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Horus Aged Ales | Built Different (CrystAle)

Horus Built Different

Continuing a trend of California brewers developing new Barleywine-based beer styles, we now visit SoCal where Kyle Harrop of Horus Aged Ales has developed CrystAle. This 100% Crystal Malt riff on Barleywine began as a self challenge and morphed into something truly unique, combining elements of several styles into a new barrel aged option in Kyle’s repertoire. Built Different is the first CrystAle Kyle released, giving a peek into the philosophy and method behind developing a new beer style.

The Birth of CrystAle

As with any good origin story, conflict is often required to bring out the best. While Kyle has a love of Crystal Malt, describing it as his “favorite adjunct malt to use in Stouts and Barleywines,” the disdain for the malt shown by other brewers was equally motivating. “A lot of brewers hated on it and refused to use it entirely,” says Kyle. He saw a challenge and opportunity to create something new out of what other people would not even touch. “I often heard people complain about its non-diastatic qualities, but I knew I could get a healthy fermentation with a regimented sugar dosing throughout.” 

Kyle first started developing CrystAle around 3 years ago in early 2021. He spoke about the style later in the year on the Craft Beer & Brewing podcast, going on to describe a fresh, non-barrel aged version as a “cloying mess” and the “sweetest, most astringent, weirdest thing.” With these appetizing descriptors in mind, Kyle knew from the get-go that this was a beer that would require barrel aging to reach a desired and enjoyable outcome. 

In regards to naming the new style, this story comes full circle with Brad Clark of Private Press playing a role. Kyle visited Brad in Santa Cruz before releasing Built Different. “I was actually going to call mine a Crystalwine if not a Barleywine with 100% Crystal malt. I had no idea (Brad) was making something called Munichwine until that moment, so after he told me that and I tasted some of his, I pivoted on the style name.” Thus CrystAle was born. “Him calling something his own definitely gave me the confidence to do so myself,” says Kyle. It must be something in that malty California water that leads inventive brewers to create new styles. 

While CrystAle is based on a Barleywine recipe, Kyle describes it as “a cross between an English Barleywine and a Wee Heavy.” The aggressive malt flavor is a defining characteristic with very apparent Crystal sweetness. “It is very caramel and toffee forward and lacks the chocolate and fruit character a Barleywine has,” says Kyle. The requisite barrel aging transforms the unbalanced base beer into “a bourbon covered Werther’s Original in liquid form.” That sounds like a beer your grandpappy can get behind.

Built Different

After landing upon a variety of Crystal malts used in the mash bill (light Crystal, Double Roasted Crystal, and a tiny bit of extra dark Crystal), Built Different was brewed and then laid to rest in Old Forester Birthday Bourbon barrels for around 18 months. It finished at 14 Plato, less hefty than Horus’s barrel aged beers tend to be. 

Horus Built Different bottle
Different in the best way

Built Different pours a dark, nearly opaque brown in the glass with minimal legs. Left to settle for a minute, a thin dark tan foam remains. The sweetness of the Crystal malt is immediately apparent on the nose, making it known this is a high gravity brew. An “aroma of marzipan, heath bar, and vanilla” is how Kyle describes smelling this beer, and we cannot argue with that. There is also a touch of alcohol hinting at the 14.4% ABV about to be consumed. The first sip is reminiscent of so many barrel aged Barleywines with a nimble body that really allows the Birthday Bourbon to shine. There is a ton of caramel that avoids being overly sweet. A touch of vanilla is present, no doubt a result of the time resting in barrels. As Built Different warms, toffee begins to take over, and there is a slight yet distinctive dark berry and raisin element, an ode to its Barleywine origins. This big beer finishes exceptionally clean and smooth with lingering caramel sweetness – indeed a bourbon soaked Werther’s in the best way.

The Future of CrystAle

Built Different was an auspicious start in the CrystAle game for Kyle, and he has since released 1 of his own as well as 11 different collabs of the style. He is always looking for ways to make CrystAle better as he brews it more and learns along the way. “Oxygenating more at the beginning, keeping the yeast happy with sugar, and higher mash temperature have all made a difference in newer batches.” Kyle has never been one to rest on his laurels, and it can be assured that more CrystAles are in the works. In fact, Kyle says “I have five more similar to the ones I released along with two different dark versions in the pipeline.” A Black CrystAle perhaps?

From the man that made hazelnut the hottest adjunct in Stouts to producing some of the most hype barrel aged beers on the market, Kyle is no stranger to innovation and trying new things. We look forward to what he’ll do next and who he might inspire to create their own new beer style.

All photos courtesy of Britt Antley

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