Friday, January 19, 2018

What does Oskar Blues' new location bring to Denver?

When Oskar Blues announced plans to open a beer bar/restaurant/music venue in downtown Denver, it was met by resistance by some in the craft beer community, most notably folks at Falling Rock Tap House, who said it would compete against entities that had nurtured the brewery's development. Leaders of the Longmont brewery replied that they were growing, not cannibalizing patrons.

That venue, Oskar Blues Grill & Brew, officially debuted last weekend after a month-long soft opening. And as such, it's worth looking at what the facility is, as well as what it isn't.

Those who have come to know Oskar Blues only since its ascension into the 10 largest craft breweries in America may not realize it began humbly as a Lyons Cajun-style restaurant that brought in musical acts from the get-go but took two years to get the idea to make its own beer. Anyone who's visited that original location, still tucked into an outdoor shopping center, will recognize the resemblance right away in this new venue, which in many senses is food and music first and beer as a complement to those purposes.

That isn't to say that the beer is an afterthought by any stretch. Last Saturday there were 49 beers on tap - roughly half from the Oskar Blues family that includes Cigar City and Perrin Brewing, and the other half from craft or European-invested breweries, including smaller local purveyors like Odyssey, Rails End and Odd 13. The only mega-brew on the menu was the original Coors.

So, when it comes to the beer offerings, it would be hard to say that OB Grill & Brew is cutting off the oxygen from other craft-beer purveyors. Its menu, while extensive, isn't as varied as what you'll find at Falling Rock or Freschcraft or even Lucky Pie. This is clearly the place to go in downtown if you want to find Oskar Blues family rarer or seasonal offerings, from the sensational OB Death By Coconut to Perrin's 15 percent ABV No Rules, a porter rife with cinnamon, vanilla and booziness. But no other bar was striving to be the go-to Oskar Blues destination in Denver - other than its already existing RiNo Chuburger location. And having some 25 other offerings on tap hardly makes it unique in the downtown beer scene anymore.

And when it comes to food, OB Grill & Brew also is treading a different path than other beer-focused bars in the area. Euclid Hall has poutine and upscale sausages, Freshcraft has a notch-above-normal wide-ranging menu and Lucky Pie has its pizza and cheese curds. But people who want to get the likes of crab cake, crawfish etouffee or Carolina spicy-mustard ribs aren't going to be considering existing beer bars. The food is quite impressive at Oskar Blues, and it will stand on its own, but it gives beer-focused bar hoppers a slightly more ethnic and full-plated option, if that's what they're looking for.

And a music venue that offers seating for 300
plus 40 taps - well, that just isn't happening in Denver right now. Breweries themselves, particularly Ratio Beerworks and Station 26 Brewing, have become great venues for seeing certain types of bands while sipping beer. But the major concert venues as a whole aren't beer-geek magnets for their selections, and Oskar Blues has a chance to be disruptive and new in that sense.

So, no, existing beer bars shouldn't be worried about what Oskar Blues brings to the table. The high-end Great American Beer Festival tappings are not going to happen there. And the weekend beer-bar-hopping crowds are just going to have one more option, though not one that's going to such the oxygen out of everyone else. I'll still be frequenting the other spots I mentioned, some far more than I'll be hitting OB Grill & Brew.

What the new place truly offers is extensive beer list for the crowds that are prioritizing food or music above their beer and now have a more legitimate option in which they don't have to choose between hearty, high-quality food and hearty, high-quality beers. And for some people just looking for a good rack or ribs or a good concert, it may well introduce them to the idea of pairing said activity with a locally made IPA rather than watered-down swill that's trying to pass itself off as American beer.

So, welcome the new Oskar Blues venue, Denver beer community. Maybe you won't be hanging out there all the time. But it lessens the chances that, in less beer-centric crowds, you'll be forced to hang out somewhere that can offer good chow or tunes but also offers a "craft" beer menu made up entirely of breweries scavenged by Anheuser-Busch.

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Tuesday, January 09, 2018

5 Things I Learned at Big Beers Fest 2018

Tiramisu, French toast, crickets: These were the flavors one can't forget from the 2018 Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines Festival.

The collection of roundly amazing beers — I poured just one into a dump bucket during the four-hour tasting — was again a master study on barrel aging, hearty hopping and using bugs to bring the right level of tartness to beer. But this year, more so than in past years, it also felt like a grand experiment on the adjuncts that can push beers beyond their normal limit. And what a wonderful palate-wrecking experience it became.

