Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Best of the 2014 GABF

After a couple of weeks of reflection, the theme statement from this year's Great American Beer Festival finally is coming into focus. It wasn't the year of any one style - like with imperial IPAs, bold sours or barrel-aged dark beers as in years past — but the year in which each of the 700 breweries there put forth something original, something bold that distinguished it from its neighbors and from the growing cacophony of beer makers nationwide.

This is wonderful for its variety of offerings— on Thursday night alone, I was able to taste a Bourbon Carrot Cake, a banana beer and a brew made with Szechuan popcorn. But it makes the job of finding a definitive beer of the GABF — or even choosing best beers in specific categories — hard to the point where such categorization is almost moot.

That said, here as always is one man's thoughts on the best of the very best that breweries had to offer at this year's gathering.

Best in Show: 2x4, Melvin Brewing
For once, even in a year of such diversity, this award wasn't hard, as a number of people seemed to come to the same conclusion. Rarely, if even, has a double IPA been so smooth and so aggressively hoppy at the same time. A spectacularly accessible palate of grassy hops rolled over the taste buds in a way that jolted you and pleased you. It showed why, even without winning a medal, this Wyoming brewery is becoming known as one of the national kings of hops.

Runner-up: Teche Hombres, Bayou Teche Brewing
Out of Louisiana came this Belgian-style wit brewed with agave nectar and aged in French white wine barrels with orange peel. Yes, it was as good as it sounds — and even more complex.

Best Sour Beer: Blue Sunday, New Holland Brewing
An anniversary blend of several previously made sour beers, this shouted a message of sharp, tart cherry and packed more a punch than any similar beers at the festival.

Best Hop Bomb: Notorious, Boneyard Beer
If 2x4 was the best hoppy beer of the show, this was the most mind-blowing: a triple IPA whose flavor seeped into every crevice of your tongue but that still was phenomenally balanced.

Best New Hop Taste: Hop Drip IPA, Magic Hat Brewing (pictured above)
Adding a local coffee to an already bold body created a contrasting and yet strangely complimentary blend of bitter flavors that resulted in a new style of complexity for the genre.

Best Use of Fruit: Serendipity, New Glarus Brewing
This slightly sour ale blending apples and cranberries with a smaller amount of Wisconsin brewery's  traditional cherries during a cherry shortage was heavy with apple and an eye-opener.

Best of the Unusual Beers: Roxie's Golden Bananas, Saucony Creek Brewing (at top)
Fifteen pounds of bananas went into this Pennsylvania brewery's 15-barrel batch of beer, producing a pleasant and interesting beer whose most impressive trait is that it's not overpowering.

Best in Show from Colorado: Swing Se Pliser, Trinity Brewing
Colorado Springs' most innovative beer maker continues to break new ground, this time with a tart and hoppy barrel-aged sour IPA that requires you to think about what you're tasting.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, October 02, 2014

The Abbreviated Great American Beer Festival Preview

I'll be honest: I didn't have time to do my usual lengthy GABF preview, picking out 25 to 50 beers that you have to try. I was unprepared that the time I typically spend getting ready for the festival would be rededicated to feeding and caring our my 7-week-old son. I imagine the time crunch will be less next year, but I hope you'll agree that, as a new dad, I had to re-prioritize this once.

That said, I want to offer up two things in preparation for the greatest festival in the history of the planet  to start tonight.

First, I want to refer anyone who is interested to a Facebook chat I just did on how to attack the festival. It mentions some strategies, some up-and-coming breweries and a few tips. You can find it right here.

 Second, I want to give a shout-out to some of the best beers I've tried during Denver Beer Fest, the ever-burgeoning lineup of events leading up to the GABF. Some will be served at the GABF, and others may be just at the breweries, whether now or at a future time. Either way, these are some beers that you should track down if given the opportunity.
Boneyard Notorious: Triple IPAs can be a tricky lot as they try to balance big flavor without too big a presence of alcohol. Oregon's Boneyard Beer may have walked that line better than just about any triple IPA maker in recent history. (At GABF)
Oude Tart: When considering which sours should be on your must list the next few days, don't overlook this Flanders red ale aged 18 months in red-wine barrels. (At GABF)
Eclipse Imperial Stout: At 17.3 percent ABV, this biggest-ever product from Jagged Mountain Craft Brewery is deceptive in how easily the big, dark body goes down. (At brewery)
Fresh-hopped 1000 Barrels Imperial IPA: Strange Craft Beer may never make this hop bomb, complete with 60 pounds of Cascade, Nugget and CNZ hops again. But it really, really should. (At brewery … at least it was)

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, September 28, 2014

GABF Week - The Can't-Miss Events

Denver Beer Fest and the events around the Great American Beer Festival have grown to the point where the idea of going to even a small percentage of them has become ludicrous. Therefore, you have to choose your schedule very carefully.

