By Mark Tichenor, Rochester Beer Correspondent
Some breweries just don't get a lot of respect. Then again, some breweries haven't always taken the steps to earn it. For most of its history, Custom Brewcrafters subordinated the desire to make truly world-class beers and clung to their original business model, making small-batch, neutral, house-label beers for Rochester area bars and restaurants.
You could see that mentality start to shift a few years ago with the launch of the CB's line of signature beers launched by then-brewmaster Jason Fox and continued by Bruce Lish, the current head of brewing. These beers marked a turnaround for the brewery, which even changed its name as it oriented toward marketing its own beers. The culmination of the new direction is Krysztoff.
Shelves and taplines are strewn with delicious dark craft beers, and today's drinker is in very little danger of getting something awful by ordering at random. Far less common among all those stouts, porters and imperials is complexity. The bulldozer nature of dark roasted malt overwhelms most other flavors save vanilla, chocolate and coffee.
Kryzstoff retains a ton of dimension for a beer so dark, mostly manifesting as dark fruit such as date, plum and cherry. These become more evident when the beer warms, but, personally, I find it an exercise in willpower to wait long enough for a refrigerated bottle of Krysztoff to come down to temperature. These flavors are buoyed up by a burly body with zero tolerance for wateriness. The body keeps the sweeter favors distinct from the earthy notes confusing the palate at first but, ultimately allowing each drinker to settle on which element he or she likes most.
Finally the finish. In a beer that uses so much roasted malt, it's tempting to shut your eyes and assume a crash position just before the swallow, in full anticipation of the sour, bitter finish that... just doesn't come. Instead there's a rounded, seductive wash of light coffee across the back of the tongue, and the finish recedes like a gentle wave. Of course, this forces you to go right back in for another sip.
Most impressive of all is how Krysztoff hides its alcohol. This is a 10% beer, but it feels smells and tastes like a 6%. This could lead to some dangerous and/or hilarious situations, depending on how much respect a drinker affords this porter.
The reason this beer won New York Cork Report 2011 Beer of The Year: CB's was able to take a traditional, established style, treat it with respect, and scale it up into something great without going over the top, getting trendy or turning the beer into a cartoon. That is a simultaneous exercise in creativity and restraint you just don't see too often with American craft beer.