How can a brewery that specializes in sour beers explain to customers that it has made something that isn’t sour? Simple: call it “sourless.” That’s what Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project did a couple of months ago when it tapped Sourless IPA for the first time in its taproom.
Since then, the brewery has brewed and poured several other sourless, or “clean” beers, as they are called, including a coffee Baltic porter, a pilsner and a kolsch.
“They looked at us a little funny,” acknowledges Crooked Stave founder Chad Yakobson about customers who were surprised that there was no bacteria in the beer, no Brettanomyces yeast — none of the microbes that give sour or wild ales their distinctively funky or mouth-puckering qualities. “People can’t wrap their heads around the fact that we can make a clean beer.”
Which is understandable. After all, Crooked Stave and Yakobson built their reputation — and the business — by brewing some of the most sought-after sours in the nation.
But that is part of what has made this new project, called the Brewer’s Select series, so fun. “These beers are an extension of our creativity and attention to detail. It flips everything on its head,” Yakobson says. “The idea is that our brewers can play around. We love sour beers, but we want to be able to drink these beers, too. Sometimes you really just want a kolsch.”
In the past, Crooked Stave didn’t have room to make clean beers anyway, but the company, which brews at its original Barrel Cellar location on 46th Avenue (which isn’t open to the public) recently added 12,000 square feet, bringing its total to 27,000 square feet, most of it storage. That additional space means more room for fermentation tanks and barrels.
Crooked Stave brewed its first clean beer, a New-England-style IPA called Sourless IPA, last spring, and followed it up with Von Pilsner, which is Yakobson’s favorite, a collaboration with Troy Casey of Casey Brewing & Blending in Glenwood Springs. “What do two sour-beer brewers make when they get together? A pilsner,” he jokes. The name means simply “the pilsner” in German, but it’s also a nod to Von Miller (Yakobson and Casey are both big Broncos fans), and Crooked Stave donates some of the proceeds from sales of the beer to Miller’s foundation, Von’s Vision.
The brewery followed that up with the kolsch, the coffee Baltic porter and a second series of rotating IPAs that will be different each time. The brewers have also tapped variations on some of these beers. And while they are only available on tap at Crooked Stave’s taproom at the Source — and in a few bars and restaurants around town — Yakobson doesn’t rule out packaging.
“I’m not sure we would ever bottle these beers, but I think it would be pretty interesting if Crooked Stave canned an IPA, a pilsner, a Baltic porter,” he says. “Those are good beers to have in any portfolio.” Yakobson adds that any canning project would be further in the future.
The brewery’s primary focus, though, is still on sours, which is still a niche style, though that's changing. “It’s still not as widespread, but there are very few breweries that don’t make something sour now, whether it’s a kettle sour or whatever,” he says. In the past, Crooked Stave fought to educate people about what sours were. Now, he says, he's fighting to convince people that just because they've tasted a sour that they didn’t like, that doesn’t mean they won’t like another one.
“We are still fighting the same fight, but from a new front,” he says. “Instead of introducing people to sour beers, we're reintroducing them. Quality is important. And just because you don’t like one style of IPA doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try another. It’s the same with sour beers.”