Thursday, May 09, 2013
So many breweries open these days in Colorado that it's nearly impossible to determine immediately what the unique qualities are that each bring to the scene. But Colorado Plus Brew Pub, which debuts Monday in Wheat Ridge, has a lot going for it that jumps out right away.
First, it is a 56-tap beer bar/brewery in Wheat Ridge - with every beer coming from a Colorado-based brewery. Every craft beer haven that has come to the Denver area so far has planted itself in Denver - and with the exception of Hops and Pie, most are in about a one-mile radius of each other downtown. This is the first exceptional effort to take Colorado craft beer en masse to the suburbs, and one can only hope this effort to spread the gospel of craft beer takes root.
Second, it's a place that will offer beers from breweries that aren't mainstays in most bars. The first menu, rolled out for a Thursday-night soft opening, includes beers from Hall Brewing, Denver Beer Co., Telluride Brewing and Yak and Yeti - places you have to search pretty hard to find their taps outside their main brewhouses. With just 20 of the 56 beers expected to be constants and 36 expected to be seasonal rotators, the selections offer a lot of opportunity to explore the Colorado beer scene.
In addition to being a taphouse, Colorado Plus will begin offering its own creations for consumption in about a month. Adam Draeger, the full-time brewer at Yak and Yeti (pictured above), will also serve as the Colorado Plus brewmaster. His offerings will be unique. With the best Colorado IPAs on tap, he noted, he doesn't need to make one of his own. Instead, he'll focus on Belgian styles and hop bombs like a double IPA or Russian imperial stout that aren't readily available from elsewhere. That will add variety to the menu, and anyone who has tried his Yak and Yeti beers knows that Draeger knows how to craft something special.
And the menu, which also features Colorado wines and Colorado spirits, won't be shabby. Buffalo, lamb and pork sliders, mussels and tasty fries all blend well with the beers.
If there is one downside to the beer menu, it's that it might fall short of the expectations of hard-core beer geeks. While you have to respect the originality of any taphouse that serves Breckenridge and New Belgium beers but not Avalanche or Fat Tire, there was a slight lack of daring in the first wave of selections. There was just one sour on the menu - Dry Dock's Ambassador - and nothing seemed to come from the vaults of one-time beers, as you see at places like Freshcraft or Hops and Pie.
But the atmosphere is welcoming, the prices are very reasonable (no beer over $7) and the fact this is opening in the suburbs is special. No question, it will be fun to watch Colorado's newest beer bar/brewery grow.
Sunday, April 14, 2013
One of the greatest things about the Colorado beer scene is the diversity of great stories behind the beers that are sold in this state. And not least among them is Baja Brewing, the new Mexican craft brewery that entered the state market just last week.
Baja may come from Cabo San Lucas, but its roots lie in Steamboat Springs, where founder Jordan Gardenhire grew up before moving south of the border and opening one of the first craft breweries in Mexico. To hear the details of Gardenhire's journey and his plan to sell a Mexican ale in a market already flooded with great products, take a quick look at a story on him that I wrote Friday for the Denver Business Journal.
Cabotella, the first Baja Brewing offering in the United States, is a Mexican Ale with a little more hops and a good deal more malt backbone than most of the swill that passes for beer coming from our neighbor to the south. But, after the late Del Norte Brewing Co. of Denver made a great series of Mexican-style beers and still could not find a market for them, the question is: Is this new beer strong enough to earn its place here?
The truth is, as much as Gardenhire is a good guy with a great story, I'm hard pressed to see how Cabotella will find a fan base here at $8.99 a six-pack - a price point higher than its Mexican competition.
It's not that the beer is bad. Its hint of hops and malt content creates a slight sweetness to the body that catches your attention for a few seconds.
But after a couple sips, you get the feeling you've been there before - mild flavor, slightly listless backtaste and a distinct lack of a personality. And while this may be a fine beer to quaff when sitting in heat and humidity on a beach, it doesn't pack the punch you want in winter snow or the reward you seek after climbing a 14er. Essentially, it's just not a Colorado beer.
There is a market in the U.S. for higher-priced, lighter-bodied Mexican-style beers a notch above the usual skunky Mexican imports. But that place seems to be in the states that resemble Mexico more in their climate.
As Del Norte discovered, even Mexican ales must come with guts and zing - rather than than with a mellow vibe - to catch the attention of beer enthusiasts here.
Thursday, April 04, 2013
To put it most simply, it is my continuing attempt to tell the story of Colorado's beer culture and brewing industry.
If you haven't heard yet, "Colorado Brews" is a half-hour show whose pilot episode runs Saturday at 9:30 p.m. on Rocky Mountain PBS, Channel 6. If reaction is positive, chances are likely that the station will pick it up for a full season in the fall.
