Last August, Jester King Brewery released a special one-off beer that had been aging for quite a while even when compared to some of the brewery’s regular barrel-aged releases.
Named CRU 55, the sour red ale comes in at 8.3 percent ABV and was aged in a 130 gallon puncheon barrel for three years. The base beer is one of Jester King’s first beers that was originally released in 2012 named RU55 sour red ale (6.7 percent ABV), which is brewed with perle hops before being refermented in oak barrels with wild yeast and souring bacteria.
“Back when we started our program of spontaneous fermentation in February of 2013, we had an extra 130 gallon puncheon barrel (#487 to be precise), which we filled with our RU55 Barrel Aged Sour Red Ale,” reads a post on Jester King’s website. “After aging in our barrel room for three years, we decided to bottle and release it as the ‘Grand Cru’ version of RU55.”
CRU55 was packaged in 375ml bottles—the first time that Jester King had used that specific sized bottle, although seven different versions of SPON have been released in the same size since then—and retailed for $14 each. It was released on Aug. 12, 2016 and had a one bottle per person limit with approximately 900 total bottles available.
Visually, the Jester King CRU 55 pours a deep reddish amber with a very thin lacing that, while not thick by any means, sticks around for a surprising amount of time. There seems to be plenty of carbonation in the glass, and the beer smells of vinegar, oak, tart strawberries, apples, white pepper and cherries.
From the first sip, the dominant flavors in CRU 55 follow the scent including a strong sour red wine vinegar, creamy oak, tart cherries, leather, tobacco and hay. The barrel is easily discernible and only adds more complexity, while the mouthfeel is extremely creamy and carbonation is moderate but consistent. As it warms, the vinegar begins to fade, replaced by more dark fruit, dark chocolate and coffee notes, making for a very different profile between the cold and warm versions. The alcohol is noticeable but not overwhelming, and is balanced nicely by the rest of the profile.