Chad Yakobson’s road from winemaker to brewer is paved with Brett.
as told to Brian Yaeger
My new brewery, Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project, is the culmination of four years of studying, brewing and traveling abroad. I’m channeling these experiences and unveiling my adventures through my beer, starting with a seasonal series called “American Petite Sours.”
The start of this brewing odyssey began with wine and, oddly enough, with what my once-fellow winemakers would consider unacceptable: Brettanomyces, the yeast strain that wreaks havoc on wine but, when harnessed, does some pretty incredible things to beer.
I’m a Colorado native, but I moved to New Zealand to study the biochemistry of winemaking. I saw the way artisan winemakers produce quality, New World wines, and this interested me because I liked idea of having a field, growing grapes and making wine. But as we spoke of the disasters Brettanomyces yeast caused in wine, I’d remember all the times I enjoyed a bottle of Orval or La Folie and just think, “No way, this is awesome!” That’s when I first started deviating from winemaking, but I didn’t know I was going to make the move to the brewing industry.
I eventually moved to London, where I worked as a sommelier. After-work drinks with my fellow sommeliers didn’t involve vino: Instead, we drank Belgian beers, and during those sessions, I found an even deeper passion for lambics and gueuzes. My love of exploring new beverages and new lands wasn’t yet sated, and soon I found myself dragging a suitcase through Australia, the Americas, Africa and Asia. On a 12-hour bus ride from Bangkok to Thailand’s South Islands, my adventures yielded an epiphany that I simply had to put in writing. My scribbled notes turned into a manifesto, which stated that I had to go back home to Colorado and start a brewery that would alter the way people think about beer. This also meant I had to study more.
I enrolled in the International Centre for Brewing and Distilling in Edinburgh, Scotland, where my dissertation turned into the Brettanomyces Project, an open-source Web site detailing the research and results on various species of the funk-inducing yeast.
One of the best parts of this quest was engaging directly with some of the brewers I respect most. Meeting Russian River brewer Vinnie Cilurzo and picking his brain about his explorations in Brettanomyces aided in my quest to better understand how beers like Sanctification, Russian River’s 100-percent-Brett sour blonde, were made. The many times I visited with the brewers at Avery and conversed about their barrel-aging program gave me great insight. At New Belgium, brewer Lauren Salazar was instrumental in helping to shape what I’m developing, while brewmaster Peter Bouckaert taught me how to refurbish barrels. It is only because brewers like these are so willing to share information that I’m able to morph the Brettanomyces Project into my very own brewery, Crooked Stave, which will release its first brew this spring.
My brewery is the product of the knowledge and inspiration I’ve amassed during the past four years of studying, traveling and interacting with brewers. My mission is to use those experiences as a springboard to create ridiculously well-crafted beer using unconventional brewing approaches and my own quirky ideas. For example, our take on a Flemish Red—the Burgundy of Belgium—will pay homage to my background in winemaking by adding pinot noir grapes to the already sour barrels. This way, the beer marries the Burgundy regions of France and the traditional beer of West Flanders. Also, our Golden Sour is inoculated with five personal strains of Brett that I add to Chardonnay barrels I recoopered myself. And as for those aforementioned American Petite Sours, three batches are currently aging in barrels. It’s sort of a hybrid of a Berliner weisse and a gose, the first of which is set to become our inaugural bottled release.
As sour beer grows in popularity, I’m excited to be one of the few brewers making truly wild beers. Sure, brewing is steeped in methodology and tradition, but what is new and interesting and creative is how we take those ideas and make them into our own. Mine? I’m navigating a path toward expressive, flavor-driven and approachable creations. •
Denver’s Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project will release its first bottles of American Petite Sour in May. Follow the brewery at CrookedStave.com.