The planning for this began last summer, when I got a call from a producer by the name of Charles Nuckolls who said he was looking to do a weekly show on the state's beer scene and had seen my work in writing "Mountain Brew" and appearing on TV a number of times to talk about beer and politics (never at the same time, mind you). We taped the pilot over the course of a 10-hour day at Crabtree Brewing in Greeley, getting to know better how the town's lone craft brewery came about and evolved into an artisan that is experimenting more and more with barrel aging.
Then Charles rounded up a collection of some of the best bloggers in the area to do segment reports for the show: Dave Butler of "Fermentedly Challenged" talking about beer tech; Billy Broas of "BillyBrew" walking the viewer through homebrewing; and Leah Arthur of "Colorado Beer Girl" reporting from events. And we found David Davis, executive chef of the Golden Hotel, to talk about beer-food pairings.
The hope is that we have a chance to explore even parts of the state that I didn't get to for my book. And that we get to tell a lot of stories that make people appreciate the beer in their glass just a little bit more.
Tune in, and please let me know what you think.
Labels: Colorado Brews
Sunday, March 17, 2013
If barrel-aging was the top beer trend among big, established breweries in 2012, then 2013 looks to be bringing something just as exciting: Micro-barrel projects.
Take, for example, yesterday afternoon's festivities at Denver beer bar Hops and Pie, which tapped five barrel-aged creations (pictured above) from five Front Range breweries. These weren't just any concoctions chosen by the beer makers, though - they were gems aged six months in Maker's Mark barrels given specifically to the breweries by Hops and Pie. And when barrel aging becomes that accessible, it's a joy to celebrate.
One could talk about the brilliant offerings of the quintet. Odell's combo of Mountain Standard and Lugene Chocolate Milk Stout, known as "Decadent Double Black Hooch," integrated the tastes of chocolate and hops with the vanilla touch of oak and a background of whiskey. And River North's Avarice became a complex, dark-as-night beast intertwining tastes of bourbon, chocolate malt and licorice when aged.
But what's worth noting even more is that such profusion of barrel-aged experiments means the average drinker no longer has to save up the better portion of a week's paycheck to get a corked bottle of barrel-aged beer. It may not be long before every brewery and beer bar of merit will keep an oak-aged offering on tap at all times.
To think: Just 15 years ago, old whiskey and wine barrels were seen as aged wood, used up from their original purpose with nothing more to do.
Even the early experiments with barrels nearly scared some of the great artisans off. Matt Brynildson of Firestone Walker noted at this year's Vail Big Beers festival that his early experiments with chardonnay barrels tasted like salad dressing. Now the California company is busting barrel barriers with Sour Opal, one of the most exciting beers of the new year.
Ah, yes, it's good to live in a time when brewers push boundaries every day. And while barrel-aging may already be going big time, the wider use of the practice may turn up new tricks and styles of which we haven't yet thought.
Thursday, March 14, 2013
Truth be told, the Fearless Tasting Crew doesn't go out a lot on St. Patrick's Day. It's one of those holidays that just seems to draw the amateurs out to ruin any good drinking experience you might have. (Yes, we're looking at you too, Cinco de Mayo and day before Thanksgiving.)
But we've at least had to think about reconsidering our thoughts after a recent experience at Fado Irish Pub here in Denver. Yes, Fado is a chain. But it seems to be doing something right on the local level.
That right thing can be divided into three categories: food, beer and atmosphere. (And, no, I didn't intend that to rhyme originally.)
First - and most importantly - the beer part. An Irish pub must have Irish beer, and Fado does. But making it creative - such as the new Black Velvet drink (pictured above) that combines Guinness and Strongbow Cider in a dry combo with an apple backbone - is notable. And to be able to wash that down with quality American beers like an Odell Myrcenary, well, that's just knowing your good beer audience.
Finally, there is the atmosphere. In 2005, I traveled with a group of six other friends to Ireland, and the task of finding actual Irish music in a pub was equivalent to finding Waldo in a striped-shirt convention. But on Monday nights at least, Denver's Fado welcomes impromptu Irish music, gathering fiddlers and guitarists and letting it flow in a way that is pleasant without being overwhelming. And that is a nice addition to the city's drinking scene.
This is not an recommendation to go out on St. Patrick's Day, when the crew of idiots drinking Bud Light and wearing "Kiss Me" badges can be overwhelming. But the changes are pleasant enough where Fado becomes a legitimate post-Rockies-game gathering place for beer geeks looking for an atmosphere that's slightly different.
Tuesday, March 05, 2013
At this past weekend's Strong Ale Fest, tasting stations offering eight beers each left participants with the choice between, say, Pliny the Younger, Strange's award-winning barleywine or several oak-aged offerings. Quality, normal porters and saisons stood little chance of being requested.
