Top 5 beers to try this week

Deseo Mexican Lager — Sunriver Brewing

Pallet Jack IPA — Barley Brown’s Beer

Killer Queen Brut IPA — Silver Moon Brewing

Sesión Cerveza Mexican Style Lager — Full Sail Brewing

PABO Pils — Boneyard Beer

Just over two weeks ago, Crux Fermentation Project released In The Pocket, the latest in its Banished series of barrel-aged specialty beers. First brewed in 2017, the brewery introduced this year’s version with a special tasting experience that included the 2017 and 2018 vintages. I was invited to the event and sampled all three beers as brewmaster Larry Sidor guided attendees through the pairing, along with small-bite food pairings prepared by executive chef Matt Lindow.

Styled as a rustic imperial saison aged in red wine barrels, In The Pocket is unusual in that it’s entirely fermented with wild yeast — Brettanomyces, “brett” for short, traditionally considered an undesirable strain of yeast avoided by winemakers and early craft brewers.

I’ve written about brett before. It is a key component to a number of traditional Belgian beer styles such as lambic, where it works in conjunction with other organisms as a souring agent and to impart rustic, barnyard-inflected characteristics. Often, describing an aroma as “horse blanket” or “barnyard” sounds off-putting, but in practice it can be a savory, appetizing herbal or earthy component (think of funky blue cheese).

Then again, beers that are completely fermented by brett alone can often exhibit fruity or tropical aromas and flavors rather than funky ones. In The Pocket is somewhere in between.

I reached out to Sidor to find out more. “We maintain several varieties of brett cultures at the brewery in kegs,” he said via email. “On occasion we will taste the ‘beer’ generated from maintaining these cultures. The purpose of the tasting was to determine which variety of brett we liked the best. We liked them all! Thus, the discussion began, ‘Why don’t we make a 100% brett fermentation?’ ”

The brewery began by fermenting the beer in regular steel fermenters for several months. Brett is a slower-­acting yeast than regular brewer’s yeast and consumes more types of sugars that are usually considered unfermentable. After months of fermenting in steel, Crux transferred the beer to barrels to add additional layers of complexity.

The brewery sourced Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon wine barrels from Walla Walla for this stage of the brew. These barrels contributed oak, red wine and tannic character to the finished beer. All told, fermentation and aging lasted eight months.

“This is our third year that we have made In The Pocket,” said Sidor. “Each year the beer has evolved. The evolution has been mostly brewing the beer at the right time, aging it and then blending the different brews.”

In The Pocket is quite strong at 9.9% alcohol by volume, yet hides the strength well. In the aroma I found a balsamic vinegar note, along with a touch of the signature horse blanket and sour apricot. The flavor is lightly tart and earthy, with some grainy maltiness and a vinous, red wine character picked up from the barrels.

There’s a nice complexity that pairs well with food, highlighted by the pairing with a mozzarella-stuffed peppadew pepper that drew an almost ­smoky balsamic character from the beer. Even so, this year’s version is still a bit young, and I would expect it to age well as evidenced by the 2018 vintage I sampled next.

The 2018 beer exhibited more balsamic complexity yet was smoother and more rounded overall. Aromatically there was less brett funkiness and more white grape. I detected a bit of an oaky solvent note, which I find appropriate in such styles as long as it doesn’t overwhelm.

Chef Lindow paired it with a crostini-style version of the brewery’s popular Grilled Cheesy sandwich, a delicious bite of provolone and goat cheeses topped with a sweet pickle and bacon. While it’s tough to go wrong with cheese and bacon, I thought the pairing of the 2019 and stuffed pepper was a better match. However, the 2018 vintage was my overall favorite of the three beers we sampled that evening.

Not to say the 2017 version wasn’t good. After two years of aging it was quite mellow and fruity, showcasing stone fruit and grain, with almost no brett character, largely because that first year’s beer was fermented with regular yeast and then blended with a Brettanomyces addition. The French vanilla macaron was a good combination, though to be fair the macaron paired well with all three.

The 2019 In The Pocket is available now, both in wax-dipped bottles and on draft at Crux’s tasting room. It’s a beer that will age well if you pick up a few extra bottles to put away.

— Jon Abernathy is a beer writer and blogger and launched The Brew Site (http://www.thebrewsite.com) in 2004. He can be reached at jon@thebrewsite.com .

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