Saturday, May 05, 2018

Cerveceria Colorado Will Change the Way You Look at Mexican Beer

Those who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s came to think of Mexican beer as watery amber lager at best. At worst, it was a urine-colored liquid that you jammed a lime into just to get past the skunk and make it palatable.

So, it's natural that eyebrows should raise with today's opening of Ceveceria Colorado, a Denver Beer Co. project that celebrates the cultures and flavors of Mexico across an opening-day lineup of eight beers. But you need to remove from your predispositions any concept of what you think Mexican beer is, because what has been created here is an explosion of flavors that is unlike anything you'll find in Mexican beers that export to the United States.

Roasted limes, pineapple, even churro add to base beers that are both native to Mexico and nowhere to be found in our neighbor to the south. In some ways, the offerings are more experimental and more satisfying than even the portfolio of beers found at Denver Beer.

"Some beers like this exist, for sure. But a lot of the craft breweries down there ... have pretty standard beer styles. They have an ale and a porter," said Jason Buehler, the head brewer at Denver Beer who has spent significant time brewing with Mexican craft purveyors. "This is a totally separate identity. It's a great space. It's a great place. And the beers are fun."

Buehler got introduced to Mexican brewing a few years ago when he was one of just two Americans that got to judge a craft beer festival in the country. Through the connections he made there, he began to travel more to the country, working with breweries to improve their beer but also soaking in the flavors that hadn't crossed the border and understanding the breadth of tastes that local Mexican breweries have to work with.

Denver Beer, meanwhile, had a barrel room next door to its main Platte Street location that too often went unused. It considered opening a sour brewery or a German brewery but decided that those concepts had been done and that it wanted to introduce something totally unique - "American-style craft beers with Mexican inspirations," co-owner Patrick Crawford said.

Cerveceria Colorado's menu does feature a traditional Mexican lager, Venga, and it's the most boring offering on the menu, reminiscent of Tecate but without that lingering off-taste that makes you feel the beer went too long without being refrigerated. Buehler and co-owners Crawford and Charlie Berger think it will be the brewery's signature beer, but you're honestly better off skipping it.

Instead, go directly to the Cocolimón, a kettle sour made with roasted limes in collaboration with Cerveceria de Colima in the Mexican city of Colima. It's the roast that makes this beer stand out from any sour beer you've ever tasted, giving it a fresh, cooked base and making the lime less acidic than it is omnipresent, creating a unique taste that transports you elsewhere in your mind.

The Churro Stout is another winner — a beer that came about only after Buehler drove around the Denver area with his son one day trying to find the tastiest churro. What he developed — a milk stout with those winning churros thrown into the mash — is big on lactose and background cinnamon and so smooth and sweet that it has a slight complexity that's not present in many other sweet stouts.

Then there's Señor Piña, a blonde ale fermented with pineapples and dry-hopped with Mosaic hops. It's fruity without being cloying, subtle in its hopping and an altogether very drinkable experience.

The menu is filled with other treats, from a light but tasty poblano pilsner to a chocolate pale ale that feels naturally blended rather than some sort of gimmick. Around every turn, Cerveceria Colorado is willing to throw something new at you and demonstrate it knows what it's doing.

Berger acknowledges that this isn't the beer most Mexicans are drinking. But he thinks the melange of flavors would give them pride in what they taste. And it should rightfully please all the non-Mexican Denverites who want to stop in and learn just how fully realized a cultural effort this is.

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Friday, April 27, 2018

Something Old and Yet New from a Colorado Craft Brewing Veteran

Over its 24-year history, Left Hand Brewing has never been one to follow trends. It took until 2016 for the Longmont brewery to roll out its first year-round American-style IPA, for example. And while everyone else was testing the limits of hops or bacteria in their beer in the early 2010s, Eric Wallace and crew were pushing the limits on smoothness by getting nitrogenated milk stout into a bottle.

So, it should shock few people that Left Hand's two newest year-round offerings are throwback styles - a porter and a golden ale - but with the brewery's classic twists. What is a bit more surprising is that while one of the new offerings really nails its unique place in the Colorado beer world, the other seems a bit lost and looking for a defined personality.

Death Before Disco Porter and Juicy Goodness Dry-Hopped Golden Ale are appropriately drinkable beers as we get ready to enter the summer months. The porter carries with it just a 6 percent ABV hit, while Juicy Goodness registers at 5.5 percent ABV and only 29 IBUs. Both are appropriate for an afternoon backyard barbecue.

Brandishing five different malts, Death Before Disco blends them perfectly and creates a rich, slightly roasty body with a hint of chocolate. But what jumps out is its strong background hits of dark berry - really, it has an air of cherry - that give it complexity without making it feel like a fruit beer. That all combines into an excessively easy body, in a good way.

It is, to put it simply, a more interesting porter than most of what is out on the market. It's accessible and slightly sweeter, but not in an kind of unnatural way. And the hints of dark fruit that permeate it make you want to swirl it around on your tongue to get the full range of kilned and bright flavors, permeated with a slight hint of coffee and hop bitterness. It's a fascinating beer for something that can fairly be described as hum-drumly as a classic porter.

