Monday, January 20, 2020

6 Things I Learned at the 2020 Big Beers Festival

Once again, the variety and complexity of flavors poured at this year's Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines Festival - which celebrated its 20th anniversary last weekend in Breckenridge - were awe-inspiring. But this year's masterpiece of a festival from Laura and Bill Lodge felt distinctly like it was not just about what has been produced by some of the most experimental brewers in America but what will be coming from the industry's boundary-pushers for years to come.

New styles, new flavors and new brewers abounded - a trend exacerbated by the number of cutting-edge beer makers who asked to come out and pour this year, adding to the geographical and taste diversity in the hall. And if one walked away with a few predictions as to what more brewers will be doing after tasting their noteworthy brethren, here is what I dare say they would be.

1) Bold adjuncts in stouts are once again on the rise
If there was a standout beer of the festival, it was Wiley Roots Brewing's Du Hast Cake, a 12% ABV bourbon-barrel-aged German chocolate cake imperial stout that tasted every bit as lusciously desert-like as it sounds - but without a hint of alcohol residue, making it both scrumptious and dangerous. And while pastry stouts have become one of the scapegoats of the "beer doesn't taste like beer anymore" crowd, the only pushback I received when proclaiming this the best beer was from folks who argued Outer Range's Timber from Vanilla Imperial Stout imbued even more awakening flavors.

Indeed, Fremont Brewing's Coconut Edition B-Bomb Imperial Winter Ale and 4 Noses Brewing's Toasted Coconut BMF Imperial Stout proved also how much unique flavor could be added to otherwise big and boozy beers by throwing in something that snubs the Reinheitsgebot. And New Holland Brewing's Dragon's Milk Reserve Oatmeal Cookie tasted of vanilla, cinnamon and brown sugar - not at all of its 11% ABV holdings.

2) Fruit in a sour? How about vanilla, or an Asian soy add-on?
There were, as always, a profusion of both pucker-worthy and smooth-settling sour ales on display at the festival, but there was nothing as remarkable as Purpose Brewing's Itadakimasu #032, which infused the sour rice wine Ponzu into its body and created an entirely new flavor profile. Partly salty and thicker in body than most sours, this is not a beer that will appeal to everyone but absolutely was the gutsiest and most high-risk/high-reward offering of the festival for those willing to drink a beer and mull over it for a significant time, and Purpose owner/brewer Peter Bouckaert (shown below listening to Black Project owner James Howat at a festival seminar) should be commended for his boldness.

Slightly less edgy but no less satisfying was the Language of Origin Sour Ale from Speciation Artisan Ales of Michigan, aged in gin barrels with strawberry, hibiscus, vanilla and lemon. That radical combination melded, and also allowed its ingredients to stand out in alternating turns as it rolled over your taste buds, and it created something that went far beyond the standard definition of a sour ale.
3) If going traditional in your sour adjuncts, ignore the typical barrels
Wine, whiskey and other traditional barrels will continue to be used, and for good reason, in aging specialty ales. But Big Beers showed exactly what one could do by reaching further afield for a supply of aging vessels.

Broken Compass Brewing of Breckenridge poured a Port-Barrel-Aged Foreign Export Stout that used tart cherries to impart a pleasantly acidic nose into a sweet and dark body with a pointedness that was lacking from other adjunct ingredients. Meanwhile, Transient Artisan Ales of Michigan put out an Absinthe Anachronism Wild Ale that gave a cherry sweetness to a funky beer without any pucker and made you think twice about its process.

4) The hazy/tropical IPA is about to get doubled
Big Beers is not as much of a showcase for hop bombs as other festivals, but after sucking down 11% ABV imperial stouts for much of the day, you certainly get to know which IPA offerings can break through even the most overused of taste buds.

Oskar Blues Brewery, which produced arguably the most eye-opening beer of 2019 with its Can-O-Bliss Tropical IPA, ramped up the alcohol in its new Double Can-O-Bliss but still managed a creation that focuses on Polynesian fruit without the burn that sometimes accompanies higher ABV. Meanwhile, Outer Range Brewing of Frisco doubled the dry-hopping in its DDH Leave a Trail IPA and made a beer so juicy and bursting with melon hops that it created a new sub-genre: A hazy for people who like big hazies.

