Thursday, November 28, 2013
Want to know another sign that Denver's is an ever-expanding beer culture? When cultural institutions start to combine brews with the world's finest music and art - and it blends extremely well.
In the past month, the Colorado Symphony and the Denver Art Museum have done just that. The results: one interesting combination and one night that was nothing short of spectacularly classy - and beer-y (if that's a word, you know ....)
First the brilliant: Colorado Symphony's new Beethoven & Brews program. The concept here is decidedly simple: Bring in a high-caliber brewery and let patrons enjoy several selections from it while listening to classical music. It's so simple, in fact, that symphony development officer Jackson Stevens told me he was surprised when he proposed the event and some people questioned whether the combination might work.
I dropped by the Nov. 8 event where a cellist, violinist and pianist took on Beethoven's "Ghost Trio" while Odell Brewing served up IPA, Isolation Ale, 90 Shilling and Mountain Standard at the Magnolia Hotel Ballroom. And the atmosphere was sublime. People of wide-ranging ages - many younger than your typical symphony crowd - strolled casually around the musical event, either sitting and listening intently or removing themselves a bit for conversation. When the musicians needed to introduce a piece or bring the crowd to attention, the 200 people in the room quieted. And the trio obliged it by coming up with a drinking game for its last piece.
As absurd as the idea sounds, in fact, it felt somewhat like the music actually paired well with some of the beer. Beethoven's moody, airy sounds were a perfect match, for example, with the dark, palate-pounding hops of the Mountain Standard double black IPA. Something just felt right about being there.
There are two more $40 Beethoven & Brews shows coming up - a Feb. 7 pairing with Funkwerks and May 9 collaboration with Denver Beer Co. at the same location. I highly recommend you bring a date, especially if the person you're seeing questions just how classy beer can be. And if you don't feel like doing that, just show up and look for me. I plan to not miss this again.
Just before Beethoven & Brews' second effort (the first was with Wynkoop Brewing earlier this year), the Denver Art Museum opened its "Passport to Paris" show featuring three exhibits of French masters. And, for the second time, it asked Dillon Dam Brewery to create a beer to go with it.
Brewmaster Cory Forster (pictured below) came up with La Seine Shine, a lighter golden effort with rosebuds and lemongrass added at the end of the boil, along with Meyer Lemons, a less pungent breed of the citrus fruit. The end game, he explained, was to create "sunshine in a glass" to go with the vivid depictions of nature throughout the exhibit.
Forster also made a biere de garde to celebrate the opening of the Van Gogh exhibit late last year at the museum, and the truth is that was a better beer. La Seine Shine ends with a slight tartness on the backtaste but largely flows over the palate without leaving the impression that the Impressionists have left with their art. But the effort is a worthy one, and the beer is still on tap at both the brewery and at Rackhouse Pub in Denver. If you can find a way to try it after seeing the show, you may understand just the effect that Forster was seeking.
Two artistic efforts. Two interesting results. So, I suppose we should just wait now for the Denver Performing Arts Center to offer up its take on an acting ale. And enjoy the beer culture that Denver offers.
Sunday, November 24, 2013
After the commotion and chaos surrounding the Great American Beer Festival, "calm" and "quiet" become two very attractive qualities in beer festivals. The problem is, they're also two that can be hard to find.
That is why it is worth giving a shout-out to two recent festivals that showcased the best of beer in ways that allowed attendees to talk - I mean, really carry on conversations - with the people who made that beer. And it's worth asking people to support such efforts in the future, so that they can stand out in an increasingly crowded festival scene.
First was Chef & Brew, the Nov. 14 second annual celebration of food and beer pairing put on by the folks at Beercraving. I didn't attend the initial version, but people who did described as a well-intentioned but disastrously overcrowded effort that negated the chance to pair good beer and small courses in a thoughtful way.
This year, however, the number of people in the Exdo Center was perfectly acceptable, the flow of the lines - never longer than seven or eight people - was seamless and the essence of the event bubbled forth. Anyone who got to try offerings like Caution Brewing's duck and pork meatballs topped with hopped chili syrup and paired with an Oolong Berliner Weisse (pictured below) got a better appreciation of beer/food pairing.