Juicy Goodness also seems to be reaching to be something more than just a golden ale or a lighter-bodied offering with a significant hop influence. And while it doesn't taste like anything that Left Hand has produced before, it also doesn't feel like it ultimately knows what it wants to be.

The Mosaic hops used in the dry-hopping don't lend their usual tropical flavoring here so much as a Pixie-Stick-like burst of sweetness that is offset by a slightly acidic overtone. While there is a somewhat subdued hop presence upfront, there is a lasting bitterness that goes along with it. And you're left with a surprisingly aggressive bite for a light-bodied beer, and a strange combination that doesn't fit easily into any flavor profile.

Brewing outside the box certainly is not a bad thing, and Left Hand has done it well over and over again, taking a classic style and putting a twist onto it to make it more interesting - like, say, adding lactose to a nitro stout. But while that unique dark-fruit overtone that takes Death Before Disco and turns it into a beer for people who want originality in porters works exceedingly well, the dry-hopping of a lighter style feels slightly odd in Juicy Goodness, making you want something more classical and less daring there.

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Sunday, April 15, 2018

Cheers to 3 Beers That Take It Easy and Create Something Unique

At the media breakfast the morning after the first session of the 2017 Great American Beer Festival, no one wanted something heavy or complex. But when Samuel Adams poured its lager/ale hybrid, Sam '76, no one seemed prepared to enjoy the beer as much as they did.

After some 60 unsatisfying test batches, Jim Koch and crew had come up with a beer that was both light on the palate and flowing with citrus and melon fruit, thanks to its combination of Cascade, Citra, Mosaic and Simcoe hops. And it pulled off the rare track of being fully imbued with flavor and yet airy - a combination that Koch aptly described as "crushable craft beer."

But while Sam '76 (the lighter beer in the glass next to Rebel IPA above), which went nationwide in early 2018, felt revelatory at that moment, it's now one in a rising number of beers that manage to bet big on taste and aroma while going remarkably easy on the palate. While some are new, others seem to be grabbing new notice as something of a mid-point between the truly lighter craft lagers that are making a comeback and the more intricate offerings that still tempt our taste buds even at times we want something a bit more relatable.

And, like Sam '76, some of the other notable creations that fit this description are hybrids of other styles that work better as a combination than they likely would on their own.

Take, for example, Denver Beer's Japance Off Saison, its newest canned beer offering that was released early this year. It puts together two fermentation characteristics that a lot of craft beer doesn't use on its own - sake yeast and French ale yeast - and adds to the uniqueness with the European-grown Mistral hop that is simultaneously aromatic and light.

The result is a saison without the challenging earthy spice that others of the style offer but with an exceedingly clean and smooth finish that highlights both mildly fruity esters and a late-breaking hint of bitterness. There are few saisons on the market built for both this level of all-day drinking - it comes in at a reasonable 5.7 percent alcohol by volume - and this level of satisfaction.

New Image Brewing's Olde Town Regular has been around for about two years now, but it too is worth a notice in the world of crushable hybrids. Brewed like a helles and fermented like a kolsch, it pours a very cloudy golden with a thick head, leaving you to wonder what the Arvada brewers might have been seeking when they designed it.

The answer is in the flavor - a touch of clove on the nose, combined with a malty, semisweet mouthfeel and just a bite of hop presence on the end, leaving you with the impression you were drinking a meaty hefeweizen or a highly approachable Belgian table beer. It's unique, it's easy and yet it keeps calling you to pick out which flavor of the bunch is rising to the surface, giving you complexity without weight.

All three are worth keeping in mind especially as the weather warms. But all are good any time of year, creating their own new "crushable" category in a sector that can benefit from it.

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Monday, April 09, 2018

Renegade's Pleasing Polite Side

Renegade Brewing's best beers traditionally have been the ones that go way, way off-style or outside the mainstream. Think beet saison. Think triple IPA. Think imperial peanut butter cup stout.

That's why it's both pleasing and surprising to see that its newest offering — its Free to Roam American Pale Ale, released officially on Saturday — is a gem specifically because it's subtle and yet imbued with big flavor. And while breweries can fluctuate from beer to beer in terms of what they nail and what they miss, Free to Roam feels like a very mature effort for a brewery that's about to undertake a significant expansion.

The beer replaces Consilium Pale Ale in the year-round lineup for the Denver brewery after a four-year run for that beer — and that's a good thing. Consilium was an early example of the fruited hop beer, and while that pale ale brewed with orange peel wasn't offensive like some other entries in the style, it had an almost chewy body and minimal hop flavor that never seemed to land it in a category that would please hop heads or more experimental drinkers.

