Words & Photos - Matthew Curtis
I first encountered Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project when owner and founder Chad Yakobson was brewing his Belgian influenced, wood aged sour ales at Funkwerks in Fort Collins, Colorado. I remember enjoying them at a time when I was just beginning to get my head around the complexities of sour beers and the influences that yeasts such as Brettanomyces and bacteria such as Lactobacillus can have on the flavour of a beer. Shortly after that visit to Funkwerks back in 2011, Yakobson relocated Crooked Stave to Denver and quickly became a cult figure in brewing circles. As time progressed my own love for sour beer grew immeasurably and I now relish every opportunity I get to drink this revered brewery's beer.
Just a few blocks from Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies baseball team, is The Source, a former foundry built in the 1880's that now houses a modern, artisanal market. With its industrial surroundings The Source wouldn't look out of place if it was transported over 4000 miles to East London. The outlets it houses are similar in nature to many of East London's too. Among the stores are some smart looking restaurants, a butchers, a deli, a liquor store and tucked away at the back of the building is the tap room that Crooked Stave now calls home.
The bar is immediately recognisable as being Crooked Stave's, with the idyllic farmyard scenes found on its labels painted on the wall behind the taps. However, I found myself a little confused when I stepped up to the bar. All the photos I had seen of the tap room showed a mass of brewing kit, waiting to be commissioned and stacks of barrels full of ageing beer, or still waiting to be filled but this was nowhere to be seen. It turns out that although The Source had originally been the intended home for Crooked Stave's brewing operation, a dispute over the water supply with the building's owners had seen that this wasn't going to happen, at least for the moment.
Regardless of this I was now immersed in my element, with a flight of intensely flavoured sour beers laid out before me. Beers like St. Bretta, a Brettanomyces heavy saison that's flavoured with a different citrus fruit each season, Petit Sour, a Berliner Weisse with both apricot and pomegranate versions currently pouring and Sentience, a wild Belgian style quad. Even picking three Crooked Stave beers at random like this demonstrates the weird and wonderful ideas floating around in Yakobsen's head. I settle on the Autumn incarnation of St. Bretta that's infused with blood oranges to start. While I enjoy the electric, citrus tang of this incredibly accomplished beer my Dad, who along with my Sister is accompanying me on this visit, screws his face up to the point of almost spitting it out.
As I work my way through the entirety of the draught offerings I watch my Dad's features contort with each mouthful. They say that you should have three sips of a sour beer before you give up on it, by my Dad's seventh or eighth I was beginning to admire his stamina, or was he perhaps just a glutton for punishment? I guess sour beers really are not for everyone. My sister seemed to enjoy them though and I most certainly was but not as much as I expected to. When I've managed to get hold of bottles of Crooked Stave's St. Bretta or the stunning Vieille provision saison in the past, they have been exactly that, stunning. Here in the tap room I found many of the beers to be overly sharp and intensely sour.
There were some brilliant beers on offer, the Batch 100 truly was an exceptional beer that when sipped, felt like a thousand, tiny, lemon flavoured pin pricks, acupuncture for the palate. Nightmare on Brett was far from a nightmare, but this bourbon barrel aged dark sour was as complex as it was challenging. It was more of a guttural experience than it was an enjoyable one. In the end it was the simple, plain old Vieille that remained my favourite because it was a beer I would drink often, if I could, but even this tasted somewhat spikier than I remember.
Crooked Stave brew incredible beers that will continue to impress even the most hardcore sour beer lovers for years to come but I actually don't think they suit being served fresh or on draught. Give a bottle of Vieille just six months in a dark cupboard or, if you're lucky enough, a cool cellar and it will mellow, integrate and open up. These are beers that benefit patience and I dare say that some of the wackier creations would benefit greatly from even longer periods of ageing. It's a shame that we're so desperate to drink all these wonderful creations as soon as they're available, rather than when they're actually ready. I look forward to drinking the few bottles I brought back with me in a year or so's time.
Despite this I'd still have a visit to The Source high on my list of things to do in Denver. It's handy for Downtown and not too far away from other interesting breweries such as Black Shirt, River North and Breckenridge. The food here is great, the bottle shop has an interesting selection of beers you'll want to bring home with you and when it comes down to it, the Crooked Stave tap room is a cool place to grab a beer. It's a shame that they're not brewing in house as originally intended, at least not yet, but it seems that contract brewing at the nearby Epic Brewing Company is working well for Yakobson and his always interesting, sometimes bonkers range of brews. I'm hoping that next time I pay The Source a visit that it's filled with steam and the heady smell of wet grain.
The Source can be found at 3350 Brighton Boulevard, Denver, Colorado and is open from 8am until 11pm, seven days a week.