There were desert beers, including a New England-style IPA made with Betty Crocker cake sprinkles (Thank you, Outer Range Brewing, for keeping the cake flavor light). There were sours that relied on the presence of multiple fruits to create new flavors. And by the time you got the gumption up to try Epic Brewing's Chapulin Gose, you literally found yourself saying: "I like the beer, but I'm not picking up the flavor of the crickets or the agave worm salt in here." And, yes, you were bummed.

So what were the biggest takeaways of the festival? Here's a few:

1) The bolder the range of flavors in big beers, the more they stood out.
Certainly, there were the big and dangerous classic bourbon-barrel-aged imperial stouts there. Loveland Aleworks had a 2015 version that was incredibly smooth. River North Brewery offered up a whiskey-barrel-aged English-style old ale that was so warming it set your insides ablaze.

But the real head-turners were gems like Cellar West Artisan Ales' Farmers Breakfast, a farmhouse-style imperial breakfast stout that was re-fermented in bourbon barrels with maple syrup and offered a fascinating melange of flavors that somehow became French toast in a glass. Or there was Epic's Triple Barrel Big Bad Baptist, which not only featured imperial stout aged in whiskey barrels but had barrel-aged coconut that made this spring to a new vibrancy and overshadow its high ABV.

2) Spices are on the rise as adjuncts, thankfully.
You saw this trend where the beer advertised it blatantly. Crazy Mountain's Rum Barrel Aged Spanish Coffee Stout, for example, was rendered unforgettable by the fact that the Denver brewery used Mexican chocolate to make what could have been a heavy beer burst with flavor.

But the trend appeared even where you were least expecting it, and it was pleasing. Verboten's Tiramisu Little Nonsense had a surprising shock of Saigon cinnamon that left you with hope that chefs can make deserts like this too. And Intrepid Sojourner Beer Project's Barrel-Aged Imperial Turkish Coffee Stout added even more Middle Eastern spicing than its regular-strength version - and took your palate to a far-off place.

3) It's time to elevate Paradox Beer Company to its place among Colorado's best.
If there was a single beer of the festival, it was this Teller County brewery's Divide Ethos, a spontaneously fermented wild ale that felt like a kicked-up saison, with the bugs pinching your tongue with just a bit of sour and a whole lot of wild. The fact that it was the brewery's first coolship beer speaks even more to its ability to create new flavors.

Paradox was a big winner last year as well. It doesn't get as much attention as some of Colorado's other great wild-yeast-ale makers, partly because of its out-of-the-way location west of Colorado Springs. But it sure should.

4) It's the fruit and unusual add-ins, as much as the bugs, that are propelling stand-out sours.
Maybe Modern Times pushed the sour envelope a little too much with its One Million Tomorrows, but by mixing a ton of blueberries and raspberries into its wine-barrel-aged saison, it created such a complex flavor that you were willing to forgive the brewery.

No forgiveness at all was needed for Three Barrel's Hermano X, a lambic made with coriander, orange peel and three types of pepper that was tart enough to wake up your taste buds and your mind. And if Caution Brewing's Mazu Sour Belgian Golden — made with orange peel, coriander and cardamom and aged in red-wine barrels — wasn't the best sour on the floor, it may have been the most unique.

5) More significantly aged beers are needed.
Two-and-three-year-old beers were everywhere. But the joy of sipping Stone Brewing's 2007 Old Guardian Barleywine and enjoying its sweetly aged body even as the hops diminished was a short-lived pleasure because it stood so alone among the largely newer beers on the floor (save for Sam Adams' 24-year-old Triple Bock).

There wasn't much one could have left wanting from the festival. But 10-year-or-older beers would have been fun to try more frequently.

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Tuesday, January 02, 2018

7 New Things Coming This Year to Big Beers Festival

No change that Laura and Bill Lodge will make to the Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines Festival will be bigger than last year's move of the event from Vail to Breckenridge after 17 years in its original home city. But that doesn't mean the resettled festival will stop trying to find new ways to entertain its crowds during its second year in its new home.

With one of Colorado's best celebrations of yeast and hops just two days away (the first events begin on Jan. 4, while the commercial tasting is set for Jan. 6), it's worth taking a look at what will be different about the festival this year. And it's worth reiterating that if this all sounds good, tickets for the main event remain available.

1) The Falling Rock Lounge
One of the biggest aspects that was missing from the event last year was the central gathering spot, a role that the Fireside Lounge in the old Vail Cascade Resort filled for years. Festival organizers, in conjunction with Denver's oldest beer bar, are changing that in 2018.

