No Corporate Beer Reviews: Croatoan

Beer: Croatoan
Brewery: Speciation Artisan Ales (Grand Rapids, MI)
Style: Sour – Other
6% ABV / 10 IBU

Zao has been a fixture in Decibel‘s pages since the magazine’s inception—remarkable staying power for a metalcore band, or any act for that matter. As the Zao’s new full-length The Crimson Corridor suggests, the band has remained relevant by staying true to its own original vision while simultaneously testing the waters with nimble adjustments to arrangements, time signatures, and thematic variations. Which is to say that Zao has always presented as a somewhat straightforward metalcore act, but to the initiated, their sound showcases a wonderfully complex and layered approach.

The band’s new collaboration brew with Michigan upstarts Speciation Artisan Ales is a fitting tribute to the legacy of Zao, because it presents as a fairly straightforward wild ale and reveals itself to be infinitely more complex as it warms to room temperature. Croatoan—named after the third track on The Crimson Corridor—pours with no head and very minimal carbonation. There’s no ginger, but the bracing sourness and mouthfeel is reminiscent of kombucha, another fermented product that is traditionally conditioned in bottles and cans.

The striking thing about Croatoan is the intense oak smell. That’s because it’s a blend of two wild ales aged in gin barrels. The typical hallmarks of gin barrel aging—flavor of the gin botanicals and spiciness, or zest—have been imparted on Croatoan. But the nose, itself, is incredible, and totally separate from the taste of the beer itself; it smells like dirt and moss and smoke from a bonfire but drinks like a sour. It’s lovely, and the can art from Zao lyricist/vocalist Daniel Weyandt is killer. No false metal, no false beers.

For more info, check out Speciation Artisan Ales here.