5) Clean saisons and gueuzes are the new experimental

For all the giant, genre-expanding beers poured at Big Beers, some of the subtlest standouts remained cleaner beers of Belgian origin that serve as a reminder why the country's influence should be honored so passionately.

Take, for example, the Atom Brewing 3-Year Blend Anniversary Wild Ale, which not only impresses with its smoothness but with the brewery's ability to find just the right examples of beers that meld into creations that are better than their stand-alone origins. Similarly, Referind Brewing's Le Differend Gueze is wonderfully tart but is more a better version of something that's been made for hundreds of years than a new category of the style.

6) Your journey no longer ends at the exit sign at Big Beers
One of the most brilliant strokes the Lodges came up with this year was the idea of raffling off boxes of 12 beers donated by festival participants. That allowed visitors to take home beers that aren't able to be found in their states - and for the non-profit event to raise more money for groups like the Breckenridge Mountain Rotary.

I won one of those boxes (shown below) after buying a lot of raffle tickets to support the cause. I've been working my way through beer from the likes of Mad Fritz Brewing, Side Project and the aforementioned New Holland Brewing, among others. And it's an idea, for tasting and charitable purposes that a lot of beer festivals should consider.

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Sunday, December 29, 2019

10 Best Colorado Beers of 2019

As Colorado exceeded 400 breweries in 2019, the need for beer makers to stand out to attract customers was never more acute. Some developed all new flavors, some put new spins on traditional styles and some doubled down on what they do best.

The result was akin to a dream scenario for fans of experimental creations, offering a wide variety of efforts that sometimes landed with a thud but often seemed to produce stunning tastes, both in one-offs and in packaged or regular-rotation beers. As such, the 10 best Colorado beers of 2019 - beers that either were introduced this year or took on a special significance over the past 12 months - are heavy on envelope-pushing but still are wildly satisfying. Enjoy.

10) Storm Peak Brewing Hoochie Mama
As breweries across the country rush to nail the "accessible sour," they should look toward Steamboat Springs, where Storm Peak produces a sour blonde ale with guava that fills the mouth with unusual fruit flavors and then eases in a tart backtaste that sticks around. Hoochie Mama won a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival for fruited American-style sour ales, ensuring that 2019 was the year that Colorado began to know its greatness.

9) Briar Common Joyce + Brett
The first barrel-aged experiment from this too-often-overlooked Denver brewery was a saison that sat in one of its seven tanks for 18 months with Brettanomyces and then another nine months on French oak. But the immense outlay of facility space was more than worth it, as what came of it was a sharp beer (second from right in the lead photo in this blog) that crackles with the feel of its yeast and its barrel and at the same time is wildly smooth. If Briar Common had doubts about jumping into barrel aging, this should end them.

8) Weldwerks Peanut Butter Cup Medianoche
This beer is Weldwerks in a nutshell: An imperial stout that uses an unusual and easily flubbable ingredient coming in at an ABV (around 15%) that seemingly is too high to enjoy. Yet, the Greeley brewery nailed it, offering a thick and peanut-butter-laden creation that fills you up but also leaves you wanting more of the well-blended flavors it presents. It's another reminder that no matter what Weldwerks and founder/brewer Neil Fisher (pictured at left) is doing, it is worth trying.

7) Dueces Wild/Brass Brewing/Cerberus Imperial IPL
The most surprising find of the year was a rarely tried style from three Colorado Springs breweries that stole the show at Collaboration Beer Fest in March with a huge Polynesian hop taste that hasn't been seen before in an India pale lager. And it served as a reminder that at a time when visiting every brewery in the state is impossible, gems will continue to pop up outside the Denver/Boulder/Fort Collins area that deserve the beer community's attention.

6) Black Project Stargate Peach Rye: Nectarine Bourbon
Black Project isn't a brewery that tends to fly under the radar. But the hugely tart and complex spontaneously fermented sour ale it was pouring at January's Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines Festival should have gotten even more attention than it did, for it ranked among the best creations ever from the Denver sour master. And it showed that no combination of barrels, yeast and fruit is too much to handle - either for Black Project or for a drinker's taste buds.

5) Great Divide Mexican Chocolate Yeti
Sixteen years into its brewery-defining Yeti imperial stout series, Great Divide continues to experiment with flavors and, in doing so, has produced its best creation yet. Vanilla, coffee and traditional Mexican spices combine to create a flavor profile that many other breweries have tried but that arguably none has pulled off so well before now - with a 9.5% ABV body that drinks like non-alcoholic coffee. Mexican Yeti proves once again that though Great Divide is a seemingly ancient 25 years of age, it's churning out experiments as well or better than its much younger competitors.

4) Spangalang Brewery Nonesuch
Once a year, like clockwork it happens: I drop into Spangalang, try a few new offerings and hit the floor with awe at how at least one experiment turns out. This year it was Nonesuch, a lighter-hued ale that was aged first in Chardonnay barrels and then in whiskey barrels and came out with a mouth-filling wallop of grape skins, woody overtones and a Brettanomyces zing that somehow blends into one artful and lasting sweet and sour taste. The Five Points brewery has become an absolute must-stop on any Denver beer tour.

3)  Purpose Brewing Smoeltrekker # 13
What former New Belgium brewmaster Peter Bouckaert is doing at his small Fort Collins brewery is like rebellious, avant-garde art. There's an undefinable hoppy brew here, a taco-flavored brew there. But the piece de resistance of Purpose Brewing's portfolio in 2019 was a beer that approximated Bouckaert's celebrated La Folie creation - and than exceeded it with a flavor profile that hit your tart taste buds right away but then led you down a rabbit hole that embraced the well-used barrel it inhabited and let you feel an almost apple-and-cherry-like underbelly that soothed its wild overtones. This is a seasoned veteran at the height of his abilities.

2) Paradox Beer Smoked Maple Manhattan
There understandably will be people who say that the combined tastes of pancake syrup, an Italian amarena cherry made for cocktails and the base of a tart golden ale are just too much to handle in one drink. But for those who like their beers daring and dancing precariously on the edge of an overshot without stepping over it, there was no more rewarding beer made in Colorado this year. This beer changed from the first sip to the fourth to the 10th, revealing a different flavor each time - but one that continuously was unlike anything one has ever had in a beer. Fortune favors the bold, and there may be no brewery in Colorado taking chances like this Teller County artist today.

1) Oskar Blues Can-O-Bliss Tropical IPA
Oskar Blues did not make the most earth-shattering beer of 2019. What it made, simply, was the most drinkable, most mesmerizing offering of the year, daring to take the hazy IPA style in a new direction by ditching the traditional hops and going all in on the tropical flavors imparted by Mosaic, Azaca, Galaxy, Eldorado and Idaho 7. Rather than redefining the style, it simply did it better and fuller and juicier and yet somehow produced a brew you want to drink both in the cold of winter and the heat of summer. The Longmont beer pioneer has never been better. And after years of producing in-your-face beers that left you impressed but wanting just one or two of them, it excelled with an IPA you feel you can drink all day and never tire of what could be best described as the feel of Hawaiian fruit salad in beer form.

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Saturday, December 14, 2019

Three Denver Breweries Plow New Ground with Barrel Aging

Brian Grace said that he hears the sour and barrel-aging phase of craft beer may have reached its apex several years ago. Yet what Grace is doing now - and what several other brewers in the Denver area are undertaking in their study of barrels - may just prove that theorem wrong.

In fact, at least three brewers operating in the Mile High City are now taking their breweries' barrel-aging programs to new heights. And while this certainly does not encompass the whole of the experiments that are evolving in aging in the city, it gives a snapshot of what kind of ground still can be gained in an art that has been practiced for two decades but certainly has not jumped the shark.

Grace is the head brewer for Thirsty Monk's expanding national scope and is based in Denver. An alumnus of both Jolly Pumpkin and Crooked Stave, Grace started at Thirsty Monk about 14 months ago with a charge to develop a barrel-aged, sour-focused program for a three-state brewery that largely has been focused on traditional, non-biting Belgian recipes.

To launch the effort in Thirsty Monk's East 17th Avenue location, Grace brewed a Belgian dark strong ale with pluot and blackberry, aging it eight months in barrels and then five months in foeders tucked away in a south Denver warehouse. The resulting product is ready for public consumption, but it is being held back until early 2020 as the brewery figures out packaging and plans to get it to its Oregon and North Carolina locations. But Grace is satisfied with initial taste tests and believes he's onto a way to create new kinds of flavors for his traditional brewery.

"It's exciting. It's not intimidating as much as it is nerve-wracking," said Grace, who's already crafted sour mash beers for Thirsty Monk but has yet to do a classic Belgian sour like this. "You never know what you'll get with wild beers."

Kent and Greg Dawson of Briar Common Brewery + Eatery in Denver's Jefferson Park neighborhood had similar thoughts when they decided to dive into barrels.  But the brothers made an even bolder move, putting aside one of the brewery's seven tanks shortly after it opened to age saison on Brettanomyces for 18 months then transfer it to French oak for another nine months to create Joyce and Brett, a beer that sparkles and works both as a smooth beer and as one that intensifies from its base style, becoming simultaneously drinkable and exquisite.

Those who head by the brewery now will find three barrel-aged beers on tap, including a porter and a Belgian dubbel in whiskey barrels. All three offer different perspectives on the barrel-aging process, but the Rochus porter aged 10 months in Wood's Whiskey barrels is a particularly pleasant sensation while still being boozy, contrasting well with Joyce on Brett and showing the many characteristics of the barrel.

"This is our first foray into barrels, and I had zero expectations," Kent Dawson said. "I just feel fortunate that they did turn out like they did."

Then there is Ratio Beerworks of RiNo, which is a relative barrel expert by now. The nearly-five-year-old brewery held its annual Genius Wizard Experience on Friday night, pairing food and art installations and, most importantly, six variants of its Genius Wizard Bourbon-Barrel-Aged Russian Imperial Stout, each one of them combining the smoothness of barrels with added ingredients that brought a solid (and shockingly booze-light) big beer to new heights.

The boldest of the bunch was the Aged Maple Pecan variant, which was the most daring in terms of its big sweetness but also the most rewarding because it took the flavor furthest from the base beer and made you consider the additive values of heavy sugar. But the Aged Mayan Chocolate (pictured above), which was served without carbonation, and the Aged Chai, which sparkled with a ginger back taste, also ranked among the more interesting beers produced not just by Ratio but by any Denver brewery this year.

Ratio, frankly, shows what a brewery can do when it commands mastery of barrels - add in bold flavors and take a beer that might be perceived as heavy to drink and make it exceedingly easy to enjoy. The variants will be sold in multi-packs at the brewery until they run out, and it's highly advised you get there to buy some.

But all three of the explorer breweries should be lauded for trying to add a new flavor into a brewing scene that is becoming increasingly crowded. Each effort gives a reason for customers to stop in and a window into what bold experimentation can do, and they remind drinkers why the Denver craft beer scene may be an old dog, but it's still learning new tricks.

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Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Best of GABF 2019

Let's face it, my 16-year-old self would have thought this Great American Beer Festival was made when I stumbled onto two beers within 10 yards of each that both were named Deez Nuts.

But my present 46-year-old self felt that the country's largest gathering of brewers found its true essence in those side trips to an unknown destination that produced surprise after surprise, every one enlightening about the current state of the craft-beer industry. And even if the GABF didn't sell out for the first time in 13 years, there were no complaints from people wandering the floor that American beer makers don't continue to get more daring even as they get more approachable.

With that said, here is the annual look at one beer writer's impressions of the most unique and satisfying malt beverages in the nation - not a one of which was a hard seltzer.

Best Beer of the Festival: Oozlefinch Craft Brewery Sour, Not Stirred
It took guts to make a martini gose. But it took even more talent to make it so perfectly, crafting a beer that was tart and sweet with hints of booze but with pronounced tastes as well of Angelica root, orange peel and just enough bitters to convince yourself you were holding some sort of magical hybrid. During a year when so many beers walked a line between pleasing and challenging, this treat from Virginia was all joy, even as it made you think about just what it was you were imbibing.

Other Best Envelope Pusher: Speciation Artisan Ales Saltation
The most interesting brewery in America - and, yes, this Michigan fermentation king has earned that title - managed to turn heads again with a margarita that produced flavors of lime, saltiness and sweetness in perfect harmony. Owner Mitch Ermatinger offered that this had an almost familiar property to people for something so outside the box. It was comforting even as it woke taste buds.

Best Hop Bomb: Great Notion Brewing Chuck's Notion
You had to look hard for this New England-style IPA - specifically at Finn's Manor before the festival began - but finding it meant diving nose-first into a rich, tropical array of fruit that defines the new IPA and yet keeps it squarely in check with a 7% ABV level.

Best Dark Offering: Weldwerks PBC
In a hall fall of wonderfully boozy barrel-aged stouts, what stood out about Weldwerks' 16% ABV peanut butter cup stout was it was so rich in chocolate and nuts that the alcohol was like a background element. The lines at the Greeley brewery's booth were absurd but somehow worth it.

Best Dad Beer: Cannonball Creek Netflix and Pils
Approachable was in this year, but nothing was as easy and yet as flavorful as this ultra-crispy pilsner from Golden, which laid out its hops as its main flavor attribute but let them present themselves in dry and smooth offering that stuck around your palate like it was something much bigger.

Best Undefinable Beer: Captain Lawrence Brewing Powder Dreams
This beer from upstate New York is listed as a New England IPA. But hints of guava and vanilla and lactose popped in your mouth, leaving you torn between calling it a sour or a milkshake or … never mind. It was just a creative, highly flavorful offering.

Best Beer That Seemed Nothing Like a Beer: J Wakefield Brewing Haterade

Haterade isn't for everyone; it absolutely looked like Hawaiian Punch and tasted like a tart Kool Aid presented on a bed of malt to even it out. But finding a beer like this from this Miami brewery reminds you of why boundaries exist to be pushed, and you couldn't help but go back for more.
Best Beer/Food Combination: West Sixth Brewing
If you've never bought a ticket to the Paired beer and food event at GABF, here is what you miss: A Kentucky brewery you might not have known about offering a full but drinkable 13% ABV Snakes in Barrel bourbon-barrel-aged imperial stout in concert with spicy kangaroo sausage from Pope Joan restaurant of Melbourne, Australia. Fantastic alone, they were magical together. And it made you want to try more pairings on your own.

Biggest Surprise of GABF: 105 West Brewing Double Deez Nuts
No, really. I drank it to send a picture of the name to a friend. And I stopped in my tracks, realizing the generous hazelnut overtones in this wee heavy made this a beer that backed up its adjunct ingredients with a solid body that let malt and nuts stand out simultaneously. A true find from Castle Rock.

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Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Denver's Beer Restaurant Scene is Going Through an Evolution

Denver has its breweries and it has its beer bars, as the world knows while it descends upon the Great American Beer Festival this week. But an under-appreciated part of the scene the Mile High City is developing is its beer-themed restaurants - and few represent it as well as Former Saint.

Former Saint Craft Kitchen and Taps is located on the first floor of the Hyatt Regency Denver at Colorado Convention Center, not exactly a place where you might think beer culture might flourish. But the restaurant - named not for its latent soul but for its being the site of St. Mary's Academy, the first all-girls school in Colorado - was developed over a number of years with the theme of Colorado being front and center the entire time.

That's evident in the menu, heavy on state-produced meats and vegetables, from its bison burger to its buffalo steak. And it's evident in the 16-tap, all-Colorado beer list, which Dane Fiscella, the hotel's assistant food and beverage manager, works closely with his beverage guru to for the largely conventioneers' crowd that stays there.

Here you will find a range from local lagers to Epic Brewing's Big Bad Baptist Imperial Stout. More importantly, you will find beers ranging from those produced by the state's largest craft brewer, New Belgium Brewing, to only-distributed-in-Denver artisans like Goldspot Brewing.

Fiscella, a veteran of the venerable Philadelphia beer scene, goes out on scouting trips often for local beers, and he thinks not of what will appeal to the masses but what will genuinely provoke customers' interests. The biggest seller the space has seen is not a light lager but Station 26 Brewing Juicy Banger, which Coloradans know as one of the best IPAs made in the Centennial State.

And when the beer isn't flowing through the copper pipes from the glass-walled taproom (pictured above) that draw so many questions, it is taking a supporting role on the menu. The restaurant's popular quail and waffles (pictured below) is slathered with a syrup made from Denver Beer Co's Graham Cracker Porter.

Certainly, there are places around downtown Denver that serve a larger and riskier portfolio of Colorado craft beers than Former Saint. But the eatery - which is hosting a Sierra Nevada pairing dinner on Wednesday and a number of tap takeovers throughout this week - is a prime example of how the Denver beer scene is starting to imbue itself in places well beyond the beer-geek haunts of yore, and it is well worth a stop on the way into or out of the Colorado Convention Center to see how craft beer and fine food have become allies rather than opposites , even in a corporate hotel setting.

