Crooked Stave brings the cool with its coolship, a Belgian-style brewing vessel
Since opening the Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project in 2010, Chad Yakobson has done things his own way, pushing Colorado's craft-beer scene forward with his brewing technique, his chosen style of beers, his collaborations and his brewery-less taproom.
Chad Yakobson Crooked Stave's coolship sits outside the Source.
But his latest innovative leap will actually be a step into the past.
When Yakobson opens his new twenty-barrel pilot brewery in the Source this fall, it will include a coolship, a surprisingly simple piece of equipment that brewers used for hundreds of years -- but which is now rare, even in Belgium, where they were once very popular.
A coolship -- or koelschip in Dutch -- is a huge, shallow pan that beer-makers used to naturally cool down their boiling wort (unfermented beer) overnight before inoculating it with yeast, which can't be added if the wort is too hot.
Chad Yakobson The coolship is unloaded.
These rectangular, open-air pans were typically made of copper, and now stainless steel, and could also be used to separate solid ingredients out of the liquid. They were necessary in the days before refrigeration, but could only be used during certain seasons when the weather wasn't too hot or too cold, and in certain climates.
"It's a really interesting vessel," Yakobson says. "Traditionally, it is used to cool wort. It's not the most economical way to do that, but it was the traditional way, and it worked. But coolships can also be used for a lot of other things."
One of those things is to allow naturally-occurring yeasts to spontaneously ferment the wort -- a process that has been famously reinvented by Brewery Cantillon in Brussels, Belgium, which keeps its coolship on the top floor of its brewhouse in a room with open windows (windows that incongruously open onto a gritty urban neighborhood).
Spontaneous fermentation creates "wild" or sour beers -- as do desirable bacteria like lactobacillus, which make their way into the mix -- that take on funky flavors as a result of these yeasts and bacterias, but it only works in regions with an abundance of good yeast and with brewers who can figure out how to repeat their process consistently.
Crooked Stave Facebook page The coolship barely fit through the doors at the Source.
And although Yakobson, who has a master's degree in yeast, specializes in those styles of beers, he doesn't plan to use his coolship for spontaneous fermentation -- at least at first.
Instead, he'll use it to add other ingredients, including hops and spices, and then let them settle out before transferring the liquid to barrels for fermentation. "We will have a protective roof over ours," he explains. "We'll be using ours like a whirlpool would be used, and as a third cooling vessel. It's such an interesting tool."
Several other U.S. breweries also have coolships, including California's Russian River; Hill Farmstead in Vermont; Peekskill in New York, Block 15 in Oregon; Jester King in Texas; and Maine's Allagash Brewing.