“Jamminess” isn’t a word you hear often when working with the wild yeast brettanomyces. It’s an arena where visions of sweaty horse blanket dance in brewers’ heads.
But that is exactly the flavor Jake Endres and the rest of the team from Crooked Run Brewing in Sterling Virginia are looking for with their Native Culture Series.
“We like Brettanomyces-driven jamminess, gunpowder-like minerality, low acidity, and low funk. That’s just what we like, but that’s what this project is all about!” says Endres, the brewery co-founder.
Finding Their Own Flavors in Brettanomyces
The Native Culture series is exactly what it sounds like, an array of beers fermented with yeast found at or close to the brewery. It’s a collision between the extremely romantic notion of creating something from the land you live on and an irreverent spirit of experimentation.
The yeast is obviously local, hence the Native name, but there are other elements that make this series wholly dedicated to the land it is brewed on: using Virginia grown and malted barley and wheat, fruit grown nearby, and barrel fermentation and aging with cooperage from wineries located within the state.
A recently release in this series, Newfangled, is a snazzy blend of Saisons that shines bright red after being conditioned on Chambourcin grape pomace. It uses yeast isolated from elderflowers that grow in the brewery garden. The team has also isolated yeast from mediums like local grapes.
“To isolate yeast you look for healthy yeast colonies in a sample and propagate them. When you have enough to work with, you can try it out on a beer or wine and see if you like it,” says Endres.
New beers from the series are released monthly in 750ml bottles. In an industry that has turned rather uniformly to cans, I think a container reminiscent of wine is the appropriate signal of the exceptional nature of the beer inside.
Making Farmhouse Ales (and other beers) in Virginia
IPAs, Hefeweizen, and Stouts decorate the tap list at Crooked Run as well as farmhouse ales. Each style is brewed with care, but Enders has a specific viewpoint on what it should be like to brew a farmhouse beer, “Our philosophy is that since these beers were born out of limited technology and access only to local ingredients, we feel that we want our beers to be the same way. We use technology where appropriate but all of these beers are bottled by hand, naturally carbonated, and use local grain and fruit.”
Working within this purview means sourcing fruit from nearby farms outside of Richmond and using grapes that are grown in Loudoun County. Malt and other grains are procured from Wheatland Spring a farm brewery just 30 minutes up the road.
As Crooked run grows, they can work with more and more local suppliers, “It’s been great working with the Virginia agricultural community. I’ve known a lot of these people for years and I love that we can make beer with their stuff,’ says Endres.
What Does Crooked Run Newfangled, a Wild Farmhouse Ale, Taste Like?
Newfangled is a beer that would appeal to a wide variety of drinkers. It has the jammy round notes of a merlot, a touch of tartness but no more than a balanced tiki cocktail, and the backbone of a fruited Belgian beer. It doesn’t veer into the ultra-sour territory of kettle sours like Goses or Berliner Weisses.
Endres describes Newfangled as only a brewery intimately familiar with its creation can, “a blend of Saison and sour blonde that was conditioned on Chambourcin grape pomace. We started with a base Saison using our house Saison yeast that was cultured from elderflowers at the brewery. This was then blended with a portion of sour blonde ale that is the base for a lot of our mixed fermentation sours. This blending gives the Saison a low but very pleasant acidity and quenching finish.”
An ingredient that sets Newfangled apart from many other beers made with grapes is that instead of using the whole fruit, it is conditioned on the pomace, which is the skins and other material left over after making wine (crooked run has a nascent winery on premises) “The pomace has lots to contribute and gives the resulting beer a juicy fruit flavor with light notes of cinnamon and tannins, and a beautiful magenta hue. This beer was made entirely with Virginia grown malt and fruit, and carbonated naturally in the bottle.”
If You’re Coming to American Wild Ales as an IPA Drinker
“Newfangled might be a really good one to start with since it’s not bitter and has a bit of juiciness from Chambourcin grapes and blended sour blonde ale. I would tell them to expect a beer that’s going to have more yeast-forward flavor and higher carbonation.”
Endres adds, “I would also say that if you don’t like it I don’t mind! We make hazy IPA, too!”