"Our Colorado themed hyper-focus, it sets us apart from our competitors," Fiscella said recently. "When you're staying at a hotel, you're going on a trip. "If we can give you that sense in downtown Denver of adventure and of out-of-the-ordinary, that's what we want to do."

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Sunday, September 29, 2019

Your GABF/Denver Beer Week Events Guide 2019

This is where the magic happens. Denver. Great American Beer Festival week. The whole beer-drinking world is watching.

As always, I've tried to throw together a high-level list of the events happening around the country's biggest gathering of brewers - not a complete list of every tapping, dinner and mini festival, but a highlight reel of what is scheduled around the Oct. 3-5 festival. Get to one, get to many - but whatever you do, get out of your house, because all that craft beer has to offer will never be as much at your fingertips as it is this week.

11 a.m.: First Draft Taproom + Kitchen, Denver's leading pour-yourself-and-pay-by-the-ounce bar, has a stacked lineup all week. But today's kickoff with Western Distributing - featuring lesser-known Colorado gems like Pikes Peak, Bonfire and Lone Tree - is a good way to sample the far-flung scene.
Noon: Jagged Mountain also has a big week lined up, including Thursday's release of a doppelbock aged in 24-year-old rum barrels. Today launches the festivities, however, with the release of the Royal Gourdge Pumpkin Pie Ale, showing off the brewery's proclivity with unusual ingredients.
4-9 p.m.: Beginning on the hour each hour, a rambling tour will descend upon FlyteCo, The Emporium, DeSteeg, The Grateful Gnome and Call to Arms - the Tennyson neighborhood breweries participating in the Tennysinners Brewery Crawl. There's no charge except for your beers.
5ish: Falling Rock Tap House, Denver's lauded beer bar, kicks off every GABF week with 20 or so special beers on tap from auteurs both locally and nationwide. This year will be no exception. And, no, you don't even need to know the breweries pouring to justify making this trip.
6-8 p.m.: You'll be drinking a lot of barrel-aged beers this week. Want to really geek out on the art of aging before you start? Strange Craft Beer and Wit's End Brewing present a "Barrel Talk" that will feature samples of some of their aged creations.

Noon: When Great Divide Brewing boasts of releasing a new beer with an "otherworldly amount of hops," you would be wise to listen. Hopnaut Double Juicy IPA follows on the huge success of its Hazy IPA launch last year, and it will be on tap at both locations.
4-7 p.m.: Thirst Colorado puts together an annual Tour of Colorado event at Tap Fourteen's Ballpark location highlighting breweries from throughout the state making unique beers. This year's event showcases Boulder Beer, Bruz Beers, Wiley Roots, Fossil Craft and Bristol, among others.
4 p.m to 1 a.m..: Is hazy or clear IPA the path to true beer-drinking heaven? Finn's Manor gives you a chance to decide, offering hazies from the likes of Great Notion, Trillium and Outer Range and traditionals from folks such as Russian River, Beachwood and pFriem Family Brewers.
5-10 p.m.: Barrels and Bottles Brewery in Golden is showing off Crooked Stave Artisans Distribution beers as well as its own. Tonight's tap list of CSA beers includes gems from Half Acre, Perennial, Cascade, 3 Floyds and Societe.
6-11 p.m.: Are sessionable beers really "Dad Beers"? Ratio posits the question at The Occidental, where it will tap lower-ABV beers from it, 3 Floyds, Modern Times, Stone, Ska and Cannonball Creek as part of its "Punk Is Dad Beers" celebration.
6:30-10 p.m.: Odell Brewing really turned 30 this year. To celebrate the milestone, gastropub Euclid Hall is serving up a six-course dinner for $70 that includes a special Odell/Euclid Hall collaboration you won't find anywhere else.

Noon to 6 p.m.: Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project will take the rare step of opening its barrel room to the public daily through Saturday. Visitors can just pop in for a taster for the first time in five years and also can get tours of the beautiful-bug-laden facility.
1-10 p.m.: Westfax Brewing has become one of the subtle stars of the Denver area scene, but because they are located in Lakewood, a lot of Denverites may not make it out. Today's the right time to cruise down Colfax, as the brewery is tapping both a hazy double IPA and a pastry stout.
4 p.m.: Finn's Manor once again will be a place worth visiting, as it pours beers from "Weldwerks and Friends" - friends that include Casey Brewing and Blending, Forbidden Root, Great Notion, Outer Range and Mikerphone.
6 p.m.: Speaking of breweries that are off the beaten path but well worth the drive, Burns Family Artisan Ales has been punching out envelope-pushing high-ABV experiments in the former Wit's End location for a year. Today it taps a pomegranate IIIPA.
6 p.m.: Former Saint Craft Kitchen & Taps will put on an Oktoberfest-themed beer dinner, but the beer it will pair throughout will be Sierra Nevada, likely outpacing most O-fest celebrations' selection. The dinner is $50; if you miss it, there will be a Sierra Nevada tap takeover on Thursday.
6-10 p.m.: Feeling like three days of GABF is not enough? Tivoli Brewing will lengthen the celebration with a Mini American Beer Festival, for $25, featuring ticketed pours from 4 Noses, Alpine, Destihl, Green Flash and Surly, among others.
9 p.m. to midnight: For true hopheads, few events satisfy quite like Falling Rock's annual All-Star IPA Throwdown hosted by Melvin Brewing. The ticketed event features taps from Moonraker, Parish, 3 Floyds, Toppling Goliath and Maine Beer, among others.

11:30 a.m.: Boulder County is a drive from Denver, but it's worth it when Avery Brewing re-releases its rum-soaked, double espresso Mephistopheles Stout for the first time in ages at its Gunbarrel location.
Noon: Other Half Brewing of New York is making both some of the best hazy IPAs in the country and some of the best palate-pleasing imperial stouts. TRVE Brewing lets the visitor take over a bunch of its taps today.
Noon: Boulevard Brewing also turns 30 this year. To celebrate, both Falling Rock and Smok, a Kansas City BBQ restaurant in the Source Hotel, will tap its Changeling dark sour, its Chill Vibes cucumber sour and its 30th Anniversary Ale that is a blend of barrel-aged treats.
Noon: Austin Beer Garden is an annual big winner at GABF, but you can't find its beers in Denver very often. So, today, Our Mutual Friend is hosting a tap takeover for the rising Texas star.
Noon to 9: There is considerable debate over the aftertaste of the first GABF session should feature light or huge beers. If you tend toward the latter answer, Freshcraft will be pouring double hazies and blistering sours from the likes of Lawson's Finest Liquids, Creature Comforts and The Rare Barrel.
7-10 p.m.: If, however, you believe in giving your taste buds a break after a day of drinking, First Draft will have a Lager Party featuring creations from Wiseacre, Sun King, Chuckanut, Rhinegeist … and Creature Comforts.

11 a.m.: Kegged, delivered and tapped in a span of a few hours, Station 26 Brewing's Same Day Hazy IPA is an experiment that puts the fresh in fresh hopping. Highland Tap & Burger, Lowry Beer Garden and Walter's 303 are just a few of the locations that will be featuring it today.
11:30 a.m to 11 p.m.: Hops & Pie has a big week all week. But today's offering - 11 beers from Casey Brewing and Blending, seven from Toppling Goliath and five from Weldwerks - may be its standout event for Denver Beer Week.
Noon to 4 p.m.: Denver Rare Beer Tasting is the most worthwhile $200 festival you'll ever attend. In addition to raising money for Pints for Prostates, the event features supremely hard-to-find aged creations and experiments. Cascade, Side Project and Speciation are among 50-plus pourers.
Noon to 1 a.m.: Goed Zuur taps into two of the most renowned farmhouse breweries in America, as it offers eight beers from Jester King and three beers from Rowley Farmouse Ales in New Mexico.
4 p.m.: Is Austin or Ohio more of your beer scene? No matter, Freshcraft will feature libations from both regions simultaneously, with Jester King, Skull Mechanix and Vista Brewing repping Texas and MadTree, Jackie O's and Taft's among the Midwestern stars.
9:30 p.m.: Sure, you can get Bell's Brewery offerings in Denver these days. But how often do you enjoy them with cheese curds and fried fish in an authentic Midwestern joint? Wally's Wisconsin Tavern hosts a tap takeover following the GABF session.

11 a.m.: Like Bell's, Brooklyn Brewery and 21st Amendment can now be found in Colorado liquor-store coolers. Still, a tap takeover like Former Saint is hosting all day is one that can show off why they are American classics.
1-5 p.m.: It's both a curse and a blessing to be celebrating your third anniversary in the midst of the country's biggest beer celebration. But that isn't stopping Briar Common Brewery & Eatery from busting out three new beers to go with its excellent menu.
1-8 p.m.: Is the Great American Beer Festival not international enough for you? Cerveceria Colorado, the Mexican-beer arm of Denver Beer Co., is hosting its Great Mexican Beer Fiesta, rolling out collaborations made with five south-of-the-border brewers - and the brewers themselves.
4-8 p.m.: It's a doubleheader at Rhein Haus, which is offering a Lawson's Finest Liquids tap takeover from 4 to 6, then a takeover of Crooked Stave-distributed beers - including Two Roads, Fremont and La Cumbre - from 6 to 8.
9 p.m. to 1 a.m.: Looking for a wind-down that's not all about big beer? Ratio Beerworks once again is throwing its karaoke contest. If you don't go, you'll never be able to try to guess whether your favorite brewer sings that way because they're hammered or just tone-deaf.

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Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Late Summer 2019: The Great, the Good and the Near Misses

Before summer fades - it is only five days gone, after all - there are a number of Colorado beers that are worth contemplating and that, in many cases, remain available at breweries, restaurants or liquor stores. Some were excellent, some were wonderfully pleasant and some were so close to being notable that you wanted to root for them to be better than they were.

Here, then, is a rundown of the beers of late summer that are still making an impression.

The Excellent
* Ratio King of Carrot Flowers
This was not the first year that Denver's seldom-miss Ratio Beerworks cooked up its seasonal carrot elderflower saison, but something just felt fresher and more vibrant this year. The beer popped with a citrus-y, almost juicy feel. The bitterness from the elderflower balanced it perfectly. And the orange-juice-hued doppelganger in your hands just felt like an experiment gone very, very right.

* Spangalang Cherry Bourbon Barrel Aged Nightwalker
No 10% ABV imperial stout has a right to be this drinkable. But Denver's most underrated brewery managed to concoct a version of its sturdy-bodied dark-as-night treat with 2-1/2 pounds per gallon of organic Colorado sweet cherries that didn't give it an overt cherry taste so much as it smoothed out the bold body and made this tough guy of beers seem almost desert-like, in a still-beer way.

* Denver Beer Peanut Butter Graham Cracker Porter
Peanut butter beers work when a brewery goes big and blasts you with flavor. Here, there was both a significant taste of thick peanut and the big, sweet base flavor of this award-winning porter - tastes that both converged harmoniously and stood out in their own right in the same glass.

The Pleasant
* Social Fare Griffin Wing
Crazy Mountain Brewing made the house beer for Social Fare, the restaurant inside the JW Marriott Denver Cherry Creek, and it made it very well. A pale ale with serious grapefruit overtures, this is a great hanging-on-the-patio-while-poking-at-your-charcuterie-board beer (see photo at top of blog) - or just a fine beer that goes down easily with an extra thrust of citrus to liven it.

* Edge Pale Ale
The summer's other notable collaboration between a Denver brewery and a hotel eatery, this pale ale from Tivoli and Edge Bar and Restaurant in the Four Seasons starts subtly but picks up in bitterness as it warms. There's really no outstanding taste here, but it flows so easily that you could be two beers in before you realize how you've enjoyed it.

The Near Misses
* Old 121 Brewhouse Rum-Barrel-Aged Oktoberfest
If you've ever wondered how marzen ages during months inside a rum barrel, the good news is the barrel cuts that medicinal edge that is too common to the style. But this experiment from Lakewood's newest brewery might have mellowed the body just a little too much to where neither the barrel nor the booze nor the malt jumped out. Still, it was good to sip while contemplating around a campfire.

* Left Hand White Russian Nitro
The Longmont brewery's latest spin on its flagship Nitro Milk Stout line was big - an 8.9% ABV concoction made with lactose, coffee and vanilla that even gave off hints of some buried cherry flavor and exuded the feel of a classic cocktail in beer form. But the melange of flavors proved overpowering, and the sweetness buried the coffee. It was a miss, but it was a bold miss.

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