For their foray into using wild yeast, Utah’s Epic Brewery made a wise choice to partner with Crooked Stave Artisanal Beer Project, a boutique brewery based in Denver that specializes in making sour, funky, barrel-aged beers. Together they honed in on a sequence of ingredients (a variety of malts and Tettnang hops, paired with the proper yeast strains), brewed the beer, and then let it rest for a year in carefully curated barrels before unleashing the Elder Brett upon the masses, first in 2011, and most recently in December of last year. And if that latest release—the fourth in the series—is any indication, the collaboration is an inspired one.
Elder Brett pours an intoxicating clear gold-yellow, with a whisper of head that fades in a heartbeat into a slight film that laces the glass. As the saison’s name articulates, there’s a hefty amount of Brettanomyces in this golden ale, and the barnyard funk really announces itself on the nose—expect horse blanket, earth, and the slightest hints of sour green apples. But the first taste heads in the opposite direction, with a brilliant, surprising burst of citrus, white wine, and sweetness, rounded out with a whisper of oak. As the slightly viscous mouthfeel fades, hints of hay and white pepper come out, leading to a crisp finish. For a beer with a 9.1% ABV, it’s almost dangerously drinkable.
Those expecting more aggressive funk should consider letting the beer mature for a year or two, to let the brett elements overtake some of the sweetness. Still, others may crave a more aggressive hop character to counteract the vinous, fruity components. But the sweetness is hardly cloying. Imagine the crispness of a cider paired with heavy carbonation and an herbal tartness that keeps the sweeter fruits from taking over the party.
The Elder Brett joins Epic’s Exponential Series, a line of beers that willfully plays with the more experimental side of the brewing process, creating unique beers like smoked porters and Belgian-style ales made with peaches before being aged in oak barrels. But this is only one of a handful of partnerships executed by the brewery. We selfishly hope that passion for collaboration continues, if for no other reason, than it extends the distribution of tiny, experimental breweries like Crooked Stave. After all, without these Epic collaborations, the only way to find Crooked Stave’s beer is to travel to the Rocky Mountain State.
Brewery: Epic and Crooked Stave
City: Brewed in Salt Lake City, UT
Style: Golden Saison
Availability: Limited Release in 1-pint, 6-ounce bottles