“Four months after Crux opened, we brewed Tough Love.” We sat down and talked with our co-founder and Master Brewer, Larry Sidor, as he remembers, “It took guts since we didn’t have much in the bank. It had to work.”
What makes Tough Love special?
Domestic light beer has no soul. It’s one-dimensional. Ahem, the Champagne of Beer? We’re talking about you. It’s all about sales and bottom lines and marketing, and agenda. But, Tough Love, ah, Tough Love has a soul. It has a heartbeat. You can taste the labor, the energy, the effort. You can see it swirling in your glass. It’s an exploration; it will take you on a journey. Get in. Let’s go. Larry says it’s hard to describe in one word, but that one word is Love.
Labor of Love
Nine years ago, when we only had our brewpub location, we made our barrel-aged imperial stout on our small German brewing equipment. “Which is great for brewing our Pilz, an 11 Plato* beer, however, not ideal for a 25 Plato, big beer,” Larry grins. “Everything took longer to make. It took three times the amount of time just to get through the brewhouse. It took five hours to strain the lauter tun because it’s so thick; I mean, this is not for the newbie brewer. In the beginning, it was an absolute sh*t show.” Larry laughs, “It was!” He confirms. But we did it anyway because we loved every minute of it, hence the name, Tough Love.
Next, the beer goes into barrels for about six months to a year. “They’re new American charred oak from single-use bourbon barrels. You can use the barrels many times, but only if they’re ‘good barrels.’” Larry lights up when talking about good barrels, “those babies can be used over and over. They’re fantastic. Then you can get a bad barrel”, he shakes his head, “bad barrels are one and done.” This is when a brewer becomes a winemaker, “we’re always calibrating.”
Calibrating indeed, we experimented a lot with the vanilla bean we add to the beer to ensure we achieve the best flavor. So we played around with three different regions: Mexican vanilla was too earthy, Tahitian vanilla was too bland, and then Madagascar (chef’s kiss), well, that one was just right. It blew the other two right out of the water.
We are working with African vanilla bean right now, and it’s showing potential. So that’s something to look forward to, possibly in future stouts.
What is the preferred way to age and store bottles of Tough Love?
Ideally, once you bring it home, you can age it six months to a year (or longer) in a dark, cool place (think 45-degree fridge with no light, or a 60-degree basement for six months). If you store it in a hot sunny window, your beer is going to be garbage the next day.
Larry says, “You have to remember, beer is bread. If you store it poorly, don’t expect to have a good product. Here’s how I like to think about it,” he goes on, “a yellow fizzy light beer is a AAA battery. It discharges quickly. Which is to say, it oxidizes fast, don’t expect it to last very long after it gets bottled. It’s a four on the Plato scale. A Crux Pilz is like a DD battery, it is 11 on the Plato scale. A Cast Out is like a 15. And then there’s Tough Love. It’s like a 36-volt marine battery. You could power a boat with it. It has maximum potential and a high Plato. It will last for a long time, under the right conditions.”
What should you pair with Tough Love?
Tough Love is excellent next to a charcuterie board, with aged cheeses and meats, dark chocolates, and dried fruit. It also pairs well with a smoked turkey leg or a big bowl of spicy jambalaya. Don’t even think about pairing it with a light fish or salmon or crab; it will overpower your meal. It’s best when it compliments what you are eating, not dominates.
Larry’s ideal way to enjoy Tough Love:
The night before, rub down some baby back ribs and get them ready for the smoker in the morning. At 7:00 am, fire up your Traeger and smoke your ribs for seven hours.
Then pour yourself a glass of Tough Love, and enjoy… preferably outside, as the sun sets.
Ahh, it tastes like chocolate, roasted malt, cherry, vanilla, and, most importantly, Love.
*Plato is the ratio of fermentable sugars to water