Saturday, April 01, 2017
Walking into a bar or brewery in Salt Lake can be confusing - especially the first time you order a draft IPA, feel it's lacking body and then realize that nothing coming out of the taps tops 4 percent alcohol by volume, even if the bottled beer you order at the same location can be of any strength. But you'll get that pattern down a few beers in.
Once you've mastered the nuances of local alcohol law, there's a lot to like in Utah's capital city. Visiting there two weeks ago to watch my alma mater play in the NCAA tournament, I was pleased by the compact nature of its downtown, the proximity of several different breweries to major attractions and the long local beer lists I encountered even at sports bars. The scene as a whole is worth lauding.
Offerings from brewery to brewery and even among one brewery's portfolio were inconsistent (which, in truth, is not that much different than the Denver scene). But after a couple of days in which drinking was no less than a co-main activity, several things jumped out.
The stand-out brewery in Salt Lake is Red Rock Brewery, which was the 2007 Large Brewpub of the Year at the Great American Beer Festival. Its Lady Ga Gose, resplendent in its bright and lemony tartness with just the right amount of salt on the back taste, was a full-flavored treat even with its low ABV. And its Elphino Double IPA was one of the more complete hop bombs in the city, offering a big mouthful of grass and flowers, layered with a hint of a bitter bite and a fair cushion of malts.
Uinta Brewing's Detour Double IPA set an even higher standard for hop vehicles, seemingly assaulting your taste buds with a sticky, aggressive flavor that was slightly less than balanced but left a powerful aftertaste. But other offerings from the brewer varied wildly, from its much-hoppier-than-expected, refreshing 801 Pilsner to its terribly bland Ready Set Gose, which tasted more like a slightly kicky pilsner than a member of the sour family.
Wasatch Brewing, whose products are omnipresent on Salt Lake tap lists, also had more than one notable offering. Its Devastator Double Bock was one of the great surprises of the trip, pouring bold and smooth with an almost woody flavor but no residue of heavy alcohol in its 8 percent ABV body. And its Snap Down Header India Pale Lager was one of the perkier low-alcohol offerings in town, presenting a zing of hops in a light but enjoyable body.
Squatters Brewery also had a low-alcohol pleaser with its Apricot Hefeweizen, which was bright and decently fruited and, frankly, a perfect option for the 11 a.m pre-tailgate tasting. But its Hop Rising Double IPA was straight-out-of-the-early-2000s bitter without a lot of complexity. And its darker offerings, particularly Captain Bastard's Oatmeal Stout, were extremely light-bodied and forgettable.
Finally, I will admit that I didn't seek out Epic Brewing offerings, since they are as available in Denver as they are across Colorado's western border. But the two-state brewery's Session IPA may have been the most sharply hopped lower-alcohol beer in the city, a reminder that big flavor does not have to come from big booze.
Salt Lake isn't Denver, and it doesn't appear to have the same reserve of caution-be-damned brewers like Crooked Stave or Spangalang Brewery that seek to destroy taboos involving flavor experimentation. But its growing scene is filled with subtle gems, all of which bodes well for it to continue to expand and diversify in years to come.
Wednesday, March 29, 2017
It turns out that Collab Fest didn't need the beautiful setting of the luxury deck at Mile High to stand out as a festival. Moved this year to the National Western Complex, the celebration of breweries making beers together - roughly 180 auteurs combining on some 100 beers - was just as unique and relevant without the glitz factor of being able to look down upon the Broncos' field.
What's more, the types of beers that leaped off the page this year were different than in past years, moving beyond the sour and imperial barrel-aged combinations to a surprising number of very tasty concoctions that used unexpected ingredients. Attending the event left you excited about the creative flavors that remain largely untapped still in the sector.
Here, then, are a few things that stood out:
1) Comrade killed it.
In a festival marked by immense creativity, the best beer of the day - and best by a long stretch, for that matter - was Comrade Brewing's collaboration with Montana-based Uberbrew on Uberpower Triple IPA (pictured at right). Flowery and grassy, huge without a big alcohol taste, this dangerously smooth and flavorful beer was one of the greatest hop assaults that even a tried-and-true hophead has ever had in their mouth.
2) Simple pale ales stood out as well.
In some sense it's hard for a classic, lower-alcohol taste to find a niche among so much blustery boldness. But the Dog vs. Quail Pale Ale from Cannonball Creek Brewing and Hogshead Brewery (pictured at top) was fresh and bright with a lingering piny hop that accented its British, German and American ingredients. And the decision by the Colorado Brewers Guild board to offer a light, grassy pale ale with the moniker of Board's in Session was a surprisingly good and memorable one for the 11 collaborating breweries.
3) Some gimmick beers are worth drinking over and over again.