Even as attendees got accidentally drunk from tasting so many high-alcohol beers - and I defend the use of the term "accidentally," no matter how many people laughed when I used it Saturday - there was much to be remembered. (Especially if you were one of those geeks, like me, carrying around a notebook.) Here are some of the highlights:
1) The beer trend of 2013? How about monster coffee stouts? Sour beers have been hip for at least half a decade, and the offerings at the last two Great American Beer Festivals showed that oak barrels aren't up-and-coming; they're here. But the coffee bombs are truly on their way up.
Pizza Port Brewing's Bacon & Eggs, made with 25 pounds of roasters, was as smooth as it was bulky and java-heavy. And Epic Brewing's Big Bad Baptist - coming soon to Denver - offered a full mouth of coffee and cocoa in a startlingly tempting 11% ABV package. They were just two of many such offerings in a show that may point the way to the next great trend.
2) It's OK to use fruit in a big beer. Really. Anyone who got the joy of trying The Bruery's Five Golden Rings this Christmas season realized a brewmaster could add pineapple juice to the mix and still blow you out of the water with alcohol.
Avery's Missionary Position - its Reverend Belgian Quad with guava and pineapple - was refreshing and, dare we say, almost light and easy for a 10% booze blast. And the grape must that Odell added to its Amuste imperial porter was smooth enough to make it stand out in a room of darks.
3) The new generation of double IPAs are far more earthy and astringently bitter than their forebears. Classics of the style, such as Firestone Walker's Double Jack and Avery's Maharaja were assaulting in their citrus-fruit and flower-petal qualities, making them dangerously easy to enjoy. But the new breweries on the block have a different idea.
Gravity Brewing's Acceleration Double IPA, for example, showed off its 9.8% ABV in the most malt-forward way possible. And Telluride Brewing's Fishwater Double IPA presented a caramel initial taste before rolling out its bitterness gradually. Both were head-turners in their surprisingly non-citrus character, though it's yet to be seen whether they were unique to the style or the new - and slightly less approachable - standard bearers.
4) Sometimes the hype is worth it. For the most part, the Fearless Tasting Crew avoided long GABF lines in favor of exploring unknown breweries, and it's never stood in line for hours to get a ticket for one 10-oz. pour. But on Saturday, two almost cliched offerings really stole the show.
Crooked Stave - it of the ridiculous lines at every festival where it's pouring - put up the best beer of the fest with Sentience, a tart wild quad whose whiskey-barrel aging accented its sharpness perfectly. And the hands-down best hop bomb there was, yes, Pliny the Younger; Russian River's line-inducing triple IPA was pure benevolence, sliding sweetly over tongues of everyone who made the smart decision to seek it out.
Friday, March 01, 2013
The looming end of winter (20 days and counting) causes the mind to wander toward thoughts other than the general lack of mountain snow this season. It makes one think too of the beers that keep you warm during the coldest part of the year.
And while there were many beers that brightened the winter, as usual, one crop of seasonals stood far and above the rest: Those from Great Divide. In fact, the Denver brewery's winter seasonals could arguably constitute the best temporary collection of the many that Great Divide ever has put out.
There was little surprise in the 22-oz. bottle of Espresso Oak-Aged Yeti, arguably one of the 10 best beers made in Colorado. (Admit it, you're now trying to put the rest of that list together in your head.) That the espresso felt just a slight bit toned down from past versions seemed to even make it more appealing, offering a swirl of flavors that you had to stop to identify in a dangerously accessible package.
But something tasted different - and significantly more pleasant - about the Old Ruffian Barley Wine this year. This bomb of malt and hops greeted you with an alcohol-heavy feel of aged Scotch and segued into a mouth-filling sharp bitterness that was less citrus than it was earthy hops. It was the rare beer that managed to be huge in hops and malt and eminently drinkable - a true treat to find.
And finally there was Orabelle (pictured above), the new addition to the collection and one that should come back annually. This Belgian tripel is shocking in its lightness of body and fullness of taste. The yeast is cranked up a notch with added candy sugar and lemon zest, then it's enlivened by orange peel and coriander. But as a grainy semi-spice creeps up, nothing about it is overbearing, leaving an exquisitely gentle beer for a style that sometimes can be chaotic in its heaviness.
All of this is worth mentioning not because there should be great shock that Great Divide produced a good collection. It's one of the five best breweries in the state (yep, you're finishing that list too) for a reason.
But after blowing palates away with the introduction of the chocolate and espresso Yetis a couple years back, some of its more recent releases, like the Nomad Pilsner, have missed the mark. Not only was this season's threesome great, they each stood up to any beers you could walk into a liquor store or a beer bar and buy. And that is what's worth celebrating: Three home runs, across the board, all out at the same time.
Now, let's talk about some year-round distribution of these ....