The "Pop-Up Falling Rock" will be a temporary bar with a Chris Black-curated beer list that will occupy the open space near the arcade and the hot tubs on the second floor of the host Beaver Run Resort & Conference Center. Hotel officials will pile soft furniture in that space and signs around the resort will direct people there, making it likely this will be the spot to relax when seminars and the main tasting are not in progress.

2) Bigger Seminars
Last year, afternoon seminars were held in adjoining spaces that held just 35 people each, leaving some people unable even to sniff topics like how to brew with exotic fruit and vegetables.

This year, the Lodges will combine those two rooms into one seminar area and double the space, while moving some of the other talks to the Base 9 Bar on the bottom floor. There will be four seminars at 12:05 p.m. and another four at 1:15 p.m. And one of the defining characteristics of the event - being able to learn more about beer throughout the day in talks that feature a fair amount of tasting as well - will be open to more attendees.

3) A Wider Range of Seminars
Saturday morning's schedule begins at 9:30 a.m. with a talk on the timely and controversial topic of New England IPAs from a panel that includes Colorado's best makers of the style, including Neil Fisher of Weldwerks and Lee Cleghorn of Outer Range Brewing. But while that's sure to attract beer geeks by the kettle-ful, Laura Lodge promises other choices that will welcome people of all interests.

If you want to learn to pair beer with spicy foods, there's a seminar for that. If you want to enjoy a beer while doing yoga on Saturday morning, there's an opportunity for that. And if you really want to work with random strangers to try to pair four beers and four foods, there's a different break-out session that features that too.

"I think sometimes people think Big Beers is for people who are just in the industry or super-savvy," she said. "I think the novice can learn as well."

4) An App for Festival Planning
Festival organizers are working with Digital Pout, which has created an app to help people find where breweries are on the floor plan, what they're pouring - and when a beer runs out. Thus, if you're one of those folks who wants to spend much of your 3-1/2-hour tasting looking for rare and aged beers, you can map out beforehand where they are and know when you should redirect your adventures in mid-festival.

5) A New Entry for Attendees
One of the bugs of the first year at Beaver Run was the bottleneck of VIP and regular-ticket attendees backed up at the same entrance point on the third floor, leading to a slowdown getting in and to complaints from brewers on the first floor that it took a long time for many attendees to find them. This year, the early crowd will go in at 2 on the first floor and the later crowd goes in at 2:30 on the third floor, leading to less congestion and more spreading of entrants across the tasting space.

6) New Breweries ...
Laura Lodge recalls getting a call from experimental brewer Cellarmaker Brewing of San Francisco last year asking if they could come and pour their beer at the 2018 festival. Within 15 minutes, she got a follow-up call The Rare Barrel, an equally sought-after Berkeley brewery, inquiring whether it too could come and pour.

"We're starting to see some really cool, innovative folks who may not have experienced Big Beers before but want to be here now," she said. Expect this trend to continue and grow.

7) ... And More Breweries
After opening the festival to 140 breweries last year, Big Beers will welcome around 150 this year. The increase isn't terribly impressive, but the way that number is growing is.

With a waiting list of dozens of participants, Lodge told brewers they were welcome to share their table if they wanted with some of those breweries waiting in the wings. She expects at least 10 to do so, creating both a growth in the number of breweries on the floor and the partnerships between those beer makers.

"I believe it's the true spirit of craft beer," she said.

And that's one more reason this festival can't be missed.

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Sunday, December 31, 2017

10 Best Colorado Beers of 2017

Truth be told, the more breweries that open in Colorado each year, the less beer you get to taste from any of them in particular. As such, these year-end lists become less about the beers that you drank over and over throughout the year and more about the one-offs and unique finds that left impressions long after you first enjoyed them.

Still, the variety of offerings in the Centennial State has never been greater, and the experimentation levels with classical styles have never been more rampant, giving breweries an opportunity to create something so stand-out that they can say it truly was one of a kind. And while imperial stout or IPA may be the base beer to many of these 2017 selections, it is the way those styles were interpreted that made them the ones that emblazoned 2017 with its personality.

As always, these aren't just beers that were produced for the first time this year but brews that jumped up in one way or another in the past 12 months and made their greatest marks.

10) River North/Funkwerks Saison Conspiracy Noir
A dark saison combining elements of Belgian tradition and a delicious malt-forward body, this really jumped to life because of its Syrah grape must and its Cabernet-barrel aging that teased at a slightly tart body but still let the base beer speak for itself.

