Saturday, February 04, 2017
When Sam Adams launched its Rebel IPA three years ago, it was met with an ovation from the general public but a bit more of a muted round of applause from beer connoisseurs. This was an IPA, after all, that had a very 1990s throwback feel of big malt that almost subsumed its hops, and it was somewhat hard to define its appeal in a world full of citrus, grass and experimental hop bombs.
So, proving that the oldest dog (nearly, at least) in the craft beer world still does want to learn some new tricks, Sam Adams scrapped that initial recipe this year and came out with an all-new version boasting of seven kinds of hops - including two experimentals - and describing itself as tropical and juicy, echoing the IPA buzzwords of today. But the beer still feels in some ways like a throwback - more mid-2000s than 20th Century this time - and while it's a quality beer, it pales in comparison to the more rebellious Rebel Juiced IPA that the brewery is promoting simultaneously.
First to Rebel. The reborn version ditched the caramel malt that over-bulked its body, leaving this new version cleaner and brighter. But the tropical flavors it promises are lacking, leaving a straightforward piny body that ramps up the bitterness and puts it more squarely into the camp of beers that IPA fanatics love more than a beer that will grab the attention of someone wanting to taste across all styles. In other words, it's a good beer, but not necessarily one that you'll consider at the 20-tap beer bar.
And now to Rebel Juiced IPA, which is both a blessing and a curse to be out at the same time as the reborn Rebel. The beer - a West Coast-style IPA made with mango puree - is a blessing because it's a phenomenal beer, the type of juicy, sweet and bitter, groundbreaking beer that others are sure to emulate for its combination of sturdy body and envelope-pushing additives. But it's a curse too because if you happen to drink this in the same setting as Rebel IPA, you may not even give the original rebel a second thought for the bounty of tropical flavors in Rebel Juiced.
The mixed blessing of releasing two new packaged beers almost at the same time is nothing new for America's largest craft brewery. It also put out two seasonals for early 2017 - a hoppy wheat by the name of Hopscape that is on sale in January and February and Fresh as Helles,, a classical helles brewed with orange blossom petals that just hit stores and will stick around through March. And while Fresh as Helles is a wonderful blend of a fantastic underlying sweet and malty beer with a pleasant but not overwhelming zing of citrus, Hopscape is a disappointingly bland, very light-bodied effort that absolutely disappears - at least in comparison to its fellow seasonal.
So, yes, the new Rebel IPA is an improvement on its predecessor, coming across as sharper and hoppier. But Rebel Juiced is the beer that really has a cause, breathing life into a sometimes stagnant IPA genre and showing just how fun the style can be again if you move past what IPA has been and re-imagine what it can be.
Wednesday, February 01, 2017
Craft beer fans and football fans share a mutual disdain for the month of February. For football fans, it's that desolate time in between the Super Bowl and the NFL Draft. For beer aficionados in Colorado, it's the lonely month between Big Beers Festival and Collaboration Fest.
Luckily, though, a few event organizers have heard the anguished cry of the craft-beer drinker and tried to do something to make this month more memorable. And over the next 28 days, a number of gatherings - including a pair of new or reborn events in particular - are going to fill calendars surprisingly quickly and make March seem it got here with no delay at all.
First there is Beer Fight Club, the brainchild of buddies Jeff Flood and Adam Schell that debuts on Saturday at Larimer Beer Hall. Less an all-out Tyler Durden-style brawl and more a civilized March Madness-style precursor, it pits eight River North neighborhood breweries against each other in head-to-head blind-taste tests until only one survives the bracket to be crowned Beer Fight Club champion.
Flood and Schell had wanted to get into the craft-beer promotion business, and so they talked with a number of breweries about what kind of event might draw out drinkers and get them through the doldrums of winter. What they came up with was a ticketed event in which the eight contestants bring a beer of their choosing and advance through the bracket based on the combined votes of audience members and a specially chosen panel of experts. Flood and Schell hope to host three more such events featuring different brewing neighborhoods in the coming months, and then have a "best-of''' bracket to determine the ultimate Beer Fight Club champion.
"Every weekend there's a different type of beer fest, so we asked how we do something different," Flood said of the event, scheduled from 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday at Larimer Beer Hall featuring breweries like Epic, Mockery and River North - all of which will have folks at the event. "We really want to connect the beer drinker to the brewers, so they can establish a little longer-term relationship."
Mile High Beer Festival, a collection of 25 Colorado breweries that will be pouring beer at the Exdo Center in RiNo on Feb. 11 for both an afternoon and an evening session. They wanted reasonable lines, breweries that came from a reasonable distance away and a crowd that got to taste a substantive number of beers on the Colorado scene.
