Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Now Open: Joyride Brewing

It was a master work of timing that the first full weekend for Joyride Brewing - the Edgewater brewery that opened just one week ago - coincided with the Dragon Boat Festival across the street at Sloan's Lake. Neighborhood residents streamed in, kids occupied nearly every table and the community got the taste of its first brewery anyone can remember.

And that taste is an overall enjoyable one. Joyride, the creation of three homebrewers who decided to go pro, doesn't have any beer that will knock you back from the table. It does, however, have a couple of well-crafted efforts that will make you appreciate what more could be coming.

The best of those is the Antelope Amber, a surprisingly hoppy (50 IBU) addition to the style made with five premium malts and four types of American hops. It presents a good mix of pineapple sweetness with a malt base that absorbs the flavors rather than dominating them.

Also eye-catching is the Ice Cutter Kolsch, a technically proficient interpretation of the classical German style that offers a crisp hot bite. In the hot weather this weekend, this is as much as one could have requested to be thirst-quenching.

The more traditional hoppy styles - the Cougar Pale Ale and the 4.2 percent ABV Lil' Edge Pale Ale - both have a softly hopped feel that should welcome in the casual drinker but could let down hopheads in the crowd. And the Belgian Wit, a summer seasonal, was a let-down, offering a dull, unfiltered beer that seemed more like a cloudy hefeweizen.

But Joyride holds promise, and it holds a couple of great summer sippers already. That, combined with its excellent location on the corner of 25th and Sheridan, should make this a worthwhile stop for everyone wanting to explore the new craft brew tastes of the Denver area.

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Friday, July 11, 2014

4 Ways to Reward Your Palate and Destroy Your Liver This Weekend

There are good beer-drinking weekends, there are great beer-drinking weekends and there are those weekends when you're just faced with making painful choices. This weekend is one of the latter.

1) Colorado Brewers Rendezvous, 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday
The 18th annual collection of 75 Colorado brewers squeezing into Salida's main city park and doling out some of their oddities is one of the best beer gatherings of the year. Tickets are just $40 and well worth it. If you don't have a hotel reserved by now, however, it would be wise to start begging friends for some space on their motel floors.

 2) Breckenridge Brewery 24th Anniversary Hootenanny, 11 a.m. Saturday
The word "hootenanny" is fun to write. But it's not as fun as seeing what Todd Usry and the rest of the Breck bunch pull out for their rare beer tasting as they close down Kalamath Street in front of their soon-to-be-former main brewery before they move to Littleton. (If we're lucky, they may haul out some of the Barleywine pictured above.) And if you haven't had the BBQ here before, that alone is worth the $30 ticket.

3) Freshcraft Rare Beer Tasting, 11 a.m. Saturday
You have to love a beer bar that gives everyone a reason to get up (relatively) early on Saturdays. This week, Denver's Freshcraft is busting out an Alaskan Brewing 25th Anniversary Stout that's been cellared for three years, as well as a 2008 Barley Wine from the same brewery. And Alaskan representatives will be there to help you savor the goodness.

4) Avery releases Black Eye, 11 a.m. Sunday
If the screaming hangover doesn't keep you in bed Sunday, head up to Boulder, where the Front Range's pre-eminent experimental beer auteurs bust out an imperial stout aged in rum barrels. Bottle sales don't begin until 1, which only gives you two hours to try a couple of these and decide if you want to invest more - assuming you're still standing.

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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Checking In: Grist Brewing

When Highlands Ranch's first brewery opened in November, Grist Brewing seemed to be more of a symbol of the growth of the state's beer-making industry than a brewery that deserved scrutiny on its own. Heck, if the most suburban of all Colorado suburbs could now be home to a local craft brewery, then it mattered less how its beer was and more how the crowd reacted to it, some thought.

But those amused purely by the spectacle of a Highlands Ranch brewery are missing out on what is an impressively developing brewery — and a brewery, for that matter, that does some of its best work in styles that few breweries can call their finest.

Take, for example, Grist's Transition State Kolsch, a 5.5 percent joy of a beer that is light without being cloying and presents a subtle but perceptible hop kick at the end. It's as close to a perfect drink-after-cutting-the-grass beer as you'll find.

Then there is the Romancing the Cobblestone Vienna Lager, a solid beer stocked with slightly roasted caramel malt that is smooth with just a hint of nuttiness and plenty of breadiness. Just launched a few days ago, this beer is worthy of a place on Grist's permanent roster.

Grist isn't all about lagers; in fact, those were the only two lagers on the brewery's tap list this weekend. But the fact that a new brewery can roll out two exciting and fresh lagers is a sign that it's got a lot more potential up its sleeve.