9) Rockyard Plum Creek Sour
Quite a few people reacted with surprise when this unassuming Castle Rock brewery nabbed the Great American Beer Festival gold medal for wood- and barrel-aged sour beer. But this plum-forward beer (pictured at left) was both sweet and sour and truly was the best tart beer made in Colorado this year.

8) Jagged Mountain This Beer Really Ties The Room Together
Maybe the most improved Colorado brewery of 2017, Jagged Mountain hit its absolute stride with this blonde milk stout that featured the additions of lactose, coffee beans and cacao nibs. It created a full-bodied beer that tasted like it was dry-hopped with coffee rather than overwhelmed by the additive, offering a plethora of flavors that worked perfectly together.

7) Great Divide Barrel-Aged Hibernation Ale
The increasing efforts of Denver's largest brewery toward its barrel-aging program pay off again and again, this year letting a whiskey barrel soak into an already sweet and malt-forward old ale for a year and producing a delightfully unsubtle beer that hits you with a variety of flavors, each one seeming to become part of a bigger tasty picture.

6) Intrepid Sojourner Beer Project Turkish Coffee Stout
Denver's best new brewery adds unusual ingredients to its portfolio of beers like they were offered up in a "Chopped" basket. But nothing was both so unique and so style-redefining as this shockingly smooth dark ale that offered a lot of coffee grit and also a lingering sweetness that just made it taste, well, foreign.

5) New Image East Coast Transplant
A hazy double IPA that presents both a guava/mango nose and just enough hint of bittering hops on the backtaste that it both exemplifies the best qualities of the New England IPA style and defies easy definition with hints of both coasts in its complex profile.

4) Mountain Sun Bourbon-Barrel-Aged Chocolate Thunder Imperial Chocolate Milk Stout
The Boulder/Denver operators of the Mountain Sun concept go all out for their February stout month, both in terms of the number and variety of offerings they produce. Nothing, however, has ever been as magical as this, pulling together a huge body with the combined sweetness of chocolate, lactose and hints of bourbon to make a beer that is giant - but is far more flavorful than it is big, somehow.

3) Comrade/Uberbrew Triple IPA
The star of March's Collaboration Fest might just come to be the most-sought-after beer in Comrade's extensive hop portfolio if it were to offer it regularly. Highly floral and refreshingly grassy, the beer is made remarkable by its lack of alcohol burn. It's a master study in how to go big without scorching any taste buds.

2) City Star Wood Belly
Arguably, no single beer from 2017 did more to redefine the perception of a brewery than this barrel-aged imperial IPA double-dry-hopped with Amarillo, Mosaic and Citra hops. It manages to be so many things at once - wonderfully boozy (at 10.6% ABV), tropical in its hopping and imbued with such a deep oak taste that it's the rare hop bomb that becomes more flavorful as it warms. This Berthoud brewery has made solid beers for years; this, however, is a new level of successful experimentation that should garner a lot more attention for City Star.

1) Station 26 German Chocolate Bourbon-Barrel-Aged Dark Star Imperial Stout
This infinitely complex and drinkable beer debuted before 2017, but if there was a coming-out party for it, it was at January's Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines Festival, where the increasingly confident Denver brewery held its own against every brewer in that room. The beer is, first and foremost, exactly what it promises - a slice of rich, dark, sweet cake in alcoholic liquid form. But the barrel aging gives it just enough of a pervading influence that it kicks the flavor to the next level, and the high alcohol content here is used to accent the richness rather than overshadow it. In a year when transcending the long-held definition of dark beers became almost a competitive sport for Colorado craft breweries, none of them jumped so far over the bar as Station 26 did with this masterpiece.

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Saturday, December 23, 2017

9 Christmas Beers to Get You Through the Rest of 2017

One of the cultural misconceptions of the 12 Days of Christmas is that it represents the 12 days leading into Christmas. Actually, the 12 days of Christmas in classical tradition actually begins on Dec. 25. And that seems unusually appropriate this year in the beer-drinking world.

After a season in which a number of retailers reported getting some of the gem Christmas beers late in the cycle and some breweries held off their winter-seasonal releases until December (what a concept), it only feels right to extend your drinking of these beers past the actual holiday. And while I don't want to do the full 12 beers of Christmas thing, there are enough notable offerings this year to leave you trying something new every night until the clock actually strikes 2018.