Bickford earlier organized the Epic Beer Festival with 80-plus breweries in 2013 and the Country Beer Festival in Jefferson County in 2016, but he wanted a different event in the heart of Denver this year. So, he and Brown gathered an array of Colorado craft breweries - from heavyweights like Odell and Crooked Stave to up-and-comers like ,Resolute and Verboten - and will have them pouring in a fairly intimate setting of some 500 attendees that revives the first Mile High Beer Festival, which Brown organized several years ago.
"We found that people don't want bigger. They just want a nice experience," Bickford said.
Those are two of the highlights for the month. Here's a few more:
* Denver Beer Co. which is becoming the master of the food-and-beer-pairing events, will host a beer, bacon and coffee festival at its main brewery from 8:30 to 11 a.m. on Feb. 12.
* A number of breweries and bars are hosting Valentine's Day events. But for my money, you can't go wrong going down to Freshcraft that night, which will be tapping Southern Tier Creme Brulee.
* On Feb. 15, Yak & Yeti Brewery officially becomes Spice Trade Brewing Co., which will continue to operate within the Arvada restaurant but as a separate entity. It will tap a Szechuan Saison and a Mayan Chocolate Russian Imperial Stout, among other things.
* On Feb. 18, Bristol Brewing brings back its annual Firkin Rendezvous, in which 40 breweries will tap experimental versions of their beers. Tickets are $45.
* And, of course, all month is Stout Month at Mountain Sun and its affiliated brewery restaurants. Their offerings include the likes of a Mint Chocolate Girl Scout Stout, a Coconut Cream Stout and a Norwegian Wheat Stout. Oh, yes.
Saturday, January 28, 2017
Friday, January 20, 2017
In a small facility in western Massachusetts, Andrea Stanley is doing everything she can to come up with varieties of small-batch malt that are going to differentiate the small-batch brewers who use them. Sometimes that involves dipping back into brewing history to revitalize brown porter malt. And sometimes that means going where no one thought beer makers would want to go — like soaking malt for two weeks in a crock pot with kimchi to invent a whole new flavor.
What Stanley, owner of Valley Malt, and a small number of other craft maltsters — there are 44 operating in the United States now, with 26 more malt houses under construction — are doing is taking back an industry sector that largely is in the hands of big corporations. Craft maltsters produced just 0.4 percent of the supply in North America in 2016. Then again, that's about the percentage of American beer that craft brewers were making in the early 1980s as well.
And while big malt houses will churn out exciting products every once in a while, they are not coming up with the Kvaas malt or bourbon-barrel-smoked malt that Stanley is. And most are not offering single-variety malts like Colorado Malting Company of Alamosa, experimenting with the flavors that a lone crop can give to a beer.
"This is the way that things are moving," said Chad Yakobson, the founder of Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project who recently worked with Casey Brewing and Blending to make two versions of their Von Pilsner with two different malts and produced strikingly different flavors. "Malt is beer ... So, without it, what do we have?"
Stanley, Yakobson and others gathered at the recent Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines Festival in Breckenridge for a panel discussion on experiments with local malt. The talk was eye-opening in regard to the possibilities of flavors not yet achieved by American brewers through the use of new varieties of one of the four main ingredients (with water, hops and yeast) that go into a beer.
Jason Cody, president and CEO of Colorado Malting Co., explained that he worked with the ever-experimental Three Barrel Brewing to make three varieties of the same ale, each with their own strain of single-variety malt — unusual in an industry that relies heavily on blended malt. And the samples of the beers they poured at the seminar were wholly unique - one light and jasmine-tinted, one traditionally earthy and a third almost flowery.
"This was a huge eye-opener for me," said Will Kreutzer, brewer and manager of the Del Norte beer maker, who works closely with father-in-law owner John Bricker (both pictured with Cody, above).
Yakobson's two Von Pilsners — one with Weyermann Pilsner malts and the other with Leopold Brothers floor-malted barley — also felt like different beers. Weyermann malts made the beer feel exceptionally clean and seemed to accent an airy quality, while the Leopold Brothers malt gave its offering qualities that were sweeter and somewhat chewy.
Stanley didn't bring beer samples but presented the malts almost as a breakfast supplement. (This, after all, was the 9:30 a.m. seminar on Saturday of the festival.) And while the kimchi malt was the most vibrant and palate-startling of the bunch — even if it would be difficult to pinpoint exactly what style of beer would benefit from its characteristics — varieties like the Kvaas malt, made from rye, gave hints of the bready, almost historical flavors that could be brought out with such new efforts.
"Are we going to transition all of our beer to be flavored with kimchi malt? The answer is obviously 'no,'" said John Mallett, the director of operations for Bell's Brewery who was presenting with Stanley. "But I love that malts like that are being made."