Second was American Craft Beer Radio's Holiday Beer Bash, held two nights ago at Mile High Station. Roughly 30 breweries from throughout Colorado and other states pulled in, with about two-thirds offering holiday beers that gave the festival a unique flair and with almost all of them bringing something you can't always get.
The festival was spaced perfectly (see the open areas in the photo at the top of this blog), and I heard from a bunch of people how pleasant it was not to be playing pinball with everyone jutting a 3-oz. cup in for tasters. You could talk with Copper Kettle co-owner Kristen Kozik about how exactly they made the Pecan Smoked Brown Ale they were pouring. And you could find out why the guys from Grist Brewing decided to open in Highlands Ranch and how the community is reacting to offerings like its sweetly big-bodied Third Ring Belgian Strong Ale.
Such festivals may not offer up 49,000 tickets or generate the well-deserved buzz of events like the GABF. But they bring beer tasting down to a familiar one-on-one experience between you and the brewer, or you and the other beer lovers you may strike up conversations with in the room. And that, for my money, is a reason to ensure these efforts have the beer community's support.
Saturday, November 16, 2013
The time between GABF and Big Beers often has been a slow time for anything beer-related other than the release of Christmas beers. But not this year. There is a ton going on in the next week. And here are some things you probably don't want to miss.
* Today, 1-5 p.m. Renegade Publick House hosts Cans of Wrath, a festival celebrating high-alcohol beer in cans, as they mark their release of the Hammer & Sickle Russian Imperial Stout. Tickets $45 at the door.
* Sunday, 1-5 p.m. Stapleton Tap House hosts Thanksgiving Brewers Rendezvous, a 19-brewery celebration with some great offerings (Backcountry Breakfast Stout and Grimm Brothers Pack of Scoundrels white spiced beer being just some of the highlights.) Tickets are $40.
* Thursday, 6-9 p.m. Denver Beer Co. hosts Pies and Pints, an event where you can taste pies paired with the brewery's offerings and then decide you'd rather just order them than make pies yourself for Thanksgiving. Tickets are $12.
* Friday, 5-9 p.m. American Craft Beer Radio is throwing a holiday bash at Mile High Station. For $35 you get access to 30 breweries, many of whom will be serving holiday warmers. And you get to hang out with ACBR host Gary Valliere, which is worth at least of your ticket price alone.
* Breckenridge just released its Nitro Vanilla Porter, a softer take on its best-selling beer.
* Today, River North debuts a Whiskey-Barrel-Aged J. Marie, its latest experiment with the saison.
* On Thursday, Bristol Brewing releases its Old No. 23 Barleywine, a seasonal that will put hair on your chest.
Saturday, November 09, 2013
With so many beer festivals in Colorado, a lot of them tend to blend together. And for the first six years of its existence, the All Colorado Beer Festival in Colorado Springs fell into that category of fun but unspectacular.
Something was different about this year's version, though - different enough where the ACBF might have to move into that don't-miss category in 2014. And it was a combination of things that elevated it.
First, the sheer number of breweries set the festival apart. Last year there were 37 beer makers pouring their products there. This year the number rose to 68 - all from Colorado, many small, some just barely open. Kudos to organizer Randy Dipner for that.
Second, one of the drawbacks of this fest in the past, like many massive beer gatherings, was that many of the breweries crammed into the space were offering the same beers you could find on any shelf all year long. That wasn't true this year.
From Gravity Brewing's intriguing Belgian Peppercorn Ale to Epic Brewing's fabulous coffee bomb Big Bad Baptist to Verboten Brewing's Good Day to You - a chocolate porter with sea salt - the Freedom Financial Services Expo Center floor was lined with new and different offerings. Even when a brewery brought something that missed wildly - such as Fort Collins Brewery's overwhelming Mesquite Chili Lime Ale - it missed by trying, not resting on its laurels.
Third, the VIP area continues to shine and is well worth the extra money. It was there that Grimm Brothers poured the tastiest beer of the festival, if not of the entire year, in its Devil's Riddle Ale, a strong ale aged nine months in Buffalo Trace barrels packed with Brettanomyces to complex effect. And it was there where the likes of New Belgium, Three Barrel and Trinity could happily turn an ordinary festival into a sour festival.