Here then are a few of the highlights of the week as you plan your itinerary. This is not a comprehensive list of all events; you can find those at The Denver Post or at Westword. Rather, this is one man's attempt to give you a couple you might want to focus in on with your valuable time.

* 10 a.m.: Backcountry Pizza & Tap House of Boulder kicks off Sour Sunday - 28 beers, including offerings from Almanac, Evil Twin, Russian River and more. Blow your taste buds early.
* 11 a.m.: Black Sky Brewing of Denver celebrates its first anniversary with a BBQ and several special tappings. And the menu at this metal brewery always seems to surprise.
* 1 p.m.: If you're already in Boulder for Sour Sunday, be sure to stop by Avery Brewing for the release of its latest edition of Rumpkin, its fantastic 16% rum-barrel-aged pumpkin ale.

* Noon: Crooked Stave kicks off a week of noon special tappings with its Blackberry Dark Origins. Port Nightmare on Brett and L'Brett d'Peach are among the week's other highlights.
* 5 to 9 p.m.: Falling Rock Tap House's GABF tapping party is taking place for the 17th straight year. In addition to beer from the likes of Avery, Odell and Russian River, you can probably catch a few brewers there.
* 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.: GABF week involves a lot of learning. Metropolitan State University of Denver is putting that into very traditional form with a one-time, $35 class open to the public entitled "Ales, Lagers and Beyond: Tasting and Appreciating Beer."

* All day: Many breweries are doing special tappings all week, and it feels almost too selective to mention just a few. But veritable newcomer Jagged Mountain Brewery has a worthy lineup this week that includes a Barrel-Aged First Descent Old Ale - one of the strongest beers in Denver - plus ditties like a Cognac-Barrel Voodoo Goat Barleywine later this week.
* 5 p.m.: Upslope Pumpkin Ale is widely considered one of the best pumpkin ales in Colorado and is a former gold-medal winner. Tonight, the Boulder brewery releases it for the season.
* 5 to 8 p.m.: The first of the beer fests before the beer festival is the Paramount Café Beer Fest, featuring 20 area breweries and costing the low, low price of $20.
* 7 p.m.: Freshcraft is another one of the beer bars that will spend the week offering specialty days and nights from various breweries. One that shouldn't be missed is tonight's New Belgium tapping, featuring a number of sour beers that are hard to find anywhere else.

* 2 p.m.: Strange Craft Beer releases its first round of bombers in its 4-1/2-year history, ensuring that one of Denver's best-kept secrets will be getting a little less secret. Cherry Kriek, Grapefruit IPA, Dr. Strangelove Barleywine 2013 and its farmhouse ale all go out officially to the public today. Show up with me, and we can start the campaign for bottling Zora rosemary pale ale.
* 3 p.m.: One of the things that's surprised me is the lack of vertical tappings you see during this week. River North today offers just such a tapping of its J. Marie Farmhouse Ale four ways - classic, wine-barrel, whiskey-barrel and barreled and bretted.
* 6 p.m.: Music concerts have been done during Denver Beer Fest. But Renegade Brewing seeks to break new ground with Offensively Delicious, a comedy event. The $40 evening at the Oriental Theater gives you access to two professional comedians. But, more frighteningly, it also lets you see the (brief) comedy stylings of the 11 breweries pouring at the event as well.
* 6 p.m.: You won't have to look too hard to find barrel-aged beers at GABF. But if you want to cut out everything else, the new World of Beer in downtown Denver gives you unlimited tastings at a barrel-aged competition for $40.
* 7 p.m.: One of the coolest new out-of-state beers that will make its way around Denver Beer Fest is Sam Adams' Kosmic Mother Funk Grand Cru. The Boston brewery takes over Lucky Pie LoDo tonight to serve it up.

