It’s pretty cool to be living and drinking in the current craft beer epoch, in a time when beers that would have seemed absolutely radical less than a decade ago are now seen as comfortable and approachable. In one sense, it’s become much harder to create something that seems novel or unique, but looking at it another way, the craft beer community has simply become so much more informed and open-minded about flavors and beer styles. Our palates have matured and become much more metropolitan.
Better Off Red, from Oregon’s Crux Fermentation Project, is one of those beers that if I drank it 6 or 7 years ago, would have seemed utterly novel to me. A blended Flanders-style red ale, aged in Oregon Pinot Noir barrels for nearly a year with brettanomyces, it hits upon multiple trends popular in barrel-aging, but does so in a way that never strays far from being a drinkable crowd-pleaser. It’s a beer that sounds a bit more ambitious in description than it tastes, but that’s not a bad thing.
On the nose, Better Off Red is nicely balanced and more unassuming than one might expect. Raspberry and cherry-like red fruit is the dominant impression, conveyed from both the base beer and the wine barrel, but there’s not a huge tangy, vinegar-like note that suggests significant lactic tartness. Likewise, although there is a bit of typical brett funk, those barnyard/hayloft impressions are very mild and subtle. Fruit and light oak are dominant in general.
On the palate, the first thing one notices is how thin of body this beer is for 7% ABV, and how easily it drinks. Tartness is very gentle, rounded and smooth in a pleasant way, which couples with a very low amount of carbonation to only enhance the drinkability further. Everything about the mouthfeel and level of tartness seems to be begging you to guzzle it.
Flavors again hit upon red fruit, primarily raspberry and cherry, with a moderate level of assertiveness that fits the style well. The brettanomyces influences are once again on the decidedly lighter end, with only a few telltale notes of funk on the back end. It’s a very balanced beer, between mild tartness and mild sweetness, but not a particularly complex one. I will say, though, that it was a pleasant surprise to find a nice, grainy malt flavor that surfaces at the end of each sip, but it still has a lower threshold of flavors than one might typically find in this style and ABV range, especially for a barrel-aged beer.
What you’re left with, then, is a really approachable, friendly, mildly tart ale that would perhaps be perfect for introducing someone to sour ales—particularly if they’re wine drinkers who like their reds with some degree of residual sweetness. It’s a beer with a very solid foundation, but not quite the bombast to push it into really memorable territory. But still, very well balanced and fun to drink.
Brewery: Crux Fermentation Project
City: Bend, OR
Style: Wine barrel-aged brettanomyces beer/Flanders Red Ale
Availability: 375 ml bottles
Jim Vorel is Paste’s resident beer guru. You can follow him on Twitter for much more beer content, including Paste’s blind style tasting series.