Finally, as a "celebrity judge" for the second year, I had the privilege of helping choose the winners in the IPA/imperial IPA category, and I noticed a huge difference in the quality of entrants just from last year. So when we blindly picked New Belgium's Rampant Imperial IPA for the gold medal and Dry Dock's Hop Abomination IPA for the silver (as shown in the photo at the top), it felt like we were honoring about the best in the state, not just the best there.
The ACBF typically occurs about a month after the Great American Beer Festival. If you haven't been yet, it's worth making a trip to Colorado Springs next year to do so.
Sunday, October 27, 2013
Anyone who's wandered through the Southwest section of the Great American Beer Festival in recent years knows that Texas breweries are creating some pretty bold and tasty concoctions. But on a trip to Houston last weekend, I wanted to find out if those making excellent beers were few in number or part of a larger shift in that area's brewing culture.
The answer: Something impressive is afoot in the Lone Star state. And it doesn't involve Lone Star beer.
One of the first things you notice on a trip to Spec's (the omnipresent liquor-store chain in Houston) or first-rate beer bars like Ginger Man (pictured below) is the variety of breweries and styles. Unlike some other places in the South, expertise isn't limited to lighter ales and beers made with Pecan.
There are, for example, a number of tasty double IPAs bubbling up. Southern Star Brewing's Valkyrie (pictured at top, in the bullhorn-laden man cave of a friend) is extremely balanced between a malt sensibility and an earthy hops that make this 10% ABV creation big but easy. And the Endeavor Double IPA from local institution St. Arnold Brewing - made with Simcoe, Centennial and Columbus hops - is a more traditional hop bomb with an iced-tea aftertaste.
And there is Belgian goodness. Ranger Creek Brewing's La Bestia Aimable is a Belgian dark strong ale made with honey that is a very sweet blend of molasses and esters. The Philosophizer from Adelbert's Brewery of Austin (which made its way to a Galveston Spec's) is one of the fullest saisons you'll find, a big body that's a cross between a non-sweet banana and an earthy backbone.
There is originality too. Yellow Rose, a single-malt and single-hop IPA from Lone Pint Brewery that a friend led me to at an out-of-the-way beer bar called D&T Drive-In, had a huge grapefruit/slight strawberry taste with subtle malting that calmed its bitterness.
And finally there was Real Ale, the brewery that beer fans really should watch. It ran the gamut on offerings from a dark-roasted Brown Ale that pumped excitement back into a boring style to Scots Gone Wild, a tart but balanced wild sour ale.
There were some stumbles. Several people recommended beers from Karbach Brewing, a rising Houston brewery. But its IPA and double IPA were bitterly out of balance, making them unpleasant to drink.
Still, this visit was an eye-opener. And it would be worthwhile to watch the growth of this young craft beer market, as it shows great promise.
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
What stood out about the recently completed Great American Beer Festival was that so many beers stood out, maybe more than at any time in the past 10 years. And what's more, beer aficionados didn't have to wait in the 70-person lines at the hottest breweries to find experiments that were both fascinating and extremely well done.
With that said, here is one beer geek's opinion about the best the industry showed off in Denver this past weekend. I've deviated from past formats by failing to narrow it down to just one beer in several categories because, well, too many beers deserve recognition.
Best in Show: CHP, Heretic Brewing
This is almost a random pick with so many equally worthy contestants, but this northern California brewery's chocolate hazelnut porter was the most surprising and refreshing find of the weekend. At a time when more brewers are stepping up their games with use of chocolate, this offered the perfect blend of nuttiness and sweetness in a beer that went down smoothly and made you want to try it over and over again.
Best with Hops: Muffin Top (Clown Shoes) and Fan Boy (Elevation Beer)
The push to over-hop beers seems thankfully to have been replaced by a push to add new flavoring to go with big hops. And these two seemed to lead the way in that respect.
Muffin Top is a Belgian Tripel IPA from Massachusetts, blowing your taste buds with the sweet ester of a strong Belgian beer combined with mouth-consuming grassy hops. Fan Boy is a soon-to-be-released (if the government gets its act together) barrel-aged double IPA from Poncha Springs that imbues oak and vanilla through its big, bold character in a way that may even appeal to non-hopheads.
