Larry Sidor of Crux Fermentation Project

Going Pro by | Jul 2016 | Issue #114

In Larry Sidor’s 40-plus years in the Pacific Northwest beer industry, he’s brewed at a massive industrial scale, tended to hop production, and helped grow the Deschutes Brewery into a craft powerhouse, developing legendary recipes like Red Chair, The Dissident and The Abyss. Nearly five years ago, he struck out on his own, founding a new Bend, Ore., institution: Crux Fermentation Project. At Crux, Sidor oversees the production of a wide variety of new classics, from sublime IPAs to complex barrel-aged Flanders Reds and a defiantly restrained Pils. “I’ve always wanted the ability to move forward in a fast manner,” Sidor says. “The bigger the organization, the more you can get bogged down in the details of a bureaucracy. When you’re on your own, you can shape the company the way you want it.”

1. Seek the limitless
Larry Sidor originally wanted to be a winemaker. Then, four decades ago, he fell in love with brewing. Sidor chose grain over grapes because brewing presented infinitely more creative avenues than winemaking did. “Wine was very limited,” Sidor argues. “Beer was completely up to you—the raw ingredients, the conditions you ferment under, the range of flavors you can create, the choices were unlimited. There are no limits to beer. That’s pretty exciting.”

2. Innovate, don’t emulate
In 1974, Sidor got his first brewing gig at Olympia Brewing Company. His two decades there tracked seismic changes in the brewing industry. Olympia’s corporate owners tried to compete with macro lagers by dumbing down their formerly solid American lagers, and the changes hastened the brewery’s decline. “The American public has rejected those beers,” Sidor says. “You will never make money by saving money, and that’s where American lager has been for the past 40 years. They’ve been combining operations and trying to make money by saving money. And it hasn’t panned out so well for them.”

3. Take note
Because he learned the brewer’s art at an industrial scale, Sidor brews with an intense attention to consistency and documentation. “You had to figure out why something occurred, and how to make it turn out right,” he says. “There was no wishing associated with it.” Thanks to his immensely detailed notes, he’s able to pinpoint how to fix—or replicate—every step of every batch he’s brewed. When a batch of Crux’s Sugar Daddy IPA went bust due to some issues with a boiler, the recipe, a too-sweet IPA, ended up being a hit in the taproom. Because of Sidor’s notes on the snafu, he’s been able to replicate those mistakes and turn the recipe into a customer favorite.

4. Fail
A clear creative vision guides Sidor’s time in the brewhouse. He’s been able to achieve that vision by creating a culture of creative risk-taking among his brewers. “I can celebrate failure,” he says. “If you don’t try, you’re never going to fail, but you’re not going to go anywhere by not failing. I try to give my guys the ability to succeed by having the ability to fail. And I think more of a person, and appreciate what they do, when they fail.”

5. Assemble a squad
Sidor founded the Crux Fermentation Project so he could chase a creative vision without the filter of a management structure above him. Now that he’s his own boss, he says, the key to delivering on the promise of an operation like Crux has been assembling a team with similar ambitions. “The brewers we have are all going to rise to greatness, and that’s exciting to me,” Sidor says. “We want to create the next great thing here, and I can’t be the sole owner of that. We want people with fire in the gut to create things.”

6. Build an infrastructure for awesome things
Crux brews in three main families of recipes: Hop-forward IPAs, malt-forward Belgians and lagers, and yeast-forward Germans, Saisons and wild Ales. Across all that variety, the intent remains constant—to keep forging ahead. The Crux brewing operation is built for experimentation. It’s stocked with open and closed fermentors, different-sized tanks, and multiple temperature-controlled barrel rooms, kept at varying temperatures. A mash filter lets Sidor’s crew brew with large, complex malt bills—recipes that would’ve broken a standard lauter tun. “We have a lot of space, and an infrastructure that allows us to do a lot of unique things,” Sidor says. “Our creativity is only limited to time, and opportunity.”

7. Let the people vote
Sidor values having diverse flavors on tap because he finds it more satisfying than one narrow lane. But he also argues that the juxtaposition of an IPA, a Hefeweizen and a barrel-aged Belgian, for instance, helps brewers advocate for good beer. “If I only had 24 IPAs on tap, I might not be able to convince someone who doesn’t think they like beer,” he says. “It’s important that brewers realize there’s a full flavor spectrum out there that our customers demand. Customers vote with their wallets, and if you don’t have a range of flavors, you’re not giving the customer an opportunity to vote.”

8. Forget the kitchen sink
The bourbon barrel-aged Russian Imperial Stout [BANISHED] Tough Love is a beer of immense complexity. It utilizes a dozen grains, including smoked and roasted malts, rye and wheat, plus adjuncts like vanilla beans and cherries. “These layers of complexity make a mystery out of the beer,” Sidor says. “There are things to discover and dig into.” The trick is doing it all with purpose. “You can’t just check this box, and this one. They have to be layered in. The worst thing to do is throw in the kitchen sink, when nothing plays well together. It drives me crazy.”

9. Get more
Crux Pilz, a beer Sidor describes as “a pre-Prohibition American twist on a Pilsner,” is Sidor’s nod to the brewery that taught him how to brew. Crux Pilz is a modern meditation on Olympia Pilsner, if Olympia had made a Pils. Sidor marries a light, quaffable, biscuity body to piles of Saaz and Sterling, which get run through a hop back. “You’re aware of an appropriate bitterness, and there’s also a lot of aroma and flavor to it, but not to the point of being cloying,” Sidor says. “The beer has moreness—you drink it and say, I want to have more.”