Interview with Chad Yakobson of Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project

Chad Yakobson of Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project

Through the six months we’ve been talking to Chad Yakobson, he hasn’t switched of his “out-of-office” message once. Yes, it changes, but the basic message stays the same: He is really, really, really busy with the expansion of Crooked Stave. Thus we are really greatful he took the time to answer our questions and also very pleased to give you this interview, completing our “Cerveza Sin Frontera” trilogy.

This is our traditional opening question: Which of your beers would you have served beer hunter Michael Jackson?

Persica, our Golden Sour Ale Aged in Oak Barrels with Peaches. It’s my ultimate favorite beer we make. I love the way the flavors come together with local Colorado Peaches!

When thinking of a new beer, what do you aim to achieve with it?

I like to work in a Visionary sense: I aim to achieve a desired outcome based on inspiration or a beer which I’m envisioning. I will start with the finished beer and work backwards in my head to create that beer with the ingredients and inspiration – hopefully staying true to the initial vision.

Do you approach a new beer more scientifically or gastronomically, insofar that you try to achieve an aroma or flavor with an ingredient or do you try to find them in your petri-dish, i.e. via yeast?

For me it’s is 100% visual and gastronomical if you will. It’s all about the enjoyment of the final product and seeing that through to fruition.

At the same time you have a scientific background. How does that show in your beers?

Our beers are one experiment after the other: We take time to look at each variable and make changes based on results we have observed. While I think the art in each beer can show up a bit more then the science, our beers are driven by the science and that shows by the calculated and complex beers we make. Our beers have attributes in within them that most others don’t. And this is from extensive research in our complete process.

In what way are you a “what has never been done?” or a “what would I put my own impression on” brewer?

Inspiration is a powerful tool and it drives my creative spirit. With my eyes always open, the limits are boundless and so are the beers we can create.

So I guess you’re a “neither” or a “both” [smiles]. But why farmhouse beers and not English style ales?

I think its because the farmhouse family of beers give me a greater range to be able to play with. My initial background was in wine. Wine is driven by styles. I don’t want to always brew styles but instead make art. The types of beer we brew allow their own expressions to come out. English style beers don’t typically have these characteristics and therefore I’m drawn to the flavors and expressions of the farmhouse-esque beers.

Do trends registers in your beers or are you trying to avoid them?

We brew what we love and we love what we brew. That is the most important thing to stay true to. That and no compromise!

What do you think will the next trend be?

If I could predict that, it would take all the fun out of the discovery and creativity which drives innovation.

Do you feel that at times there’s a “group-think” mentality in brewing?

I have a few close friends in the industry and we really play off each other. We don’t always get to see each other all the time, but when we do it’s pretty monumental.

What is your take on the Brett trois developments?

I didn’t really follow it too much as it was kind of old news for me by the time it came out this time around. I had similar discoveries 5-6 years ago with various Brett and Sacch yeast strains during my research…
I have accepted that yeasts will be yeasts and this is how it works. I don’t relish in “pure culture” single organism fermentations. Instead I concentrate on the fermentation characteristics and what comes from the magic created by that yeast. Beer is way behind Wine when it comes to yeast knowledge. It’s kind of shocking, actually.
We are already looking at non-Sacch non-Brett yeast strains and what those mean with regards to malt fermentations.

What yeasts are we talking about here and what do they bring to fermentation?

They bring mouthfeel and complexity but also a different edge to the beer. Just like working with Brett it’s likely something that needs time to shape and mold.

How do you continue your “education” in all things beer?

Trade journals and articles keep me up with the greater scientific brewing discoveries. The truth for me is in-house in our Brewery and Barrel Cellar though. We are continually moving forward and forging a new path with the beers we are making.

Do you follow or participate in discussions online?

I don’t. I used to as I was coming up. But there is too much out there and I’m focused on Crooked Stave, and light at the end of the tunnel… Can anyone see it?

I guess the “light at the end of the tunnel” refers to your expansion. Can you say something about that?

I think expansions can be a funny thing: Once our initial build out is done, I probably have another years worth of equipment to buy and install. At that point I assume we’ll be ready to expand again.
Right now it’s pretty crazy: We are installing a 25 hl system and pretty much re-fabricating it so we have everything we want. We just lifted up our coolship and created a walkway around it. You can now step up to it from the brewhouse decking. We have automation control for our cellar and temperature control from an iPhone. All our transfers lines are stainless steel welded and sent between cellars, even filtered hot and cold water at the touch of a button, so to say. New bottling line, kegging line, packaging hall, Foeder Cellar, Friends and Family bar and soon even a new taproom! It’s doesn’t end.

Being in the Denver area, does it make running a successful brewery easier or harder, having so many great breweries in the area?

The local comradery is great, but the uniqueness of our brewery and process make it a whole different beast. However, we have received great help, by getting to brew at Epic in their brewhouse. That has been a huge success for us in our very long brewery build out.

In their interviews Raphael and Jeff told us about how they met. How did you link up with them for the collaboration?

I’ve always had a great respect for Jeff and the entire crew at Jester King! I was heading to Austin for a brewing conference and I reached out to Jeff about a collaboration brew. It just so happened Raphael was going to be in town at the same time.
We distribute Trios Dames in Colorado and I’ve always loved what Raphael is creating. The chance to formulate this three way collaboration became one of the coolest brewing experiences I’ve had the chance to participate in.
I first met Raphael briefly at The Festival hosted by Shelton Brothers, but brewing together really creates a bond and experience that is lasting.

Distribution? What does that entail?

It is a whole other beast… and I love it. We are fortunate enough to also sell and distribute many of the best breweries from around the world and US. Through great relationships and putting brewers first, we are building something pretty revolutionary from a distribution standpoint in the US. On top of beer we are also doing Wine, Cider and Spirits. It’s awesome. I clearly love fermented beverages and love being able to turn people on to new things while supporting so many artists and their beers in Colorado!

You are quite familiar with Europe: What can the beer scene of Europe learn from the US, what the one in the US from Europe?

In many ways the US has always been inspired by Europe. We don’t have brewing traditions the way Europe does. European beers inspired all the first beers brewed in America and nothing has really changed.
What the US brewing scene does so well is to take inspiration and really get creative. Thinking outside the box and not being afraid to brew a non-traditional version of a usually straightforward traditional beer. In Europe sometimes that creativity is missing, taking risks and making change is hard but it’s something that European Beers scene could borrow from the US brew scene. Then again, it’s already happening with great success to an extent.

What’s coming next from Crooked Stave?

A lot of fruit sours! This year we worked with local growers to get fresh Apricots, Peaches, Cherries, Raspberries and Blueberries!

And our traditional last question: Your suggestion of five beers to drink before you die.

In no particular order:
Cantillon – Fou Foune
Jester King – Atrial Rubicite
Drie Fontenien – Oude Gueze
Hill Farmstead – Edward
Crooked Stave – Persica

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