Best Traditional Sour: Salado Kriek, Freetail Brewing
This San Antonio brewery's kriek is both eye-openingly tart and wonderfully fruity, leaving it cherry-like and sharp at the same time.
Best Barrel-Aged Sours: Saint Dekkera Reserve Sour Paw Paw Ale (Destihl) and Farmer's Reserve No. 3 (Almanac Beer)
To hell with cherries. Breweries from across the countries are throwing rare fruits and fruit blends into barrels and producing complex and pucker-worthy beers of unique flavor.
Destihl, the barrel-aging masters from central Illinois, outdid themselves with their use of the "prairie banana" to make a very tart effort that leans somewhere between a citrus and sweeter fruit but satisfies immensely. San Francisco's Almanac, which earned its reputation as one of the "it" beers of the festival, brought strawberries and nectarines together and kept you guessing what you were tasting.
Best Aged Non-Sours: Dragon's Milk Reserve - Smaug's Breath (New Holland Brewing) and My Turn Series: Chris (Lakefront Brewery)
The increasing diversity of aged beers may be the biggest trend in craft brewing. And two one-off products showed why it should continue.
Michigan's New Holland offered a bourbon-barrel stout made with chile that left you with two extreme tastes surprisingly blending in your mouth rather than competing for your attention. Milwaukee's Lakefront rolled out a vanilla maple doppelbock - not barrel-aged, but aged naturally for 10 months to give it smoothness - that allowed the vanilla to mellow the maple while putting forth both tastes.
Best Unique Additives, Colorado Style: Basil Blonde (Copper Kettle Brewing) and Card Your Mom Saison (Caution Brewing)
Colorado isn't the only state using herbs and spices to liven up beers. But these two Denver breweries deserve a special call-out.
Copper Kettle's addition of basil allows the taste to permeate the blonde ale and give it an earthy, sweet feel without overdoing it or, most importantly, teasing you to the point where you can't taste it. Caution's cardamom saison offers flavors both big and exotic and raises the question of why there aren't more breweries trying Middle Eastern and Asian ingredients.
Labels: Almanac Beer, Caution Brewing, Clown Shoes, Copper Kettle Brewing, Destihl, Elevation Beer, Freetail Brewing, Great American Beer Festival, Heretic Brewing, Lakefront Brewery, New Holland Brewing
Friday, October 11, 2013
As the line swelled to get into the brewers and media entrance of the Great American Beer Festival Thursdsay, there was much anticipation about what could be found inside. And here is what this beer geek discovered.
1. Destihl exceeds expectations
After last year's eye-opening showing of sour beers in 2012, everyone wanted to try Destihl, the previously unknown brewery from Bloomington, Ill. again. And everyone agreed they hit it out of the park - again.
The biggest winner was the St. Dekkera Reserve Sour Paw Paw Ale, a tart and fascinating creation using the "prairie banana." But also fantastic was the Saint Dekkera Reserve Flanders, a sweeter but still tart cherry/raspberry mouth-filler.
2. Unknowns starred too
One of my favorite things to do is drop by a brewery with little to no name recognition - and even less of a line - and try their wares. That produced two great finds Thursday.
First was JAFB Wooster Brewery's Never Winter IPA, imbued with New Zealand Nelson Sauvin hops that give it a wonderfully grassy mouthfeel without being harsh. The second was Freetail Brewing's Salado Kriek, both fruity and tart and full of flavor.
3. Dark is the new hoppy
It seems brewers have reached their limits somewhat in pushing the hop; there don't appear to be any quadruple IPAs on the floor. But beer makers are going increasingly bigger, darker and more creative with their stouts.
It should be no surprise that a stand-out in this genre was Bell's Black Note, which combines their imperial stout and double cream stout to black out your taste buds in a satisfying way. Some other breweries, though, seemed to push it a bit too far, making stouts so roasted they were burnt.
4. Remember this name: Almanac Beer Co.
I didn't discover the San Francisco brewery's sours until the end of the night, but people hovered around its strawberry- and nectarine-laced barrel-aged projects for a reason. I'll be back there tonight.