Rough Drafts: Crooked Stave’s WWBV

Crooked Stave's WWBV (Photo ©Sarah Haughey)

Crooked Stave’s WWBV (Photo ©Sarah Haughey)

“Brettanomyces is not a dinosaur,” but when it comes to the extent of research it might as well be. This genus of yeast, found naturally in wood, has various strains and adds a distinctive “barnyard” or “horse blanket” aroma and flavor to beer. To those not going for this effect, brett is a nightmare. But for Chad Yakobson at Crooked Stave, brettanomyces is the name of the game – in fact, he crafted a bourbon barrel-aged brew called Nightmare on Brett Street.

Saying that Chad understands brettanomyces is an insult – a microbiologist of beer is more worthy. He is one of only a handful of people who are able to manipulate the complex DNA of this yeast and control its fermentative behavior. So, how has Chad become a pioneer of brett and sour style beers? Let’s get back to the research we spoke of at the beginning of this article. Chad, hailing from Northern Colorado, garnered a Master’s of Science degree in Brewing and Distilling from the International Centre for Brewing and Distilling at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland. Sure, the degree is impressive on its own, but his dissertation on Brettanomyces has taken the beer world by storm.

Crooked Stave is both a culmination and a continuation of Chad’s research on brett, thus why it is not a “brewery” or “brewing company,” it is an Artisan Beer Project.

“I, in many ways, create science experiments when I create beer,” says Chad. “Crooked Stave is all about introducing people to what wild beers are.”

With his Wild Wild Brett series, Chad sought to answer the question, what is a 100% brettanomyces beer? Well, the question has still not been answered. Looking at the spectrum of Crooked Stave’s beers, a brett beer can be anything. When Chad started out on this journey, there was no definition or category for wild beers – now the Brewer’s Association has “defined” the style, but Chad says it further proves that brettanomyces beers are a wide-open category.

“It can be tart, it can have fruit, it can be hoppy. At the end of the day, what is a 100% brett beer? I don’t know,” says Chad. “The WWB series is an educational series and a learning series for us.”

The biggest thing learned, which is still a common misconception among beer drinkers, is that Brett does not equal sour. The WWB Rouge, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Indigo were not sour – aside from a slight tartness in the Orange, coming from Minneola Tangelos used in the brewing process.

But the final installment of the WWB series – being released this Sunday, May 19 – is sure to throw a cog in the wheel of learning that brett does not equal sour. We were lucky enough to sit down with Chad this week for an exclusive tasting of WWBV (Violet), which is brewed with violets, lavender, and pomegranate.

WWBV (7% ABV) has been a long-time coming. In fact, the bottle we sampled still lists the original August 2012 bottling date, but Chad was unable to brew WWBV until this January.

Reading the label, however, does not do this beer justice, as you would expect the violet and lavender to shine through, giving a more herbal aroma and flavor. But using just a small amount in the boil, leaves only a slight floral character, which is accentuated by the brett. The pomegranate, also used in the boil, adds such a strong acidity to the beer that WWBV could be thought of as a sour. But, surprisingly, this beer spent no time in oak.

While the vast majority of Crooked Stave’s beers have been aged in oak barrels or foeders before being bottled for further conditioning, WWBV is one of only two that has never touched oak. The only other beer aged fully in stainless steel?  WWBO, which will also be making an appearance during Sunday’s release.

Chad also added passion fruit to WWBV. But isn’t passion fruit yellow, you ask? The inner seeds are, yes, but when the fruit ripens, the outer skin turns an almost ugly purple color, so thus it is a purple fruit (think of apples, a “green” apple is actually white on the inside). WWBV, however, does not have a strong passion fruit flavor because Chad fermented it out, leaving only the fruit’s acid.

“I don’t like fruit beers, but it’s interesting how you can use fruit to make an awesome beer,” says Chad, who makes a point to say his beers are not fruit beers, but “there are fruit characteristics that add complexity” to his beers.

The violets, lavender, pomegranate, and passion fruit make for a nice, clean beer. But Chad wanted to take it further. Talking with his hop growers in Yakima, he explained his idea for the beer and asked them to send experimental hops that were reminiscent of violet and purple, whatever they took that to mean. Much to Chad’s surprise, three different hops arrived, and one, 366, proved far superior to the other two. Using half-a-pound per barrel (Crooked Stave produces 15-bbl batches), the hops are present, but meld into the background due to the high acidity from the pomegranate and passion fruit. Suffice it to say, WWBV is the “wildest” of the Wild Wild Brett series.

On Sunday, Crooked Stave will hold a “Rainbow Day,” or ROY-G-BIV (Roy-gee-Biv) at the taproom (1441 W. 46th Ave. Unit 19), during which Chad will resurrect the entire Wild Wild Brett series – he has purposely held back kegs from each batch and will tap them about every 30 minutes starting with WWBR at 1 p.m. WWBV, St. Bretta, and Hop Savant will be on tap from the get-go at noon and will remain on tap for the entirety of the event. WWBV bombers will also be available for purchase starting at noon. There is a six-bottle limit, which should hopefully make it easy to place at least one in your cellar – Chad recommends aging not only his beers, but most American sours for one year, as they can change drastically from week to week. Just imagine 12 months.

About Sarah Haughey

Editor, Denver off the Wagon. Sarah is a native of the "Napa Valley of beer," but her beer-drinking roots stretch all the way back to the Emerald Isle where Haughey (Haw-hee) is famous. Sure, our name may have got it's rap from the corrupt prime minister, but we like to think it stands strong due to our long-standing ability to pound a few too many pints. After stints on the East Coast and in San Francisco, Sarah came running back to Denver where her full-time job is exploring all the city's new craft breweries one sip at a time. Follow me @sarahhaughey4 to see where I'm grabbing a beer or for news about local breweries. Like to cook? Me too, check out: