Saturday, October 08, 2016

The Best Outside Event of GABF Week

Half a mile east of the Colorado Convention Center and the hubbub of the Great American Beer Festival sits the McNichols Civic Center Building, which hosts smaller and typically more staid events. But on Friday afternoon, it was the site of what is arguably the best non-GABF event of GABF week, and it was for three hours the center of the beer universe.

Denver Rare Beer Tasting, now in its eighth year, is at its heart a plea for better health. Founded by beer enthusiast and cancer survivor Rick Lyke, it is the largest annual fund-raiser for his charity Pints for Prostates, which has brought in $1.3 million over the past eight years to raise awareness about prostate cancer and to offer free testing both at the event and outside the convention center this week.

But while Lyke can brag of how much the event has helped those who come by - more than 10 percent of men getting the testing have elevated prostate-specific antigen levels that require them to see the doctor for treatment - he realizes free testing alone won't garner so much attention. So, he uses the help of 54 acclaimed breweries, with another 40 still on the waiting list, that donate and pour some of their rarest, most complex and often barrel-aged creations to lend a hand.

Strolling through the event is like looking into the minds of the best beer makers in the country. Funky Buddha's Aged Chocwork Orange - an imperial milk porter given six months on Heaven Hill Bourbon barrels then infused with cocoa nibs and orange peel - was like biting into the fanciest chocolate you've ever tried and letting it swirl around your mouth.

The sours flowed as if they were water. Two Roads' 2015 Kriek, aged 18 months in oak barrels, delivered a phenomenally sharp cherry bite without being acidic. Russian River's Intinction - its STS Pils aged nine months in sauvignon blanc barrels with sauv-blanc grape juice added - was intriguing and easy on the palate. And it was being poured publicly for just the second time.

And if you just wanted to see how brewers could take a traditional flavor and turn it on its head, Holy City Brewing's Schmetterling, a smoked marzen aged 10 months in whisky barrels, was example number one. Both sweet and smoky, it broke all style guidelines and took you on an adventure.

Getting tickets to Denver Rare Beer Tasting isn't easy - they're $115 and sold out a full three months ago. But Lyke said that he knows of people who fly out to Denver for GABF week and attend this rather than any of the festival sessions. And after seeing the offerings the tasting has and understanding the impact the event can have on people's lives, it's not that hard to see why.

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Tuesday, October 04, 2016

The New Beer Bar You Need to Try During GABF

Visitors to Denver this week will stream into the growing number of beer bars that are awash with special events, each adding something unique to the local scene. But those who want to hoist a pint in a location with a special tie to the recent history of craft beer in Colorado must be sure to stop in at Walter's 303 Pizzeria and Publik House - and to honor the couple that's taken yet another chance in launching it.

Though the pizzeria at 19th and Pearl in the Uptown neighborhood has been going since 2010, the restaurant took on a whole new feel in mid-August when John and Stacy Turk  collaborated with owner Mike Kienast to put in a 24-tap bar in the adjacent space, a former ceramics shop. Since then, the now-connected bar and restaurant has been rotating beers nearly as quickly as one is tapped, offering a Colorado-heavy selection that mixes in some national and international favorites from John's career in local brews.

Turk is best known for being a co-founder of the now-retired Colorado Craft Beer Show, the first beer-focused radio program in the state. He continues to work as a sales rep for Epic Brewing, but opening a space where people can enjoy and discuss great beer has always been a dream, he said.

Selections for the taps at the Publik House are evenly divided between John, his wife Stacy and their general manager, but they collectively are meant to represent as many styles as possible. Far from clogging the lines with Epic beer - there are all of two offerings from the brewery on currently - the Turks try to reach out especially to up-and-coming self-distributed beer makers to give patrons a better glimpse at the statewide scene.

"I've been to hundreds of taprooms across the country, so what I've tried to do is pick little things that I love from them," John said. "I do believe I can make this a destination taproom."

That means going beyond the beer selection and filling the bar with beer books and old copies of Zymurgy and Beer Advocate to get people thinking about and delving deeper into the styles that they are trying. Though the Uptown neighborhood is blowing up with different restaurants and bars, there is nothing with this intense a craft-beer focus in the area anymore.

And the tap list the Publik House is featuring before the Great American Beer Festival shows off that approach. Nationally sought breweries such as Russian River, Wicked Weed and 21st Amendment are pouring. So are the Colorado beers visitors might expect, from the likes of Odell and Weldwerks. But those visitors also have a chance to discover a few of the secret-gem libations we Centennial State beer geeks are swooning about, from Comrade's Superpower IPA to TRVE's intriguing Scorn pale wheat ale to the latest surprise from Ratio, which currently happens to be its India black lager.

Yes, there are other tap houses in town with longer draft lists and rarer servings this week. But John Turk has always tried to promote beers in new ways in this state. And to sit inside the casual trappings of the Publik House or at one of its community tables is to salute someone who's trying not just to sling good beer at you but to educate you about it.

"It's the same idea I had when I did the craft beer show - I want to turn people onto craft beer," Turk said. "For me it's not about making a profit. It's about sharing beers with good people."

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Monday, October 03, 2016

At 22, Great Divide is Still Learning New Tricks

Sitting on the small patio of Great Divide's original brewery on Arapahoe Street with Brian Dunn is like a trip back in time. Twelve years ago, this is where the Great American Beer Festival really began every year - with a media party at noon on Thursday, just five hours before the festival opened its own doors.

Fast forward to 2016, and it seems like GABF celebrations began this past weekend, as breweries started to welcome out-of-town writers and connoisseurs. But there was Dunn, the founder of the 22-year-old iconic Denver brewery, still kicking off the unofficial festivities for the week by tapping the newest in the Yeti series and musing on how it symbolizes the way things have changed.

Velvet Yeti, you see, is the session Yeti of the family. A 5% ABV nitro stout, it tastes more like a meatier, creamier Guinness than it does like the taste-bud-pelting hops-and-alcohol combination shown off by the likes of Espresso Yeti, Oak-Aged Yeti or the dearly departed Belgian Yeti.

In fact, it feels almost out of place in some ways as a beer debuting during the week that enthusiasts across America descend on Denver to find the latest in wild-fermented ales, barrel-aged beers and triple IPAs. But there was Dunn, who explained in an interview that he believes this is the Yeti that will get even the skeptics to believe, to draw in the people who haven't previously gone looking for the mythical beer that helped put his brewery on the national map.

"Yeti is such a fun beer, but at 9-1/2 percent, it has its limitations as far as how many you can have," acknowledged Dunn, now a father of three and a man who looks for beers that can be enjoyed without fear of an imminent hangover. "This is approachable but still roasty to me. It's a different Yeti. There's going to be some people who want 9.5 percent. But I think more people will try this."

The new Yeti will a year-round beer - joining the original Yeti as the only ones in the largely seasonal series to fit that description - but will be draft-only. Dunn hopes it will get people talking this week.

If you are one of those who think of Great Divide as a big-beer brewery, its other releases this week will fit more easily into your expectations. The Smoothness - an 8-percent-plus black lager aged in Jameson Whiskey barrels that smacks with a heavy alcoholic nose but surprises with subdued, roast-heavy peat overtones - is arguably the star of the group. Its official release comes Friday.

But there's something fulfilling in knowing that as much as the GABF has grown, and as much as Great Divide has added a second production facility and tasting room on a 5-acre campus along Brighton Boulevard, some things are constant. There is Brian Dunn, welcoming the world to Denver, with one more taste profile that you weren't expecting but that just might make you think differently about the brewery before the week is over.

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Your Guide to GABF Week 2016

Let's face it: You abused your liver in college in many horrible ways, often with no reward for your taste buds. Later, you looked back on it and realized it wasn't the sharpest thing to do, especially because there was no upside, even in retrospect, to assaults by Busch Light and Keystone.

But this week, you can return to teaching that liver who is the boss - while also finding an incredible variety of complex tastes to cross your palate and making the vital-organ abuse a side product, rather than goal of your activities. And this blog is here to help you do it.

Once again, I don't claim this to be the comprehensive list of everything going on in the week leading up to the Oct. 6-8 Great American Beer Festival at the Colorado Convention Center - websites like Westword, Brewtally Insane and Porch Drinking can lay out everything happening in town for you. Instead, this is meant to be a highlight sheet, offering you the can't-miss and shouldn't-overlook fests, dinners and tappings for those of you with a desire to experience the week fully but a limited amount of time to sort through all of your options.

With that said, happy tasting. Even your liver will forgive you for going nuts this week.

* Noon - GABF veterans may remember the days when Great Divide Brewing essentially kicked off the festival with its media party on Thursday mornings. Now the party goes all week. But the Denver brewery will release a new Velvet Yeti on Monday at its taproom, and then keep the momentum with a tapping party from 6 to 9 p.m. at Avanti F&B.
* 5 p.m. Falling Rock Tap House tends to be the gathering spot all week for out-of-town brewers, throwing rare kegs on tap for all to try. That officially begins tonight, and only owner Chris Black knows exactly what he'll be busting out to commence the activities.
* 7 to midnight. GABF week is a haven for people seeking the cutting edge in sour beers. Freshcraft dives right into the melee with its Wild and Sour Monday, featuring beers from auteurs like Wicked Weed, Jester King and New Belgium.

* 5 p.m. First Draft, the beer bar where you pay by the ounce and get to sample from 40 different taps, is working with a lot of national brewers on special tappings during the week. But its Tuesday showcase of Odd 13 beers, featuring both hop bombs and sour gems like Hawaiian Bartender, gives locals unfamiliar with the Lafayette brewery the chance to see why it's growing an increasing reputation for being one of the best in Colorado.
* 5 to 9 p.m. IPA remains the king style in America, and Ernie's Bar & Pizza gets right to heart of the style, hosting a tour of some of the best hoppy beers in the country. Beers from Dogfish Head, Stone, Green Flash, Alpine and Comrade will be among the tasty options on the menu.
* 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Beers Made by Walking has become one of the signature events of the week in recent years, showcasing beers that were dreamed up when brewers were hiking and spotted intriguing local ingredients. The $35 festival is at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science this year.
* 6 p.m. to midnight. Another marquee event is What the Funk?, the annual celebration of wild-fermented ales that tends to leave far more of a (spectacular) beating on your taste buds than on your liver. For a cool $100, you can get access to a number of breweries that won't even be pouring their wares at GABF.

* 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Anyone who attended What the Funk? on Tuesday night will still be recovering on Wednesday morning. If you didn't, head to Hops & Pie for the Cliffs-notes version of the event, where the pizza restaurant/beer bar will be delving deep into the Crooked Stave Artisans collection of distributed beer.
* 1 p.m. Blunt honesty is good in assessing the week. So when Little Machine, a still-somewhat-secret treasure in the Jefferson Park neighborhood, puts on a pig roast, busts out new beers and calls it a "Brewers Health Fair," all are advised to check it out, purely for medical reasons.
* 5 p.m. River North, the recently displaced RiNo-neighborhood pioneer, will be all over the place during GABF week. Few, if any, of its events are as alluring as its tapping, in combination with Fort Collins masterminds Funkwerks, at Lucky Pie in downtown Denver.

* 5 p.m. Tivoli Brewing (pictured above) operates a distribution company that's accumulated 20 up-and-coming breweries and cideries in its portfolio, from local stand-outs like Grimm Brothers to national eyebrow raisers like Pipeworks Brewing out of Chicago. Tonight it holds its "pre-party," featuring rare offerings from throughout its catalog.
* 5 p.m. One of the highlights of this week is the number of bars and restaurants not normally associated with rare tappings that are getting their full beer geek on. A prime example: el Camino Community Tavern in the Highlands neighborhood will be brandishing beers from the likes of TRVE. Creature Comforts. 4 Noses and more today.
* 6 to 10 p.m. Possibly the oddest recurring event is Offensively Delicious, the Renegade Brewing-organized celebration where brewers not only pour their beers but then get up on stage and try their hands at stand-up comedy - before real comedians finish out the show. Curious? It's on again this year at the McNichols Building.
* 7 p.m. Ginger Johnson gained a name for herself in the beer world with her Oregon-based consulting/event business Women Enjoying Beer. She just released a book chastising breweries for their poor marketing to women. And she'll be at Kokopelli Beer Co.  tonight annotating the book.

* Strange Craft Beer makes a habit out of rolling out its most experimental offerings around GABF. Today you can not only try but take home its medal-winning Doctor Strangelove, as the Denver brewery offers up its annual bomber release of the complex ale.
* 11:30 a.m. Sun King Brewing burst onto the national beer consciousness a few years back by taking home seven medals from the GABF. You still can't get the Indianapolis brewery out here anytime but this week. But it will be pouring a boatload of its offerings all day today at Hops & Pie.
* 4 p.m. Among Colorado breweries, Casey Brewing and Blending is one of the rarest gems, offering occasional hours during which it released some of the most sought-after bombers of saison and sour beers in the state. It'll be easier to grab some today at Freshcraft.
* 5 p.m. Three Floyds produces big, beefy beers that are admired nationally - but not sold far beyond the doors of its Indiana brewhouse. Today however, it will be tapping a number of them at LowDown Brewery + Kitchen in Denver.
* 7 p.m. to midnight. Epic Brewing offers its 50 Firkin Fiasco tradition each year after the opening night of the GABF. The intriguing twist this year: Other breweries than just the Utah/RiNo beer maker were given a chance to take its beers and create their own firkins with them.
* 10 p.m. Avanti F&B has the closest relationship with Dogfish Head of any beer bar in Denver. That's why when it holds an after-party featuring Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione, you almost have to show up to see what he is breaking out for the festivities.

* 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Start the day the only way you should - with a Gospel brunch hosted by Oskar Blues at its Tasty Weasel taproom in Longmont. Yeah, it's a ways north of Denver. But by now, you need some time behind the wheel when you actually won't be drinking.
* Noon to 4 p.m. The most expensive ticket of the week is also one of the most sought-after - a $115 ducat to get into the Rare Beer Tasting at McNichols, offering a peak into the cellars of some of America's best breweries and beers you may never seen again.
* 4 to 11 p.m. Crafty Fox has made a ballyhooed entrance into the Denver beer-bar scene this year with a fantastic tap list. And today it adds to its mystique by featuring the beers of Bellingham, Washington - including award winners such as Chuckanut and Boundary Bay Brewing - with a side splash of hop king Melvin Brewing and sour king Crooked Stave.
* 7 to 10 p.m. New Belgium and Ratio Beerworks aren't as hard to find as, say, Bellingham beers. But when they throw something as specific as a fruit luau at Illegal Pete's, it's a focused collection of pucker-worthy beers worth seeking out.
* 10 p.m. After the GABF session, you may find your palate somewhat wrecked. Freshcraft will be tapping the beers of Stone, Green Flash and Melvin, among others, which is guaranteed to either resuscitate your taste buds or finish them for good.

* 9 a.m. to noon. After drinking heavily for five days, you may think that nothing new can come down the pipe. And then you discover that Denver Beer Co. is offering a Burritos and Barleywines breakfast event, and you happily say to yourself, "Well, I was wrong."
* 10 a.m. For those wanting to leave town with a few souvenirs, Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales will begin a two-day sale of some of its tucked-away bottles, suitable for enjoying when your liver has begun to recover somewhat.
* 9 p.m. There will be lots of after parties beginning tonight - but few that test whether you can cross the last boundary of the week quite like Ratio Beerworks' karaoke after-party. Oh, and the killer brewery will be breaking out some new and rare brews.
* 11 p.m. For many years, I viewed the traditional post-festival tapping of New Belgium sours at Falling Rock Tap House as the defibrillator to shock my taste buds back to life. Whether or not you agree, this event offers a great chance to find out.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Edge

The secret to every truly great complex beer is in how far it can push your taste buds without breaking them via an overdose of alcohol, tartness or heat. Finding the best of the best can mean pushing right to the edge and then pulling back.

Over the past few months, several breweries, both local and national, have come out with offerings that take you just to that edge before stopping and letting you enjoy a melange of flavors both challenging and satisfying. And as Great American Beer Festival approaches, it is worth recalling them, both to celebrate their daring and to hope that their makers bust a leftover keg or two out in the coming week.

Great Divide showed just how far it could push things this year with its whiskey-barrel-aged Hercules Double IPA, a 12 percent ABV hop bomb that debuted originally at its 22nd anniversary party as Ye Olde World IPA then had a much longer run than could have been imagined before it ran out in the taproom. It wasn't just the flourishing bitterness that remained strong after years in the barrels that made this beer stand out. Rather, it was the fact that you felt the boozy bite even over the strong vanilla and wood tastes, leaving so much going on that it really was head-turning.

Sam Adams also pushed the envelope with its Rebel Raw Double IPA, a limited-edition floral bomb made with seven pounds of hops per barrel that had just a 35-day shelf life in both of its first two batches. The 100 IBUs scorched the tongue in some ways but also gave it an incredibly full flavor, teeming with grassy hops balanced by significant malts. The alcohol in this 10 percent ABV concoction most certainly was present, but it took a surprising back seat in the bevy of tastes.

Comrade Brewing also pushed to the edge, but the hop-forward brewery did it in a different way with its Yellow Fever, a blonde ale infused with jalapenos. The World Beer Cup gold medalist presents itself as unassuming, but the heat rises as the beer swirls in your mouth, landing squarely on the back of your tongue. Unlike poorer renditions of the style, however, it stops at a level that leaves adrenaline pumping in you without any scars on your taste buds, making you want to go back and try it repeatedly.

AC Golden produced arguably the most edge-pushing sour beer of this year so far with its Kriek Noir (pictured at top), a wine-barrel aged Belgian ale with sour cherries added. This spring offering presented itself with a sugary cherry nose, followed quickly by a sharp tartness that cut into your taste buds and took over your mouth. It too managed to stop short of making you wince, however, instead ramping up every pressure point in a way that caused you to use multiple taste sectors, leaving you awash in flavors from its yeast profile and its additives.

Beers that take you to the edge truly should be celebrated - and produced over and over again.

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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Estes Park's New Flavor

Estes Park is a world-class visitor destination. But for far too long, the home of the Stanley Hotel and Rocky Mountain National Park has lacked a high-quality brewery worthy of the travel-guide setting.

Rock Cut Brewing, which is located on the southern edge of downtown and celebrates its first birthday on Monday, can't quite boast of having world-class beer yet. But a stop into the taproom this week showed that the partners who took the chance of planting the brewery in a tourist-heavy town are on their way with a collection of quality and sometimes style-bending beers.

You immediately sense a willingness to experiment in Rock Cut's Blonde Wheat, a genre that typically isn't defined by an overwhelming amount of creativity. But Citra and Calypso hops give a surprisingly bitter backbone  to this light-bodied but well-flavored beer, making it one to remember.

Smoky Brunette, made with smoky German malt, also catches the attention with its very nice balance of mesquite-smoked flavor without an overwhelming assault on your palate. The malt of the thick ale takes over some from the smoke as you drink more, but the flavorful sensation remains.

Then there is the IPA, that standard bearer of Colorado breweries, a style that sets a high bar for any new entrant's offering even to warrant notice. Rock Cut's version brings its own personality to the table, however, producing both a full-mouthed piney taste and a lingering sweetness on the back of the tongue, making this 55-IBU ale both quaffable and enjoyable.

Certainly, there remain some holes in Rock Cut's arsenal. The English Porter, while fairly true to style, is lighter-bodied and lighter-flavored than porters to which the Colorado palate has become attuned. And the Black IPA seems stuck somewhere between a hoppy beer and a dark beer with a coffee backtaste, leaving it short on both counts.

But after sampling seven Rock Cut beers, one thing that jumped out is the fact that there's not a bad beer in the lineup. And that's a great upgrade for a town that has given visitors jaw-dropping views and gleefully haunted luxury hotels but not the beer with which to toast those joys.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

History, with Hops

No beer aficionado called upon to list the best places to drink an IPA after work has ever listed "History Colorado Center." That, however, might be about to change.

In a sign of just how far craft beer has pervaded our culture, the Golden Triangle museum tonight is launching History Buffs & Brews, a series of Tuesday-night events over the next two months that encourage people to explore the state's past while sipping some of what makes it so cool now. Great Divide will provide the beverages — specifically, Titan IPA, Colette and the newly reconfigured Denver Pale Ale — and up its taste profile on Aug. 9, when it will offer up a trove of beers during a talk on the history of Colorado brewing.

Yes, craft beer is popping up in plenty of places where it didn't used to be, from chain restaurants to The People's Fair. But what makes this series stand out is the way that an institution so old and woven into the state's academia — the Colorado Historical Society was founded in 1879, just three years after the state itself came into being — is not turning to beer to connect with a new generation.

"We felt that our summer program was a little light, and we wanted to do something that was contributing to the vibe of the Golden Triangle area," said Brooke Gladstone, the communications expert for the historical society who helped to come up with the idea. "It's a pop culture right now."

The events will run from 4 to 7 p.m. each Tuesday through the end of August in the museum's Rendezvous Cafe. Admission is free, and the beers only cost $3. Yeah, you read that right.

Tonight and on Aug. 16, the events will feature historic trivia contests. But the lineup will change. There's the Aug. 9 talk given by deputy state historian Jason Hanson. There's a craft-distillery talk and tasting on Aug. 23. And on the last Tuesday of each month, there will be a "Collections after Dark" talk, where staffers explain the seamier side of state history.

As someone who just wrote a book combining historical travel with hikes and brewery visits, I personally can geek out to things like History Buffs & Brews more than the average person. But the fact that History Colorado is reaching out with a vessel like craft beer to bring people into its sphere shows it understands almost as much about the present and the future of this state as it knows about Colorado's past.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Breakfast Beer Pairings

Beer pairings aren't just for dinner anymore. Or, apparently, just for lunch either.

A couple of events held by Denver breweries earlier this month show that beer can be paired successfully with brunch or with doughnuts. The trick is making sure you have the right combination.

Denver Beer Co., which has tried events pairing its beer with everything from chocolate to oysters, tried a new tact and decided to put them up against doughnuts from Habit Doughnut Dispensary, a nearby neighbor to its LoHi tasting room. And while the combination of sweet and hoppy may not sound like the most natural marriage, the result was surprisingly effective.

Take, for example, the combination of Denver Beer's Blood Orange Tandem Pedal Double IPA with a Trailblazer Cran Orange doughnut; the sweetness of the doughnut calmed the bitterness of the beer and the sharp cranberry-orange taste of the pastry matched the beer's zing. Or there was the brewery's signature Graham Cracker Porter paired with a Yuzu Gram Cracker doughnut, contrasting the dark beer and sweet yuzu topping that blended surprisingly well.

Not every doughnut/beer combo is magic; the Pretzel Assassin Amber Lager is too bland a beer, for example, to strike any meaningful relationship with crullers like the Mexican Black Out it had as a partner. But the brewery and doughnut shop clearly put a lot of thought into this, and the pairings made for a fun sensory process.

The Corner Office - the hip restaurant bar across from the Denver Performing Arts Complex - has launched its own exploration into the pairing world with a beer brunch series. And through a varied assortment of offerings in conjunction with Ratio Beerworks earlier this month, it too tried out some previously little-used combinations.

The restaurant, for example, knew how to employ a lighter beer better, as it put Ratio's Domestica American Standard Ale up against a fish ' n chips basket with a fried rosemary sprig in order to let the easy beer act as a cushion for subtle, rather than overwhelming, flavor. And putting homemade andouille sausage over beer cheddar grits with the Antidote IPA really let the hop flavor bring out just enough of the moderate heat in the sausage and pronounce both personalities a little more.

The taste of the brewery's fantastic Dear You saison was lost when it was added into the Spring in Your Step cocktail that was laden with rye and cointreau, but The Corner Office at least gets points for trying that combination. More obviously absent, however, was the presence of breakfast foods, short of the buffalo-style deviled eggs and hush puppies, and I would have loved to see what the restaurant and brewery could have done with a benedict plate or some other more traditional serving.

Still, the brunch series, which continues with a July 23 brunch with Renegade Brewing, illustrates one more way that restaurants and bakeries are looking to work beer into settings that were traditionally garnished with a mimosa or with no drinks at all. And the beer community is the winner.

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