Beer Man

Crooked Stave adds funk to Denver's beer culture with a barrel cellar and brewery

After months of planning, the
Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project finally has a spot where fans of its sour and wild ales can sit down, talk to the owner and share a beer with him. The unusual brewery, which moved its operation from Fort Collins to Denver in June, will open a tasting room and barrel cellar on September 5.

Although Chad Yakobson, who wrote his master's thesis on brettanomyces yeast, isn't actually brewing beer at the Sunnyside-area warehouse, he'll use the somewhat hidden spot to age his beers in a variety of oaken wine and spirits barrels and to bottle it.

See also: - Crooked Stave is brewing in Denver and readying a separate barrel cellar - The Source, an artisan market with a restaurant, beer garden and brewery, will open in River North early next year - Crooked Stave will rely on sour beers for sweet success

But Yakobson isn't stopping there. This spring, he'll open an innovative twenty-barrel brewery and taproom in The Source, a European-style open market planned for the old foundry building at 3550 Brighton Boulevard. The Source will also include a chocolatier, a coffee roaster, a wine maker, a sausage maker and two restaurants.

"Being at the Source is about being around other artisans who are involved in the culinary world," Yakobson says. "I am inspired by that."

The 1,200-square-foot tap room will seat about eighty people and offer views of the brewery, which will include several open-barrel fermenters along with a "coolship," a large, somewhat shallow vat that was used in the nineteenth century to cool off the wort using the outside air temperature (since there was no refrigeration). Only a handful of breweries in the United States use coolships for any of their beers.

"We're going to be able to brew every style of every kind of beer in every way there," Yakobson says. "It will be like a brewer's playground."

When that happens, Yakobson will reserve the Barrel Cellar -- which can store up to 1,300 barrels -- for private events and make the brewery his public face in Denver.

In the meantime, Yakobson is brewing at two other Denver breweries, River North and Prost, which just opened today. Once he brews the beer there, he transfers the wort (beer that hasn't yet been fermented) to his Barrel Cellar, where he puts it in various barrels and ages it with yeast, bacteria, fruit and other ingredients.

It's a complicated process, but one that works for him. "I don't know anyone else who is doing anything like this," he says. "We're inventing it as we go."

Yakobson will brew about 1,250 barrels of beer this year (up from 250 last year), but unlike most breweries, Crooked Stave focuses on what happens to the beer afterward -- when Yakobson adds various strains of yeast and bacterias that sour it.

And since 60 percent of what he brews goes into barrels, most it if won't be bottled and sold until six to twelve to eighteen months later.

Eventually, Yakobson would like to open a third location - a fifty-barrel brewery on several acres somewhere in the Boulder or Golden area where he could grow hops and peaches and other fruits and where people could camp and party.

"For me, this isn't about owning a big brewery," he says. "It's about having fun."

See more photos after the jump. Wild and sour ales are made with certains strains of yeast and bacteria that add sour flavors to beer. They're an acquired taste, but one that has built a loyal following since they were invented hundreds of years ago in Belgium. Yakobson will have a lineup of four regular, year-round beers and four barrel-aged beers along with many special releases.

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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes