line Scottish producer, and told him about this bottle, asking him how he would approach a young Bourbon upon first taste. He recommended pouring one ounce of Whiskey and adding three drops of purified water, using an regular eye-dropper, to the glass. I did it and the 100 Proof heat was nicely relieved by it. The result was sweeter and broader and more aromatic and revealed even more grace notes.
This is, simply put, a pretty much total success, as a first foray into Crux as distiller. I suspect that Larry Sidor will eventually want to do the distillation in house also and I cannot wait to taste the result. Also, just as a personal preference, I would LOVE to see what would happen if this exact same liquid was was given a four, six, even ten year barrel aging. The mind boggles at THAT idea. But, for today, IF you are at all inclined to go out and spend a BIT lavishly on a young Bourbon, this is an absolute slam-dunk. Crux/Pursuit Straight Bourbon Whiskey is a delicious, fascinating, grown-up bottle of American Bourbon and it is absolutely worth the $$$, if any Whiskey is.
It irritates me no end to even have to assign a number to this but I know what I will read if I don’t: