|Chad Yakobson of Crooked Stave pouring aged beers from the barrel|
Our recent journey to Ft. Collins was one hell of a good time. You’ve probably already read about our time at Odell. But what we haven’t shared is that our favorite part of the trip was when we visited Crooked Stave. We’ve introduced you before to Chad Yakobson, the brains behind the brewery, and we’ve mentioned him numerous times on this blog because we really are very excited about what he’s doing. We finally made a visit and got to see him at work. Read on to see pictures of what’s happening in the brewery space and for a full interview with Chad.
Chad operates the brewery in the same building as Funkwerks Brewery. They share some of the brewing equipment, including a lauter tun that sits over the top of their hot liquor tank. Funkwerks has three of their own fifteen barrel fermenters, which are often full of fermenting beer so Chad has purchased a couple of his own. One is similar to the steel fermenters in the other room and the other is an oak foeder, a gigantic looking barrel that houses beer during it’s primary fermentation. Here’s some information about this beautiful piece of equipment:
The 25hl foeder was shipped from Napa [recently] where it was previously used for only 3 years to ferment and age white wine. Commissioned in 2007 and custom produced by Tonnellerie Radoux, it is made completely of French oak and has stainless steel coils on the inside for temperature controlled cooling allowing for precision fermentations to take place inside the walls of her gorgeous oak staves.
The foeder was approximately half full of beer, we weren’t able to see inside it though. It’s
being used during primary fermentation and Chad doesn’t believe that will contribute much oak flavor to his beers. Above is a photo from the brewery’s website, where you can see a few more nice photos.
Sitting in another part of the space were about 50 oak barrels, most filled with beer but a few were still empty. Here, Chad is able to experiment with a number of different yeast strains. He has 10 strains of Brettanomyces that he’s using currently. One of my favorite beers at this years Saison Fest was the Crooked Stave Slayer. It was a beer with lavender and a heavy German malt bill and it was the first time the public had seen a beer from Crooked Stave. The beer at the fest was unaged but now we were able to sample two different versions of the beer, both aged and both with different Brett strains added. The beers were poured straight out of the French oak white wine barrels. We sampled a few other beers as well, the yeasts contributing flavors ranging from sulfury, to cheesy, to nutty, to cleaner and fruitier flavors. I couldn’t quite pick out the sulfur flavors myself, and have a difficult time giving such delicate beers such a harsh profile judgment. This was a real treat however, thank you Chad for the inside look. Here’s a video of Chad pouring us beer from the barrel. Sorry, the video is not right side up.
You worked at Odell but had to leave to finish up your thesis…maybe tell us briefly about your thesis…
I wrote my thesis titled: Pure Culture Fermentation Characteristics of Brettanomyces Yeast
Species and Their Use in the Brewing Industry. It concentrated on observing the ability of various Brettanomyces yeasts to primary ferment and the characteristics flavors and aromas associated with each yeast. [Here’s a link to the open source thesis project]
The thesis was finished in Scotland right? I was curious if your time in Edinburgh has any kind of influence on the beer you make? What was your time in Scotland like, how did you get along with the beer there?
It did to an extent.. I learned that hops and alcohol are very crucial to a beer and were absent from almost EVERY Scottish/British beer. British beer and I don’t get along for the most part. There are a few outstanding brewers in the UK but overall I made it through my time drinking lots of Belgian beer!
|Grant sampling some beer and Leah waiting oh so patiently for her turn|
When did you decide that you were going to have your own brewery? You have a wine background right? So what was the turning point? And then why barrel aging, brett, and sour instead of your more standard beers? What has your wine background given you that you consider an advantage?
I scribbled my manifesto on an overnight bus ride from Bangkok to Koh Panang in the South of Thailand. I had finished my wine studies and was off traveling…I knew I wanted to make beer instead of wine. I was going back to the UK to live and work in London, and I started researching brewing schools as soon as I got back. I worked as a wine sommelier in London which further emphasized how much I wanted to distance myself from wine and produce beer. I finished the year in London working as an assistant brewer eventually and then traveled South America for 10 months before going to brewing school. It is the travels that have greatly influenced me and the way I look at brewing.
I love barrel-aged beers especially complex sours…that is reminense of my time as a wine maker and wanting to blend my creative ways to express both arts. Embracing Brettanomyces just kind of came to me…maybe a little from knowing how winemakers viewed it and wanting to change people minds about it. The background in wine gives me patience in knowing how something will turnout over time, a great understanding of working with oak barrels, and the ability to trust my palate to blend and create beers.
You mentioned once that you have been culturing some new strains of Brett, tell me a little more about them?
I have a collection of 10 strains now. I use them in all the sours to build on the Brett complexities as well as use different blends in making the 100% Brettanomyces beers that are part of the Wild Wild Brett series of beers. I blend yeast strains the way other brewers might blend hops. It’s a great way to get complexity and unique flavors.
|Chad drilling a pouring hole into the barrel|
You mentioned you were going to do some things with beer that the wine industry does with wine, can you go into more detail?
In the pipeline for future projects involves working with various wild yeasts which contribute mouthfeel and flavors we are not use to in beer.
What kind of surprises have come with opening up your own brewery? Challenges? Joys? Any laws that you weren’t expecting?
The joy of working for yourself, running the daily operation and making the decisions for what the next beer will be and then seeing it all the way through to sales has been very exciting and quite the roller coaster too!
What are your favorite barrel programs? What are some of the best ones you’ve tried?
New Belgium has one of my favorites and they have helped me out so much in getting my project up off the ground. Avery as well, amazing guys amazing barrel program! Can’t not mention Vinnie at Russian River and their amazing barrel program. Between the three of them I’ve had some amazing sour beers that keep me motivated to do hat I’m trying to do.
Are you doing anything that you think is different than these other barrel programs? I know your beer isn’t finished yet, but from what I’ve had a lot of it is soft and delicate, I’m wondering if this is a trait that you are shooting for?
I’m looking to expand on what others are doing as well as develop new creations. We are working on having four different sours from the very beginning and they range in color from pale to very dark. From minor acidity to very acidic and in flavor from fruity to extremely funky. I like variation and want to give people options in the types of sour beers that can be available. As well we have many variations on 100% Brettanomyces beers. Brettanomyces doesn’t produce much acidity so some of these will be clean beers.
Crooked Stave currently has a beer made exclusively for Euclid Hall in Denver. Check it out, and ask your local place to look into this brewery. Check the Crooked Stave Facebook page to stay up to date with all the places the brewery will distribute to.