Lady Fingers, the tiramisu brown ale from Boulder Beer and New Holland Brewing was as sweet as you'd expect but also very approachable, and it seemed no odder on the palate than Boulder's best beer, its Shake Chocolate Porter. Meanwhile, the Corner Store imperial malt lager from Gravity Brewing and Kettlehouse Brewing was a high-quality hoppy beer, with big malts offering a proper base for the slightly boozy but more aggressively flowery hop bite.
4) Others were worth one taste.
5) Bread beer - the next great trend
Rye pretzels and German malts were the stand-out ingredients in Don't Kvass the Streams, a kvass-inspired German ale from Wit's End and Prost Brewing. And the sour rye taste was an astoundingly good complement to the beer base, rendering the creation both bready and slightly tart. In a market drenched with New England IPAs, I might run more quickly to efforts like this that produce new and exciting flavors.
6) Then again, sours aren't done yet.
TRVE cranked up the flavor profile with Slow Death, its whiskey-barrel-aged dark mixed-culture ale with cinnamon and lemon peel that it produced with Burial Beer Co. of Asheville. Complex and still drinkable, it reminded festival goers of how much room there remains in the sour sector that might seem saturated to some.
Thursday, March 23, 2017
Saturday marks the fourth Collaboration Fest, and the beers that will be served there only continue to get more nuanced and more adventurous. But since there are 180 breweries combining on roughly 100 beers at the event, it can be a bit overwhelming to decide even which direction you want to head when entering the National Western Complex for the show.
Consider this, then, a high-level sneak peak at the strangest, wildest, most wonderful combinations that will be poured at the Two Parts/Colorado Brewers Guild event. And if you haven't gotten your tickets for the mid-afternoon adventure of the palate yet, consider this your chance to decide if you want to buy them - or, frankly, if you can afford not to attend.
1) Ladyfingers - Boulder Beer and New Holland Brewing
Maybe you feel like you've tried a lot of desert-style beers in recent years, but there's a good chance you haven't drunk a tiramisu brown ale before, especially one made with New Holland's house vanilla extract. After Boulder's creation of Shake Chocolate Porter in 2013, one is wise not to turn away sweet beers that America's oldest craft brewery may offer.
2) Uberpower Triple IPA - Comrade Brewing and Uberbrew
The idea of drinking a triple IPA from Comrade Brewing is enticing enough on its own, given how the east Denver brewery is pushing the boundaries of hoppy beers. But combining its talents with the talents of the 2016 Small Brewery of the Year winner out of Montana bumps this up to irresistible.
3) Japance Off - Denver Beer and Altitude Chophouse and Brewery
Altitude's absence at the Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines festival this year was a sad one, but one of the most clever small breweries in the Rocky Mountain West found another reason to come back to Colorado - and partner with a Denver beer maker that continues to up its game. This is a hybrid Japanese and French saison made with sake yeast and floral French hops. No word yet on whether it's a traditional Japanese saison or a new-age version ....
4) Corner Store - Gravity Brewing and KettleHouse Brewing
The Louisville and Montana breweries are offering up a dry hopped imperial malt liquor. Just let that description sink in. And then try to imagine the reaction of an OE 800 fan trying one.
5) Spiciest Memelord - Odd 13 Brewing and Kane Brewing
One might worry that a kettle sour could be lost on the taste buds with all of the double IPAs and imperial stouts that breweries will be rolling out. Then you realize that this is made with habanero and raspberry. Oh, and that it's Odd 13 working with a respected New Jersey brewer.
6) Chocolate Orange Belgian Tripel - Ratio Beerworks and WeldWerks Brewing
If these two breweries made an American-style light lager, it would be worth trying. But this collaboration is as ambitious as it sounds. And it's hard to imagine it being anything short of startling.
7) Oaked Rye Dunkelweizen - Upslope Brewing and Resolute Brewing
Dunkelweizen is one of the most underutilized styles in America, and the appealing combination of this style aged on medium toast French oak cubes with some Colorado rye in there means a lot of good experimentation.
8) Brettxit - Bonfire Brewing and Casey Brewing
Casey can do sours. But an ESB fermented in wine barrels with four different Brett strains, made with an under-the-radar Eagle brewery? This is the kind of beer that defines a festival if it works out well.
9) Enemy of the People IPA - Great Divide Brewing and beer bloggers
Last year's Fourth Estate Belgian Chocolate Stout, made by bloggers and Lost Highway, was one of the real hits of the event. As an added bonus this year, I had to miss the group brew with Great Divide at the last minute even though my name is still on the beer - and that can only help its flavor profile.
10) Calvin and Hops - Something Brewery and New Boswell Brewing
I'm a guy who believes really well named beers deserve a taste. And this kumquat double IPA that is a product of a relatively new Brighton Brewery (Something) and an Indiana brewery you've probably never tried before boasts the coolest name of the festival.
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.