Monday, July 9, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Brux Wild Ale | Russian River Brewing / Sierra Nevada Brewing | Santa Rose, CA / Chico, CA

As an adjunct to my lastest post that was, well, mostly about the misnomer of 'American' adjunct beer, I'm expanding on the discussion by talking about two decidedly-domestic breweries who are often referred to in sentences with characterizations like 'the most innovative ...', 'the most important ...', and 'the most well-respected ...'.

If you are into drinking anything beyond lake beer, then you have probably tried something that Sierra Nevada has brewed; most likely their iconic Pale Ale.  This beer is one of the platinum-standards for craft enthusiasts who cut their teeth on its toasty, piney goodness early on in their potable devotion to inebriant outliers.  When Sierra Nevada went national, it welcomed the country to what the Belgians, the Germans, and the English had been exposed to for centuries: master marksmanship of ales and lagers that reflect the regional characteristics of the land.  In this case, the bright, floral, hoppy notes of the west coast.  It allowed people in Detroit or Kansas City or any other meteorologically-unfortunate city to experience what its like to drink a handmade beer in permanent 80° weather.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was -- and continues to be -- a very important gateway intoxicant for those interested in expanding their palates.  

While Sierra Nevada was emulating Bruce Springsteen: cocksure pioneer of Americana folksiness, Russian River was bringing the Axl Rose swagger to the main stage.  Though hotly debated, Russian River is mostly credited with inventing the Double IPA and exposing barrel-aged wild ales and sours to the palates of second-generation beer nerds.  In fact, wild ale and sour beers have basically become synonymous with the Russian River Brewery.

The way Russian River works with Brettanomyces is both science and art.  Inoculating yeast strains into the aging process is destined to continually develop the beer so that the flavors alter and diversify over time.  I hesitate to use words like "evolve" or "progress" to describe the process -- as that would insinuate that the beer is not enjoyable at its earliest incarnation.  However, because of the development of the noble yeast in bottle-conditioned beers, sampling it at one month vs. one year would change its flavor profile almost entirely, making the beer theoretically more complex and rounded at the latter stage, and more bright and rigid if uncorked straight away.  This is what the festivity regarding cellaring and aging beer is all about -- and not necessarily hording 750mL bombers in order win Facebook.  Although it's that too.

Together, with classic and innovative flavors and styles, Sierra Nevada and Russian River were putting craft beer squarely on the culinary scene -- dinner table real estate became available at fair market value where wine and custom cocktails had squatted since the dawn of dinner parties.

So, when the two decided to come together to combine their collective ingenuity, creativity, and clout you get one hell of buffet at the head table in Jesus Camp.  The hype surrounding such a collaboration of powerhouses make others in the brewing caste stop and wonder just what in the fuck have they done here?  When Sierra Nevada and/or Russian River preach, others stop to listen.

I'm inclined to disclose an important fact about this sampling, and that is that my wife and I sampled it only three hours after purchase -- not exactly a geologic period in aging -- but shit, when you see Russian River branded merchandise at your local booze outlet, its hard to do the extended time in lockup.

Also, I only purchased one bottle of Brux at $15 because I was after some other targets that night, and frankly, shit starts to add up -- particularly when gambling on liking the stuff before even trying it.

So, after all that long-winded diatribe above about aging and developing the yeasts, yadda yadda, I went head first into this bottle for an early swim without waiting for my food to digest.  Fuck it.  I couldn't just gaze rapturously at this thing for any longer than it took to chill down to 45°.

But there was joy in [An Avenue]-land that night!

The first impression was that Brux was quite obviously the calligraphy of Russian River.  The use of its prevalent and temperamental ingredient, brett, was clearly the masterwork of skilled and experienced brewers.  This is the same kind of sensory acknowledgement as when Boulevard does a bourbon barrel aged Smokestack Series or Founder's does an Imperial Stout.  This is what Russian River does, and it is what they do best.  

Reciprocally, it was also very apparent that Sierra Nevada's horticulture-inspired craftwork was helping to drive the bus as well.  Brux tasted like organic apples and fresh lemon fallen into the grassy hedgerow.  This was half beer, half orchard.  Tart and cidery.  As crisp and clean as Born to Run.  I was finding it rather enjoyable.

Right now, Brux is a collection of songs -- great songs, absolutely -- but not quite a whole album.  The flavors are too distinct from one another and can use some more time in the studio.

But aging Brux for half-a-year is going to make this beer into OK fucking Computer.    

ABV: 8.3%
Acquired: Spec's
☆ (in 2012)

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