9) Strange Craft Beer Gingerbread Man
This annual offering is just as inviting as it sounds - both sweet and a little bit spicy, with a bready, almost cookie-like quality. Its only drawback is that it finishes a little too clean for a beer whose attributes you are hoping will linger.

8) Ratio Beerworks Reservoir
This old ale almost flies under the radar in the RiNo brewery's increasingly impressive portfolio. But with both roasty and nutty characteristics, it is both smooth and full - and as solid a winter seasonal as you'll find for the cold weather.

7) La Grivoise de Noel
"The Naughty Noel," a Belgian strong dark ale brewed by Canadian beer maker Le Trou Du Diable,
lives up to its billing with a slightly boozy Belgian candi sugar feel to its body, allowing it to warm you and loosen up family gatherings.

6) Diebolt Joyeux Noel
Another in the line of French- and Belgian-style treats for the season, this dark biere de garde ramps up the winter genre with its fuller-bodied undercurrents, but not so much that it takes away from the straight-up dark and roasted feel that makes it approachable even with its 8.2 percent ABV.

5) Odell Isolation Ale
There are classics out there that, for whatever reason, fall off your radar as so many more options come onto the market. But drinking Isolation again this year was a true rediscovery of a beer this is smooth, roasty and simultaneously aggressive and mellow in the approach to the alcohol in its body. This isn't a "wow" beer; it's just a damn good beer that's great for the season.

4) Bristol Winter Warlock
Similarly, this annual tradition is neither high-octane nor steeped in complexity. But one of Colorado's year-in-year-out Christmastime classics is so spot-on in its all-malt, non-bitter body that you are drawn to it like it's a throwback that delivers everything you want in a beer but more simply. The medium-bodied offering is the very definition of the fireside sipper.

3) The Bruery 10 Lords-A-Leaping
This dark imperial wit ale brewed with 10 spices is a hell of a lot of things at once, producing an extremely complex portrait that is best enjoyed with people willing to discuss it. The cinnamon, clove and allspice are the headliners in this mix, though the coriander may be the piece de resistance, allowing the beer to exit with a spicy kick. Put aside a whole evening for this one.

2) Great Divide Barrel-Aged Hibernation Ale
The Denver brewery's 22-year-old old ale recipe is a winner by itself. But put it into whiskey barrels for a year, and it finds a delicate, unsubtle balance between the huge, malty sweetness of the original beer and a sweet-tinged, fairly boozy touch of the barrel. This may not scream "Christmas beer" like some others on this list, yet the sweet but not overwhelming nature of this malt bomb leaves it far too fascinating to ignore.

1)  Port Brewing Santa's Little Helper
It's almost hard to describe what is so enjoyable about this 9.9 percent ABV Imperial Stout, perfect for sharing with friends even in its new 12-ounce packaging. But the heart of its pull lies in the fact that you can taste coffee, cocoa and roasted malts in this body and somehow not taste the alcohol that should be burning up your taste buds. Made with a masterful hand, this is big enjoyment presented in a way that nearly everyone will like. And it's exactly why you wait throughout the year for beers meant specifically to warm up the winter.

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Thursday, December 21, 2017

It's Time to Get Ready for Big Beers

Staring at the calendar, you realize that the big day is now only two weeks away.

That's right: Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines Festival begins on Jan. 4.

While some of you may have visions of sugar plums dancing through your heads, Laura Lodge has visions of rum-barrel-aged sugar plum saisons being poured in neat lines over two floors of Beaver Run Resort in Breckenridge on Jan. 6 at a tasting that caps three days of festivities. And, unlike last year, when she was heading into a new town for the festival for the first time in 17 years, she knows this year what to expect from that town - and is really excited about the opportunities it presents to enhance what is already one of America's greatest beer festivals.

"Last year I spent a good portion of my summer and fall in Breckenridge trying to figure out what businesses wanted to be a part of Big Beers and learning how we would fit in," said Lodge, who runs the festival with her brother, Bill, in addition to running her company that works with hotels and resorts to establish craft-beer programs. "This year I already know who some of the key players are, so I am starting to meet some of the people behind the scenes."

Big Beers is an event worth getting ready for weeks early, even with two major holidays standing before it on the calendar, because it is such a unique gathering of brewers. Some 150 beer makers and international beer distributors will be pouring beers that are 7 percent ABV or above (plus a fewer lighter Belgian styles) and typically foisting onto you some of their rarest offerings aged in barrels right alongside their more common double IPAs and imperial stouts.It all will be done in an intimate setting where the person who came up with the crazy idea for the beer in your hand is the one explaining it to you as it cascades into your glass.