* 2 to 7 p.m. and 9 to midnight: Epic Brewing offers not one but two sessions of its Firkin Fiasco, featuring 50 different firkins. The $25 tickets almost seem underpriced.
* 6 to 10 p.m. Crooked Stave once again offers its What the Funk festival of sour and barrel-aged beers opposite the opening GABF session. I mention this purely in passing; tickets are sold out.
* 6 to 11 p.m. Three Floyds beers are sought out, but the Indiana brewery isn't available in Colorado most of the time. That changes briefly today at a party it's hosting with TRVE Brewing at Summit Music Hall.
* 7 p.m. Speaking of things you can't find here much, Cigar City will have a host of beers available at Freshcraft tonight. As a bonus, they'll be serving them up with some rarer beers from Colorado geniuses Ska Brewing.
* 11 p.m. If your liver isn't already crying "mercy," head over to Euclid Hall, where Avery Brewing is offering 14 beers with a seven-course midnight breakfast. Tickets are $125.

* 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.: One of my favorite features of Denver Beer Fest is beer-themed events thrown by places you don't normally think of first when you think of beer bars. 16Mix in the Sheraton is throwing a Beer and Bacon Brunch for $25 to help you chase away the hangover you know you're going to have.
* Noon to 4: Not planning to spend over $100 on an Avery breakfast? Then you should have the money leftover to sample some truly, truly impossible-to-find offerings from around the country at the $110 Rare Beer Tasting taking place at McNichols Hall in Civic Center Park.
* Noon to 4: Focus on the Beer has done small "Beers Made by Walking" events for the past two festivals, getting a dozen or so brewers to craft beers with unusual ingredients inspired by hikes. This year, it's going big time with 33 breweries offering over 40 beers. At $40, this event at Wynkoop Brewery may be one of the best surrounding the festival.
* Noon to 8 p.m. Can't choose one brewery? Denver Microbrew Tour is offering a hop-on-hop-off bus that visits nine breweries and one cidery for a jump-on, leave-your-car-at-home price of $35.
* 1 p.m. Bury your taste buds at the Alpha King contest at Falling Rock, where brewers who know hops try to take it to the next level and make the hoppiest beer in America.

* Local breweries will breaking out new beers all week, but the one I'm most looking forward to comes today: Copper Kettle taps its S'Mores Porter.
* 7 p.m. Like Surly Brewing? Freshcraft is tapping a number of the hot Minnesota brewery's beers.
* 7 to 8 p.m. Marco's Coal Fired Pizza is offering a number of tappings with out-of-state brewers during the week. Among the most exciting: Deschutes pouring its Mirror Mirror Barleywine on Saturday night.
* Post-GABF: By Saturday night, about the only thing my taste buds can still tolerate are pungently sour beers. Luckily, Falling Rock's traditional post-festival party with New Belgium will feature plenty.
* 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.: And if you want something a little different for bidding farewell to the best week of the year, the Pour House is sending people out with a party hosted by Left Hand and Boulevard.

Labels: ,

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Beer-Themed Baby-ish Book

As a new father, I have spent less time thinking about beer these past six weeks (sadly) and more time thinking about infants' toys and books. But thanks to a new offering from Fort Collins' Bailiwick Press, there is one instance at least where I don't have to choose between the two.

"Goodnight Brew" is a parody of the children's classic "Goodnight Moon," but it's the kind of parody that even childless adults will enjoy. Rather than scoping out a quiet child's room as the moon comes up, it takes the reader into a brewery at closing time, where a walrus brewer and his animal coworkers make beer, dance and then clean up.

That may not sound like a riveting plot, but the joy in the illustrated book comes from the way it plays off the sweet, simplistic imagery of "Goodnight Moon," sometimes in ways you're not expecting.

The introduction of, say, the hops wildebeest and a bunch of otters who are in charge of the water (and fixing the tanks) is a nice touch. As is the ability to work beer ingredients and styles into child-like rhyming patterns. (In the great brew room/ there was a kettle that shone/ and a gramophone/ and a pitcher of a chocolate stout with two feathers of foam.)

As a bonus, author Ann Briated and illustrator Allie Ogg then offer a step-by-step guide to brewing and some basic information about styles at the end - in adorable illustrated fashion.

"Goodnight Brew" adds a light-hearted and enjoyable touch to the typical beer-book library lined with brewing handbooks and state-by-state touring guides. And as we all get ready for the Great American Beer Festival to roll into town next week, it may be the appropriate amount of reading material to supplement our drinking activities.

