Calicraft Brewing Company - Buzzerkeley
- ABV: 7%
- Serving Temperature: 45–52° F
- Suggested Glassware: Flute, Tulip, or Goblet
Calicraft’s been making some of the best stuff crossing our paths lately. While they have only modest distribution as of yet, confined to patches spread throughout northern California and concentrated around San Francisco, they’re aiming to expand to all of NorCal next year and, presuming all goes well, to the rest of the state the year after that. As things are, Buzzerkeley isn’t the easiest to come by. We look forward to getting this to our Rare Beer Club members!
Calicraft’s Buzzerkeley is fermented with Champagne yeast, using pure California Starthistle honey as well as a selection of malts sourced from the U.S. and Belgium. The label speaks of it as such: “The honey sugars are almost completely fermented, drying out the beer similar to a Belgian Golden Strong or Dry Champagne.” The note seemed entirely on point to us.
This one pours a deep, bold golden color, capped by firm, textured foam that left light lacing behind. One might pass this for some sort of Champagne or sparkling wine—though it also looks more robust than most wines anywhere close to straw. There’s bread here; there’s char and baking and sugars. It’s musty and yeasty, sourdough-tinged, with aromatics that meander from baked goods to hay to honey to dates. White pepper overlays all the aromatics, keeping things on the drier, crisper, and zestier side overall. The flavors offer up even further depths.
When this was served cooler, candied sweetness and pepper led upfront. But even a touch of time starts to open up more of this beer, digging further down to layered, caramelized sugars and quieter vanilla and almond—all that good stuff at the core. The underlying effervescence keeps those things aloft, with the rich caramels and honey and cider sugars feeling interesting rather than weighty. Particularly as this warmed and the honeyed and toasty aspects came out further, there were endless layers of caramelization and honeyed bready products in there.
At times the overall profile, to us, swung between the musty, yeast-first, Champagne-minded approach, and a maltier stance that better approximated something like hefty Belgian strongs or a paler quadrupel. This is to say, there’s a lot to dig into here, and nimbleness to the whole scope of things that made this super interesting for us to dig into and enjoy as it warmed up. As things unfolded, we eventually found quieter influences: lemons, spearmint, clove…
We’ve sampled aged bottles of Calicraft Buzzerkeley that were exceptional. Assertive upfront hard sweetness and pepper were eased up, in favor of a mellower show of honey and toasted almond at the center. Aromatics, too, were more almond-y. In contrast to some of the recent hop-influenced offerings that we’ve encouraged folks to enjoy fresh, we’d be inclined to hold on to some bottles of Buzzerkeley to enjoy six months to a year or so out (the brewery notes that it seems to hit a sweet spot after five months or so). As with everything, we’d encourage members to at least sample a bottle fresh to get an initial data point before cellaring the rest.
As far as pairing recommendations, Zac from Calicraft suggested, “anything creamy, because the acidity of the Champagne yeast cuts through the fat.” That lively carbonation helps keep things feeling lighter as well. Additional suggestions include oysters, soft cheeses, and fruits of all sorts (matching those honeyed vanilla notes): from ice cream with berries to apple tart.
Calicraft Brewing Co., based in Walnut Creek, California, will likely be a completely new name for many of our members. The brewery’s been around for just over three years, opening up in May of 2012. It’s the only brewery we can think of with a sparkling ale as its flagship.
(And it’s pretty magnificent sparkling ale… We’ll get to that.)
Zac Taylor, Calicraft’s Sales & Marketing Manager (alias: “Orchestrator of Happiness”), gave us the back story for how Calicraft came together. The brewery’s founder, Blaine Landberg (alias: “Passionate Brewer”), grew up in Willows, California, up near Chico and its landmark of Sierra Nevada. His family had a holiday tradition of seeing which adults could bring along the most interesting beers, and Blaine’s homebrewing Uncle Gary would bring over his own creations, featuring everything from labels with kangaroos (“Hoppin Good Time”) to others with names like Your Mom’s Favorite Pale Ale. The young Blaine Landberg was enthralled.
The original prototype for what later became Buzzerkeley was first brewed in a UC Berkeley dorm room, back when Blaine was 19 years old. The name of the impromptu brewery itself: Buzzerkeley Brewing Company. It basically existed in his dorm kitchen under cover of night. That initial batch began its fateful journey as a Duvel clone with California Starthistle honey, the initial results of which ended up far too sweet. Being pre-internet and homebrew forums, Blaine asked around, trying to save the batch. Someone suggested trying Champagne yeast.
So… Blaine went into town and bribed someone to buy him Champagne yeast. As tends to be the case, the bribed individual didn’t end up being the most diligent of shoppers, and he ended up buying the wrong kind of Champagne yeast. Beggars can’t be choosers, so Blaine pitched it anyway. The result, curiously, ended up as one of the best beers he’d ever tried.
Fast-forward 15 years, through iterations upon iterations of figuring out how that first batch worked and perfecting others. Key details include: (1) honey variety makes a huge difference and (2) fermenting with Belgian Trappist yeast and Champagne yeast separately also makes a big swing in the final flavor profile. Today, the final iteration of Buzzerkeley is actually done in two batches: one with a Belgian strain, the other with a Champagne yeast, blended one-to-one. Those two details made a huge difference in rediscovering the magic of that first batch.
Currently, Zac explains, “We’re trying to push the boundaries of beer styles using California-sourced ingredients.” Other highlights include their The City IPA, created with nine varieties of hops as well as California blackberry root and orange peel bitters, and Chez Panisse, their collab with Alice Water’s famous Berkeley establishment using organic anise hyssop, Meyer lemon leaf, and lemon verbena blossom. After digging Buzzerkeley, do seek out the others.
If you particularly dug the Calicraft Buzzerkeley featured this month, there’s at least a couple immediate sections of the beer universe that would seem appropriate to further visit.
I’ve always filed Buzzerkeley firmly in that Champagne-like beer category that also includes a few prototypical ones like Deus and Malheur bruts, the former often being somewhat pricey. Still, that would be a good place to revisit if Buzzerkeley’s been hitting the spot. There are a number of newer releases out there as well with Champagne-like techniques, yeasts, or both: Brooklyn Sorachi Ace, Goose Island Gillian (different), Epic Brainless on Peaches (ditto).
On the other hand, when Buzzerkeley’s on the younger side, there’s also a bit more there. It reminded me of younger Captain Lawrence Xtra Gold or (more easily acquired) De Dolle’s Dulle Teve, with a chewy middle but lots of great, expressive malt and yeast character under that initial musty, bready hit. Plenty to dig into. (Note: all age quite nicely.) Aim for tripels, if that peppery yeast’s hitting the spot. Saison Dupont might go a good way in some cases, too. In terms of three you’re likely to easily spot: Malheur Brut, Westmalle Tripel, Dulle Teve.
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