And this regal tasting happens only after a day of seminars that begin before 10 a.m., offering those wanting to dive into the art of brewing, blending and barrel-aging beer a chance to get unusually academic - while sipping on a barleywine around the same time that others are eating Cheerios.

From 2000 through 2016, the Big Beers festival made its home in Vail, an impressively scenic and special town but one without much of a grounding in the craft-beer movement that's swept over Colorado. Lodge moved the event because the former host hotel was in the midst of an extensive renovation, and what she found was a replacement home that added more local touches and more character to the festival.

Now, instead of attendees just having the option to get tickets to the three beer-pairing dinners that occur on the Thursday and Friday nights prior to the big tasting, they can hit up tappings, beer/food pairings and brewery-sponsored concerts around the village. It's become more like a miniature Great American Beer Festival, except for the mind-blowing fact that Big Beers often doesn't sell out of tickets (and still hasn't for this year).

There are changes coming to this year's festival because of things that Lodge learned at the 2017 event, and I will detail some of those as the event gets closer. But the biggest difference as the clock winds down on preparations for Big  Beers 2018 is that the sense of transience that surrounded the event at this time last year has morphed into a sense of permanence and a feeling that now, more than ever, it's really home.

"I think what we're seeing here is a shift based on the community the event is held in," Lodge said recently. "I think we're seeing Breckenridge shine because they have a more developed beer culture."

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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

5 Things I Learned at Denver Beer Festivus 2017

Putting 55 Denver breweries together in one room is just as good an idea as it sounds, and not just because you feel no desire ever to leave. Denver Beer Festivus, held Saturday at the Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum, allowed for great contrast and comparison of what is happening in the city beer scene, especially as most participants brought offerings that were among their most unusual.

That strategy led to some reaffirmations about the breweries that are making the beer that can't be missed, as well as some discoveries about others who should be on beer-trail lists going forward. Here are a few of the things that jumped out.

1) The beer community needs to pay more attention to Jagged Mountain. 
Known largely as a big beer maker when it opened, the brewery went through a subsequent shake-up among partners, and everyone seemed to stop talking about it. That appears to have been a big mistake, especially for anyone who found their way to enjoying beers like its spectacular blood-orange gose, Grouse Mountain, in the past year.

The most interesting beer of the entire festival was Jagged Mountain's This Beer Really Ties The Room Together, a blonde white Russian milk stout whose body was as subtle and smooth as a creation made with oats and lactose should be but whose striking taste impression was that of a rich coffee without any of the typical bitterness that accompanies that style. It felt like you were drinking something dry-hopped with coffee ("dry-beaned" was the term that was decided as correct), leaving an original taste clearly created by a masterful hand.

2) Ratio's Genius Wizard is as good as any imperial stout in Denver.
And that's saying something, given that this is the town that is home to both Epic's Big Bad Baptist
and Great Divide's Yeti. But the 2016 version of the beer being poured on Saturday was dangerously easy for a 12 percent ABV bomb, presenting overtones of both coffee and chocolate in what was a very drinkable body. This beer should start getting a lot more love.

3) Sweet and subtle dark ales also ruled the day.
Declaration's Cinnatoast Porter was just sweet enough where you wouldn't want to drink it all night but just enjoyable enough that you could slurp down a pint easily. Bruz Beer's Onyx Stout jumped out with its combination of Belgian hints and roasted edge. And Blind Faith Brewing - the new beer maker that bought DeSteeg Brewing in October, according to Westword - made a strong impression with a dark beer (whose name I failed to catch) combining chocolaty malts and orange notes.

4) The range of New England IPAs at the event shows a maturing of the style.
Woods Boss had both the most impressive and the most by-the-book version of the hazy IPA with its delicious, pineapple-scented The Oswald. Yet, Ficton's Madame Psychosis seemed to want to straddle a line between fruity and bitter. And Epic's New England-Style IPA seemed to range a bit away from tropical notes and more toward the classical, balanced tastes of the long-honored IPA genre. You could pick your favorite; more importantly, there's enough variety that you can really tell now.

5) Sour beer fans need to seek out Baere Brewing.
Its Reciprocity golden sour blend was arguably the best tart beer poured at Festivus. It brought its bite in a way that was both challenging and refreshing. And it was a reminder that these guys are shining in whatever style of beer they want to tackle.

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