Craft brewers have used hops, yeast and additive ingredients to create new flavors and whole new styles of beer over the past 25 years. So, it's wonderful to see that by tweaking what is arguably the most staid of beer's primary ingredients, they may be about to push the flavor profile of this traditional beverage that much further.
Monday, January 09, 2017
Colorado's best themed beer festival found a new home in Breckenridge after 16 years in Vail and, frankly, found a new energy. There was vibrancy throughout beer bars in the town and vibrancy throughout the Beaver Run Resort, where most events were held. And brewers clearly tried to raise their games with the beer they were pouring — and, in many cases, succeeded.
Here, then, are four big thoughts about what took place over the past four days, both in regard to the beer and in regard to the good folks who were ensuring the beers were poured.
1) The new wave of imperial stouts will redefine the style.
It may sound obvious, but you can't drink Russian imperial stouts for three-plus hours without them beginning to taste a lot alike. That is why the growing number of brewers adding unique ingredients to these creations — ingredients that go beyond the coffee and chocolate that brewers like Epic already have pioneered so well — were the ones most often turning heads at Big Beers.
Station 26 Brewing stood at the head of the pack with its German Chocolate Bourbon Barrel Aged Dark Star Imperial Stout, which felt every bit like the desert it was named after and flowed so easily at 13 percent ABV that you didn't know whether to be enthralled or frightened. And very close to that creation in its palate-pleasing level was Weldwerks Brewing's Barrel Aged Mexican Achromatic, which bubbled over with cinnamon and vanilla and made Mexican coffee weep at what it could be with hops and barley added.
2) The barrel can make all the difference.
With more breweries trying more ways to age their beer in barrels, the possibilities are almost limitless at the flavor profiles that can come from the experiments. But not every decision to throw a beer into a barrel is a solid one — a truth that could be seen in the number of barrel-aged saisons from very good brewers that felt listless and undefined. (A major exception was the Old Order 6 bourbon-barrel-aged imperial black saison from Solemn Oath Brewing, whose malt backbone allowed the beer to stand up against the barrel).
But there were brilliant decisions with barrels too. Paradox Beer's Trois Ans Anniversary Ale, aged in Spanish Cedar barrels, gave off a wonderful blend of tart and smoky-wood complexity and made you stop to think about what you were tasting. Similarly, the choice by Grimm Brothers Brewhouse to age its Magic Mirror imperial koltbusser in oak barrels turned an adequate malt monster into a tart and challenging beer that showed off its honey and molasses in new and vibrant ways.
3) More chai beers and imperial IPAs are needed.
Two years ago, tiny Altitude Chophouse had maybe the beer of the festival with a chai-infused dunkelweizen, making one ask why more breweries don't use this palate-enlivening ingredient. This year, New Holland Brewing absolutely startled with its Dragon's Milk Reserve Vanilla Chai, which was a full-throttled expression of how bold flavors can make big beers seem like pleasant tea.
But while chai beers remain maybe unsurprisingly rare, it was a little shocking to see the lack of barrel-aged IPA and double IPA beers on display when the style combines the two most popular craft-brewing trends of the past 10 years. And one sip of Steamworks Brewing's 50/50 Barrel Aged Imperial IPA, with its huge whiskey mouthfeel almost perfectly balanced by its big hops, showed why this is a trend that needs to pick up.
4) One never needs to leave the resort to really enjoy Big Beers now.
A primary advantage in moving to Breckenridge was to plop the festival in the midst of a town that could support it with days of special tappings and beer/food pairings around the main event. And while reports where that the gatherings at places like Aprés Handcrafted Libations were phenomenal, you didn't have to step foot into the negative-11-degree weather to truly enjoy the event.
Late-night activities at Beaver Run featured welcoming collections of brewers and beer lovers alike, particularly the Friday night beer-cigar pairing that let drinkers try to combine smoking and drinking if they wanted - or just wander around and sample some of the best beer in the nation, often while talking to the man or woman who made it (without any pouring lines).
The seminars have ramped up throughout the morning and early-afternoon of the main tasting, providing attendees with more knowledge than you could ever want about the brewing process (more to come on that in a later blog about experimental malts). And the resort bar became a place to go by yourself, knowing you'd run into industry friends.
Laura and Bill Lodge exceeded expectations this year. And the festival keeps getting better.
Friday, January 06, 2017
After more than two years on East Colfax Avenue, Lost Highway Brewing will be moving to Centennial this spring, joining the growing craft beer scene in that southern Denver suburb. That's good in many ways for owners Sir James and Tina Pachorek, who sold their Capitol Hill property and shut down their Cheeky Monk restaurant last year to focus on the brewery and now will have room to can and distribute their beer finally.
It's bad news, though, for the stretch of East Colfax avenue in Capitol Hill that was just on the verge of becoming a beer destination. Once a beer wasteland, the area had seen Lost Highway make significant strides in its quality in 2016 and had witnessed the same growth from Alpine Dog Brewery, which will remain in place.
In the past year-plus, the Pachoreks and brewer T.J. Compton diversified and intensified their lineup, moving away from more traditional beers and toward fresher takes on styles. Yes, staples like the bland District 6 Pils remain. But they are vastly overshadowed by the likes of Grave Robber Fraud Quad, a 9% ABV Belgian-style quadruple that is cherry, plummy and unique in its easiness to drink. Or Almond Coconut Porter, a medium-bodied beer bursting with both flavors that is particularly smooth. Or Fourth Estate, a sweet and full-bodied Belgian chocolate stout made for Collaboration Fest 2016 in conjunction with a bunch of us beer bloggers (whose contribution was to suggest the style and let Compton do all the work).
Progress can involve pain. The Colfax location is so small, Sir James said, that delivery trucks would drop palettes of malt and Compton would have to carry them inside one at a time because there wasn't a way to deposit them en masse in the brewing area. The Pachoreks also were looking at the option of installing a mobile canning line that they'd have to use in the taproom before it opened to the public and then clear out the equipment to make room for customers. Those problems won't exist in the new location. And along with the likes of Resolute Brewing, Dad and Dudes Breweria and Two Twenty Two Brewing, they can grow a new craft community in the Centennial/Aurora area.
But it leaves a hole in a slowly revitalizing neighborhood that seems like it would be an ideal location for locally owned small businesses like breweries. And it puts pressure on the similarly two-year-old Alpine Dog to continue to try to draw beer aficionados to the neighborhood until someone else steps up to the plate.
Set in a bare-brick-walled location in a gritty area of East Colfax where the brewing equipment is visible to all patrons, Alpine Dog exudes the feel of the neighborhood. And its 14 taps of beer show the ambition of the venture, even as the beers themselves sometimes feel as gritty and still-maturing as the surrounding area.
That's not to say Alpine Dog isn't doing some exceptional beers too. Its Electric Thunder Hop Double IPA sports a full-mouthed flavor profile that is both woody and bright, and it's exceptionally smooth for a 100-IBU beer. And its Howl at the Moon Imperial Red Ale has a rich caramel and toasted-malt backbone that balances well with its extremely bold hopping.
Wednesday, January 04, 2017
For 16 years the Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines Festival was synonymous with drinking in Vail. And now, for its 17th edition, it's being almost completely reborn - in a new city, in a new format, in a changing craft beer universe.
That kind of massive change would be enough to ruin some other festivals, or at least leave them caught in an identity crisis. But for Big Beers, whose festivities officially kick off Thursday evening (and whose tasting and seminar tickets are, shockingly, still available), it appears at first glance to be giving what already is one of America's best beer festivals a shot in the arm that allows organizers Laura and Bill Lodge to re-imagine the gathering in a whole new way.
Moving 38 miles down the road, the three-day celebration of the finest envelope-pushing beers in the state and the country lands this year at Beaver Run Resort in Breckenridge. There the main tasting event on Saturday will be split between two ballrooms in order to accommodate all of the breweries clamoring to pour their wares at the event - more than 150 will be in attendance, even as roughly 40 more beer makers had to be put onto a waiting list this year/
But, much like with the Great American Beer Festival, not all of the action will be on the floor of the event anymore. When Laura Lodge went searching for a city to replace Vail because the former host hotel is in the midst of massive renovations, one of the things she found was a willingness on the part of Breckenridge restaurants and bars not just to embrace the beer geeks coming into town but to line up a whole series of special events on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings to give visitors a chance to experience great beers outside of just the grand tasting.
From rare tappings by the likes of Odell and Avery to tap takeovers of luminaries like Melvin and Casey to beer dinners themed around everything from burgers to exotic small plates, Big Beers attendees almost could skip the festival and still have their palates sated. Then again, no one really would want to do that.
The festival, after all, remains a showcase of barrel-aged rarities (such as a Law’s Rum Barrel-Aged Sour Ale with Pluots and Elephant Heart Plums from Black Project), full experimental lines (the Metallurgy Sour Collection of beers aged in stainless steel barrels from Destihl Brewing), beers that have been cellaring for years and are impossible to find outside this event (2009 Fort from Dogfish Head) and a collection of breweries (Jester King, Surly, Troegs) whose beers can't be found elsewhere in Colorado. (See the program here.)
In fact, there's a good chance that this wholly new Big Beers festival will be its best one yet and lay a foundation for even more innovation to come. And Lodge feels very fortunate that she has this opportunity, even if it means having to leave her hometown for the weekend.
"It's been very gratifying to find out that not only is there a great beer culture here but everyone's very enthusiastic," she said. "We didn't lose any enthusiasm."