Labels: ,

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Toasting the Beers of Summer 2014

As hard as our current weather makes it seem to believe, summer officially ends Monday. And so, it is with a tear in my eye and a buzzy smile on my face that I give a last shout to the best beers of the summer of 2014 and a few bold ideas that just missed — hoping that drinkers can pick up some of the last of the offerings of this season and start lobbying brewers on what to bring back next year.

The Winners

FOCOllaboration Ale
Maybe it should come as no shock that when New Belgium and Odell combined to make an beer, their union produced a stunningly good American pale ale — one that brought a big, grassy hop taste with almost no residual bitterness. The only surprise was that I had so many people asking me which brewery's version I tasted; it was the Odell product, and that one at least was great.

Super Juice Solution
Trinity Brewing's sour session IPA was easily the most interesting beer of the summer. It was head-scratching in both its complexity and in how much flavor it could pack into so little ABV. The best news: It's still out there on liquor-store shelves.

Franklin's Belgian-Style Strong Golden
Mountain Sun's big-bodied offering was both smooth and surprisingly alcoholic, sweet and solidly clean. And it served as a reminder that a brewery known best for its stouts and IPAs can do some pretty impressive things in other styles as well.

Oats McGoats Oat Malt Rye Stout
Brewery Rickoli won a national "Brewing the American Dream" competition last year that allowed it to learn from and then make a beer with Boston Beer Co. What came from that was the young brewery's best effort yet - a thick, dark ale with a creamy center that combines both warming malt with easy drinking and resembles no gluten-reduced beer that you have tried before.

Barefoot Runaway
Odd 13's summer IPA was a great example of how to tone down the hops but make a beer smooth and light and appropriate for the weather. At 5.6% ABV, it was the right beer for the right time; if this had come out in the winter, it would have seemed too light.

As usual, Great Divide put out some seriously challenging seaonsals, including a sharp rye IPA and the always burly Oatmeal Yeti. But the summer star was a Belgian white ale that came with just a hint of orange zest and was as good a patio sipper as any new creation.

Honorable Mentions

Spontaneous Saison
Strange Craft Beer and five other breweries participated in an experiment by where they all brewed saisons with similar recipes but slightly different additives at the same time. Loved the idea. And the lemongrass backtones make Strange's offering spunky, though a bit short of spectacular.

Buddha's Hand Witbier
Breckenridge Brewery's experimentation created one of the most interesting summer beers of the past half-decade in 2011: The Cabernet-barrel-aged Summer Cab Ride. This year's new creation, made with the Buddha's Hand fruit, is mundane in comparison to that masterpiece - admittedly a high bar to reach - but zingier than most of the summertime ales on the market.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Friday, August 08, 2014

Chain Reaction Puts a Spark into Denver Brewing Scene

One of the common refrains in conversations between area beer writers goes like this: There are some good breweries opening along the Front Range this year, but not that one great brewery that has stood out as in years past.

Chain Reaction Brewing isn't that towering standout yet. But the month-and-a-half-old brewery in southwest Denver is showing some signs that it has the potential to be the next big thing.

The first thing you notice about the effort from homebrewing cousins Zack and Chad Christofferson is the pure number of beers on tap for a start-up. There are six flagship beers, four seasonals on at all times and six more open taps for whatever experiments the guys want to unleash on the public.

The next thing that catches your eye is the overwhelming presence of beetle-killed wood throughout the brewery at 902 S. Lipan St. It's in the boxes holding your flights, it's in the bar, it's even in a giant Colorado flag on one wall that is made completely out of the wood. It's cool.

Zack and Chad do what they are supposed to do with the high number of taps — they reserve some for the more standard beers and leave others for slight or sometimes wild experimentation; these, after all, are brewers who already have served styles such as a Cilantro Serrano Lime Wheat and a Watermelon Ginger Hefeweizen. And the impressive thing is that both the normal and cutting-edge efforts work very well.

On the more standard side, the Pale Ale is a standout. Made with belma hops, which bring a character of honeydew and melon, it presents a slight bit more bitterly than is typical for the style but then settles in with a sweetness that will leave you remembering it.

The IPA is bitter, but in a way that spreads the bite throughout your mouth and leaves it taste-laden without being overwhelming. The Porter has a good chocolate punch without being cloying. And the Orange Cream is simply a nice beer - not overwhelming in the orange attributes but perfectly pleasant as a summer sipper.

On the more experimental side, the big winner is the Pink Peppercorn Saison, a beer that supplies the perfect amount of sweetness with just a hint of pepper to balance it. The Belgian Rye Stout cuts a very fine malty, sharp blend on the back of the tongue and will be a wonderful winter warmer. And the Lemon IPA, while decidedly bitter from its single-hopping with sorachi ace hops, does not lack for ambition.

Chain Reaction is still going through some growing pains, mind you. On a recent weeknight, three separate tasters — the seasonal/experimental Blonde, Pale Wheat and Chai Wit beers — all had a plastic residue taste, one that Zack apologetically attributed to the lines. And the Red Ale, a flagship beer, felt like an unchallenging version of the style ripped from the late 1990s.

But between the variety of offerings, the experimental touch and the clever hopping, Chain Reaction stands out as a place that is going to take chances and, clearly, is going to succeed a lot. And that makes it an exciting brewery to watch as it grows.

Labels: ,

Monday, August 04, 2014

Five Things I Learned From Sesh Fest

Saturday's event, hosted at Sculpture Park by Imbibe Denver and Colorado Brewers Guild, was a time of experimentation, both for better and for worse. Here are a few lessons drunken in from it:

1) Sour + Session Beers = Powerfully Good
It could be said that the most talked-about beers at just about any festival are the sour experiments, but that was especially true this weekend - and specifically because everything had such a big taste and ran in at less than 5% ABV. Fate's tart but refreshing Uror Gose and Great Divide's eminently drinkable Berliner Weisse were just a couple of examples of what you could do with subtle tartness without tearing apart your taste buds or leaving you with a hangover from trying too much.

But the big winner of the sour experiments was ...

2) Trinity Brewing Scored Again
Hands down the best beer of the festival was the Colorado Springs brewery's Super Juice Solution, a sour session IPA that mingled the sharp orange/grapefruit tart flavors with an earthy hop in a way that married the seemingly disparate tastes very well. I enjoyed it so much I had to stop by Stapleton Taphouse the next day to get a full pour, and I'm still impressed at how the flavors blended so artfully and also were measured enough that they meshed together rather than seemed to compete for being the loudest taste in your mouth.

3) The "Session IPA" Remains a Work in Progress
Before the festival, Ska's Dave Thibodeau made the case that low-alcohol IPA was a legitimate style rather than just a watered-down version of America's most popular beer, and it was easy to find examples that both proved and disproved his theory. But for every "hopped lager" that seemed to offered only a hint of grass or citrus over a light biscuit body, there also were beers like Black Bottle's Doby Session IPA and Upslope's Session IPA, which offered big squirts of hop juice in a light body and made you think there is hope for this style yet.

4) The Uber-Tasty Low-Alcohol Malt Bomb is a Thing of the Past ...
... Or maybe all of the other high-alcohol specialty festivals have ruined all of our taste buds. But efforts to find the next Guinness in the crowd were not met with success. Red ales were dull, dry stouts were more dry than stout and when another member of the Fearless Tasting Crew suggested that a dark mild I was drinking would be much more appealing if I paired it with fried chicken, I really felt someone was stretching it. Aside from TRVE's American ESB, a dusty beer with a charming bitter backbite of hops, the beers most likely to pass for traditional English session beers didn't jump out.

5) Bring Enough Beer For Everyone.
This can not be emphasized enough. Crooked Stave ran out of beer in less than an hour. One entire side of the festival was tapped just over two hours into the four-hour event. With 40 minutes left, there were all of three breweries still serving beer (see picture below). When you're the Great American Beer Festival and 75 of your 700 breweries are out of beer by the end of one session, you'll be forgiven; when 90 percent of your breweries are tapped with an hour left, it leads to a heck of a lot of grumbling in the crowd.

In a rush to judgment - one that I've been called on - I assumed that this was the fault of the organizers, especially when a fellow beer writer told me a similar beer drought occurred at the Collaboration Fest also sponsored by CBG and Imbibe earlier this year. But one of the organizers scolded me and pointed the finger at brewers, saying very few brought enough beer. And one brewer that I ran into simply shrugged and said his whole side of the event got slammed with people in a hurry. So, without placing blame on anyone, I'd just ask that everyone involved learn something from this and fix the problem so that the murmurs that cascaded through the hard-core beer drinkers Saturday don't grow into cries that could endanger any future festivals - especially ones like these that showcase a creative side for breweries who otherwise might be content with pouring their standards and calling it a day.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?