Last week I talked all about how fundamentally un-snubby beer can be, especially when it’s delivered from tents in a giant field. This week I’ll take a brief look at the other side – the side of ales brewed in old chardonnay barrels with wilde yeast strains, by brewers in flannel shirts and beanies with mustaches waxed into symmetric shapes. I’m taking a look at Denver’s Crooked Stave and its St. Bretta witbier.
Okay, so I don’t know what the brewers at Crooked Stave wear. I’m sure they’re nice people, and their beer has won several awards. But when I visited their brewery in north Denver a few months ago, it was hard not to judge based solely on appearances. Take the location: The tap room is situated in the back of an open, exposed brick, airplane hangar-sized building called “The Source,” placed on the edge between industrial north Denver and trendy, new-development Denver. To get to the tap room itself, you must first walk past an expensive Mexican street food-style restaurant (with a 45-minute wait), a “community-focused grocer” and an artisan bakery. Maybe I’m confusing smugness with hipster-ness, but to me there’s a very fuzzy line between the two.
The tap room might have been the most “normal” part of the place; I was surrounded by early 30- and 40-somethings who probably make more in a month than I do all year, but the staff was friendly and the ambiance was much like a crowded bar. Their beer selection was a mix of the two worlds. Most of it was complex but made for anyone to enjoy, while some of it was experimental and seemingly overcomplicated. None of the beers I tried was a straight “pilsner” or “amber ale,” and I think they wanted it that way.
I’ve been searching for some of their beer outside of the tap room with little success. But I finally found one: their St. Bretta Citrus Wildbier, or a witbier brewed with souring, brettanomyces yeast. I didn’t try it while I was there, but I wanted to see how it measured up.
St. Bretta Citrus Wildbier
Notes: “Wildbier” isn’t an official style but this one falls under the witbier-type, which is usually spiced, wheaty and unfiltered. This 5.5% version is their spring style, though they have a summer one I haven’t tried. The bottle says it’s brewed in oak barrels with tangelo.
Sight and smell: The beer’s a hazy gold with good bubble, decent foamy lacing and a light dusting of a head. It smells like the ingredients listed on the bottle: Oak and orange peel, with a little bit of lemon.
Taste: This one’s sour all the way, with some sweet orange up front. There’s oak in the aftertaste and a little bit of creaminess in the middle, mixed with lemon juice, bread and maybe some lemon juice. It’s an interesting mix.
Grade: B+: There’s a lot of flavor packed into this one. It’s very pleasant. But it also seems more like a “beer punch” than an actual, comprehensive beer.
Overall the beer kind of lived up to the experience I had at the brewery. The beer’s name and bottle suggest something you’d fine at a fancy wine store, but the taste is sweet, light and approachable. It’s almost like the beer itself is rebelling against its marketing. Maybe one day they’ll realize that if beer is art, it should be less “Monet” and more “Norman Rockwell.” Still, I’m not holding my breath for anything canned from Crooked Stave any time soon.