That potential can be seen already in several of Grist's current beers. The White Eddy White IPA, for example, offers higher IBUs — 62 — than anything else on the menu, and a complex, almost barrel-must taste that layers woodiness on top of bitterness (even though it's not barrel-aged). And the Berliner Weisse combines a good burst of tart with an underlying and surprising sweetness.

Mind you, Grist still has its weaknesses, namely in its Belgian line of beers. The She Devil Saison and Ground Rule Tripel both have such sweet profiles that cotton candy seems to be the dominant taste. And the Niobrara Stout is a little sooty and a little too light in body to leave an impression.

But in a space where you may see kids playing and after-work crowds filling up bring-home growlers, Grist reminds us you can not only bring beer to the suburbs but make the beer impressively enough that it's worth driving down from the city in order to try it.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Chilling with Some Grand Old Friends
Everyone has those breweries that seem never to miss the mark, that always hit the right spot on your palate - but that, for some reason, just don't crop up in your drinking rotation as often as they should.

For me, no brewery fits that description more than Grand Teton Brewing of Idaho, which I've long considered one of the quiet gems in America. And so, last night I decided to catch up with that old friend, trying the latest beer in its cellar reserve series as well as a slightly older member of that series that I had let age for a little while.

The new kid on the block is Splash Down Belgian-Style Golden Ale, a 7.5% ABV classic recipe made with European Noble hops and Belgian Abbey yeast. Pouring a deep golden color, it has a surprisingly dry finish.

This seasonal, which launched in mid-May, has just a hint - maybe more of a whiff - of sweetness, but what strikes you about it is the readily apparent alcohol you get on the backtaste. It's a solid offering but one of the more unspectacular members of the reserve series, and it can best be called a big summer beer more appropriate for nighttime porch drinking than daytime patio drink-while-you-sweat gatherings.

Rummaging around in the beer fridge, I also found a 2013 Double Vision Doppelbock, a reintroduction of a previously successful 2009 release that I noted then for its huge caramel profile. Well, give it a year after its release to rest, and that profile changes.

Both sweet and dark, with a touch of molasses settling on the back of your tongue, the aged version presents a roasted, slightly chocolate character as its warms. It becomes a very, very tasty gem, one whose flavor profile is made all the more appealing by the fact that it comes with a medium body rather than a heavier body that could have made this overwhelming.

Ah, good old friends of the beer world. We should all make time to call on them more often.


Saturday, June 14, 2014

Five Years of Great Divide Anniversary Ales

Breweries' 20th anniversaries are great times to gather people, reminisce and drink a lot of new beers. But for Great Divide, which turns the big 2-0 today, anniversaries also have been a good time in recent years to make and bottle a new experimental ale.

I'd managed to cellar the Denver brewery's 15th, 17th and 19th anniversary beers (no, I don't know why I didn't keep 16 or 18) and figured that this seemed to be a great time to break them out and try them. And what the Fearless Tasting Crew discovered a few nights ago in doing so was that wood-aged IPAs get older nicely, syrupy beers need that extra year of mellowing and beer geeks everywhere should spend more time collecting these gifts for a future vertical tasting.

20th (not aged): Belgian ale with viognier grapes
We started with the newest to ensure we set a baseline for freshness. This latest anniversary version is actually the easiest-drinking Great Divide has made in years, despite its 8.2 ABV presence. The grape is subtle and the body is sweet without being anywhere near cloying. Crew members decided it was a tasty high-alcohol summer beer, though not an earth-shattering new experience.

19th (aged 1 year): Strong ale brewed w/ birch syrup, aged on birch wood
Those who remember this ale at its birth generally associate one word with it: Syrupy. The aging seemed to do wonderful things to it. The sweetness mellowed, while the taste of the birch wood was more accented. This is still an extremely thick-bodied beer, but one that seems to have grown up from its somewhat rambunctious youth.

17th (aged 3 years): Wood-aged double IPA
It's usually a bad thing to age an extremely hoppy beer, as the citrus/grassy mouthfeel had, as expected, almost completely disappeared. But the oak has taken on a new life, and a vanilla taste now seeped smoothly through the beer where hops once dominated. I could have used a tad more bite to my taste buds (thinking that drinking this at 1 year of age would have been fantastic), but this was the favorite selection of the other three crew members.

15th (aged 5 years): Wood-aged double IPA
I'm not sure exactly what the difference in recipes was for the 15th and 17th anniversary ales. But the difference in aging was this: The hop taste had completely vanished here, leaving more oak but also a smoother, almost buttery texture to it. And that lingering touch of sweetness presented itself in such a way that you no longer had a beer lacking hop bite but a completely new ale, showing off a big wood backbone but a pleasant, complex taste. This was the winner to me.

