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Friday, July 13, 2012

Meet the New Brewery: Crux Fermentation Project

Let's deal with the name first.  Two of the words are relevant, "crux" and "fermentation."  The first refers to the location of Bend's newest brewery, which, despite being located in a funny little industrial park just outside the downtown core, is actually in the dead-center of the city (behold map at right).  The second word refers not just to beer, but other fermented edibles, which will ultimately be a part of of the whole experience. 

But what most people care about is the the thing that is nowhere mentioned in the title, the brewery, which is the crux of the whole fermentation project, right?

Crux is the much-anticipated new project of Paul Evers, Dave Wilson, and Larry Sidor--who until late last year was the brewmaster at Deschutes.  While there, Larry oversaw one of the most remarkable line-extensions in recent memory, including beer geek icons the Abyss, the Dissident, and the Black Butte XX series and regular faves Chainbreaker, Hop Henge, Hop in the Dark, and Red Chair.  That's enough to put you in the Beervana hall of fame, but before that, he worked at Olympia and at SS Steiner, the international hop grower.  Safe to say Larry has the most experience of any founding brewer of a recent start-up.  With his latest move, he completes his transition to ever smaller breweries offering ever more freedom.  At Crux, he was able to start from scratch and build a brewery exactly to his specs. 

The Brewery
Mash tun, kettle, lauter, l-r.
I was surprised to find a relatively small brewery in the old Aamco transmission shop the owners have repurposed as a brewery and pub.  Many brewers--especially old hands who have cleaned out their share of mash tuns--don't like wee systems.  They're labor-intensive and hard to scale up in the happy circumstance of spiking sales.  So the ten hecto system Larry installed, though gorgeous, caught me by surprise.  But looks deceive.

The three gleaming copper vessels actually constitute "the third most-sophisticated system in Oregon," according to Sidor.  I visited during the grand opening and so didn't get a chance to delve deeply into the operations, but these little babies are fully automated and can churn through eight batches a day.  Made by a German company and mirror polished in Japan (the interiors are stainless, natch), they create a gorgeous visual tableau as you sit in the pub. 

When I arrived, the first batch was six days old and still in the fermenter.  It's going to be one of the regular beers, a chewy, vivid hoppy beer--one of those hybrid session ales that's green with hop flavor and aroma but not high octane.  But my sense is that Larry's heart lies elsewhere--closer to, say, Brussels.  Later in the day, when the three owners christened the brewery, Larry smashed an unnamed Belgian strong dark ale.  Indeed, when I asked him about what he liked to brew, that's the kind of beer he mentioned.  Crux will obviously brew a wide range, but I look forward to some of those Flemish-accented treats.  For added versatility, he installed a room with three open fermenters in which he'll be able to whip up weizens, saisons, and other rustic specialties.  The idea is to use it with successive yeast strains, brewing several beers, then giving it a serious scrub-down and starting anew with a different yeast.

The Place
Despite it's geography, Crux isn't exactly in the middle of things.  Bend's downtown is just north, and you cross over into an industrial neighborhood that is on its way to gentrification.  To get there, though, you drive through the redeveloped area and past the $725,000 townhouses and keep going until you've passed a derelict warehouse (strangely filled with bikes ala the zoobombers) and out into the real industrial flats. When you reach the end of the road, you keep driving, straight into the parking lot of Crux.  I will confess to finding the location a bit desolate, but things improve markedly when you set foot inside the building.

The design would not be out of place in Southeast Portland: a converted industrial space with warehousey soaring ceilings, skylights, and spacious vistas.  In front of you is the wide bar backed by a window peeking in on conditioning tanks, highlighting the building's spaciousness.  The attention to detail is impressive.  Copper kettle vent tubes serve as lighting, and at the end of the bar, the kitchen entrance is concealed by a collage of different-sized fir post ends.  The tables are made from reclaimed wood and even the sign out front was made from an old piece of salvaged sheet metal.

The brewery is at the building's north (or left-hand) end, and the kettles and a row of fermenters create a natural visual barrier.  You can wander over and take in the equipment, which will impress the uninitiated as well as advanced-stage beer geeks.  Despite the show-room quality of the copper vessels, Larry managed to draw on his connections to wheel and deal for odds and ends from breweries throughout the city.  He even has the old grain mill from his days at Olympia.  (Someone from Boneyard, a brewery named for its scavenged equipment, called it "more boneyard than Boneyard.")  You should pay special attention to the open fermenters, which ought to be attractive when full, and the large hop back Sidor fashioned from dairy equipment.

Despite its less-than-central location, I imagine it won't take long for Crux to become one of the pivotal stops along the Bend Ale Trail (for which, conveniently, there's an app). 

Upshot
Since I only tried one beer, green at that, I can't actually speak to the brewery's central purpose.  I consider it a small leap of faith to assume good beer is on the way.  If I was forced to identify a complaint it would be the name, which seems fussy and overly high-concept--but that just goes to show how far down the list I'd have to reach.  All signs say it will be a fantastic new addition to a city already lousy with great breweries.  If you're in Bend anytime soon, check it out and report back.  It may be awhile before I can do a follow-up.

As always, more pics below the fold.



3 comments:

Matt Searle said...

It says a lot about the state of the Vancouver housing market when I look at that townhouse and think "that's a pretty good deal."

Jeff Clough said...

Hi, Jeff. Great review. I also wrote a review recently of Crux Fermentation Project for my website www.bendbrewpubs.com.
I would like to add that the beer used to christen the new brewery isn't actually an unnamed Belgian Strong Ale. It's name was Spencer and it was made right here in Bend (well out in the woods, West of Bend actually) by another newly-opened brewery, The Ale Apothecary, owned and operated by one of Larry & Dave's old brew pals from Deschutes, Paul Arney.

Jeff Alworth said...

Jeff, each of the owners had a different bottle, and I think the one you're referring to was wielded by Paul Evers. I know Dave Wilson had a New Glarus.

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