Kettle sours may give you the tart beer fix you need, but they never quite compare to the complexity of a well-made, barrel-aged sour. Crux Fermentation Project’s 2018 iteration of Better Off Red is a Pacific Northwest spin on Flanders red, the iconic Belgian sour. This beer spent well over a year aging in Oregon red wine barrels with cherries, going through a Brettanomyces-induced secondary fermentation before bottling. All this leads to a beer with a strong fruit-forward aroma and slightly rustic, earthy profile that balances with a crisp, dry finish.
At the end of Better Off Red’s long sleep, the brewery blends it with older versions of the beer, combining them to bring together the spicier notes of a fresh batch with the stronger oak and cherry notes of older batches. Clocking in at 7.0% ABV, it’s a sour fitting for fall, yet also suitable for aging, as it’s sure to continue to evolve over time.
With Crux, it’s all about the beer. The minimalist labeling gets straight to the point, though the bottle’s red wax seal, bottle cap and cork give it a slightly more sophisticated appeal. Better Off Red pours an intense amber color, the result of its time spent with cherries. Its cream-colored head dissipates quickly, giving way to a brilliantly clear beer.
A melange of fruit aromas presents itself on the first inhale—cranberry, green apples, stone fruit. In time, hints of earthiness and woodiness come forth. The combination, while wine-like, still reminds me it’s a sour beer, as notes of lactic acid and Brett funk are present, even if ever so faintly.
While certainly enjoyable as-is, there’s no doubt it will become more complex and delicious as it matures in the bottle over time.”
While this beer is fruit-forward on the nose, it’s less so on the flavor side. The first sip: a strong barrel-aged oak character balanced with the taste of caramel malt. Mid-swallow, the tart tang of lactic acid and earthy flavors of Brettanomyces come forward. A medium-light body and dry finish play alongside a slight spice and heat that lingers on the back of the tongue.
Better Off Red is a worthy American interpretation of the Flanders style that will please many sour beer lovers. Given its lack of fruit-forward flavor, however, I’d prefer to have this beer after it gets some age on it. While certainly enjoyable as-is, there’s no doubt it will become more complex and delicious as it matures in the bottle over time.