And when I head to the 20th Anniversary bash in a little while, I may just have to ask if any more of the 15th Anniversary ales still exist, as I think it might be completely different again in another two years ....

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Friday, May 23, 2014

 A New Old Chicago?

Truth is, American Craft Beer Week largely came and went without notice last week. Most breweries seemed to offer some discounted beer specials, but the brewing creativity they displayed during Colorado Craft Beer Week or before the Great American Beer Festival just wasn't there.

That made it all the more surprising, then, that one of the best finds of the week came not from an ultra-specialized craft brewery but from a locally based national chain whose one-time reputation as beer central seemed to have evaporated in recent years. And one can only hope that this is a sign of even better things to come from Old Chicago, whose new CEO came into his post earlier this year promising to make the chain stand out more.

Old Chicago, if you missed it, offered a Firestone Walker tap takeover of sorts. The limited-time gem of their menu was Opal, a saison whose soured version was one of the talks of Vail Big Beers 2013. But it also became the first place in Colorado to serve up Firestone's 805 Honey Blonde and offer a couple of other new or limited-time beers, including a pair of sessionable IPAs.

Honey Blonde is a two-year-old beer with limited availability but a growing California following that Daniel Imdieke, Old Chicago manager of beer operations, asked the company to debut in Colorado for the week. For my money, it didn't live up to its hype, offering just a touch of sweetness but not enough to differentiate it from a standard lighter ale.

However, Old Chicago's offering of Firestone's Summer Session IPA and Easy Jack, a pair of IPAs coming in at 4.5 percent ABV each, seemed to set a great tone for summer and offer a burst of hops that some other early attempts at the new style have lacked. Easy Jack had a good bitter mouthfeel but not an overwhelming bite on your tongue, and Summer Session was full of grassy character for its light body and went very well with the Sicilian Rolls in a beer/app pairing that was offered.

The tap takeover was the second locally for the chain, which offered a similar event with Stone Brewing earlier this year.

One should remember that in the late 1970s and early 1980s, shortly after future Rock Bottom founder Frank Day launched the chain, it was THE place to go for what was then a limited supply of beer creativity. And if last week's efforts and the brand makeover are any indication, Old Chicago won't be replacing Falling Rock on best beer-bar lists anytime soon, but it should be able to use its clout to bring some otherwise-hard-to-find offerings into this state and introduce them to a crowd that may be a little less hard-core beer geek than that which is scouring the downtown beer bars for gems.
And that sounds like a pretty good plan.

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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Colorado is the King of the Beer World

It had been nearly an hour since Scott Witsoe, owner of Wit's End Brewing, has won his World Beer Cup medal by the time I caught up to him last night to interview him for the Denver Business Journal. He was still so excited and downright shocked that many of the words coming out of his mouth couldn't end up in my article.

"It's completely surreal," he said of taking a bronze medal in the Belgian-style blonde/pale ale category for his Jean-Claude Van Blond - despite having brewed it on a one-barrel system. "I turned to my wife and I said, 'Did I just hear that right?'"

A lot of Colorado brewers may have been asking that Friday night, because a lot of them - 20 altogether - took home medals in the competition that involved beers from 58 different countries. But what may have made the biggest statement about the state's up-and-coming beer scene is who took the medals home - a lot of smaller and newer breweries.

Wit's End, Strange Craft Beer, Cannonball Creek Brewing, Aspen Brewing and 11-month-old Riff Raff Brewing all took home awards - and none of them distribute outside the state. Hell, Verboten Brewing of Loveland nabbed two awards.

You can check out the full list of winners here, but the story line running through them - at least through the Colorado group - was that the beers people were talking about got the credit they deserve. Strange's Cherry Kriek, one of the best combinations of sweet and tart in this state, won a gold. Left Hand's Sawtooth Ale, maybe the standard bearer for easy-drinking ales, won a gold. Odell Brewing's Runoff, it's hop-heavy new red ale, won a gold.

Yes, there was audible booing when George Killian's Irish Red took the gold for Irish-style red ale. But for the most part, there was jubilation and acknowledgement that, hey, this was a good night for good beers.

If you don't believe me, just look at these photos, taken by Jason E. Kaplan and provided by the Brewers Association, after the show. You might even be able to see Witsoe (above) or Strange owner Tim Myers (below) mouthing "Holy #*$!, I won!" And if you can't, you should swing by their breweries in the coming days, celebrate with them and hear it in person.

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