Free to Roam tosses aside the actual fruit and replaces it with a mouthful of Citra hops, giving it the feel of a lighter-bodied IPA swimming in melons. But it doesn't go overboard on either the fruity characteristics or the bitterness, ending with just enough of a hop bite to prick your taste buds and then be gone. It's both ultra-drinkable and full of hop-reaching personality — a great beer especially for the coming summer season.

The presence of Free to Roam doesn't mean Renegade is giving up on its fruited hop beers, for those who like that trend. Summer Tan, its deceptively boozy double IPA made with tangerine essence, is coming back this year and getting a run in cans into all five states in which Renegade distributes. It's an easy beer that isn't quite sure whether it wants to be bitter or fruity, but it at least is punchy with both flavors.

Free to Roam, however, is the kind of beer you'll be drinking all summer. And after Renegade recently snagged the Colorado Brewery of the Year award at the New York International Beer Competition, it's a further sign that the beer maker is upping its game.

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Thursday, April 05, 2018

5 Things I Learned from Collaboration Beer Fest 2018

Zero. That is the number of beers anyone reported trying that should have been dumped or left at the drawing board. Considering that Collaboration Beer Fest is an experimental gathering where one could be forgiven were something to go wrong, that number is all that more amazing.

Beyond the general good news - from the quality of the beer to the lack of long lines to the improved venue at the Hyatt Regency Denver at Colorado Convention Center - there were specific nuggets to take from Saturday's collaboration celebration hosted by Two Parts and the Colorado Brewers Guild. And here's a few that should be remembered, both while breweries still have some of their offerings available and in the long term.

1) Sometimes the best stories really do make the best beer.
Mockery and Baere have been collaborating for four years, telling a story with their beers that began with someone being stranded on a desert island with only an infected keg of beer (inspiring a kettle sour IPA) and advancing to the edition this year where he escaped and landed on a French colony. It was a good enough arc to make an imperial French Toast stout.

But no plot twist prepared you for exactly how adventurous "Mocking Baered Episode 4: Intercontinental" was. You tasted the rolling flavors of sparking cinnamon and sweet brown sugar highlighting a big, thick body that made you feel you could eat this with a fork. And you wanted to go back immediately for second breakfast.

2) And sometimes the craziest ideas make the best beer.
"Dry Hopped Malt Liquor" sounded the collaboration idea most likely to have been conceived after a full night of slamming barleywines. But Lone Tree and Cannonball Creek pulled this off masterfully, creating something akin to a light-bodied double IPA that seemed far more drinkable than its 7.6 percent ABV tag would indicate. It may have been the greatest find of the festival.

3) Then again, sometimes the best breweries make the best beer.
Maybe the least newsworthy statement emanating from the festival was the fact that Weldwerks and Casey Brewing could get together and make a very good beer. But that still would not have prepped you for how delightful their bitter-less, pineapple- and mango-forward Transmountain Diversion New England-style double IPA could drink.

Ditto for the Colorado Brewers Guild collaboration with Crooked Stave Artisan Project and 13 other states' brewers guilds on a Cherry Coast to Coast sour ale.Even with that much collective brewing power, the burgundy ale with sour cherries managed both to be challenging and surprisingly approachable.

4) Bring on the spices.
Horchata is getting more popular as a beer ingredient, but Fate Brewing and Ladyface Ale Companie took it in an entirely new and very complimentary direction by adding it to a biere de garde. Meanwhile, Danny Wang of Caution Brewing brought back his so-crazy-this-could-only-work-for-him bag of tricks, collaborating with Moonlight Pizza & Brewpub of Salida to add five-spice to a gose and somehow make it blend authentically while also making your taste buds jolt to life.

5) Subtle barrel-aging can go a long way.
Strange Craft Beer and Fiction Brewing hit it out the park with a strong saison aged in a rum barrel with plums and blackberries - largely because the rum took on more of a mellowing background note and let the fruit and yeast be the stars here. Meanwhile, the blend of foeder-aged sours New Belgium and Blackberry Farm conjoined with a late spring mild ale made their Biere de Mai a solid offering without any overbearing nature.

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Friday, March 30, 2018

10 Beers to Seek Out at Collaboration Fest

Collaboration Beer Fest is an event in which the wild ideas that make you shake your head when you first read about them actually turn out.  Yet, creations like the 2015 Basil Kriek Blonde — the Copper Kettle/Strange Craft Beer blend of Basil Blonde and Cherry Kriek — end up not only working but being some of the best beers you will drink all year.

With that said, here are 10 of the most fascinating experiments that will be on tap Saturday afternoon at the Hyatt Regency Denver at the Colorado Convention Center when the Colorado Brewers Guild and Two Parts bring us the fifth annual collaboration blowout event.

*  Comrade/Breakside Double-Dry-Hopped Beer Pressure 1.5 IPA
Last year, Comrade teamed up with Montana's Uberbrew to make a triple IPA that arguably was the best beer of the festival. This year they are teaming with another known hop auteur to produce a hazy IPA that can't be missed.

* Weldwerks/Casey Brewing and Blending Transmountain Diversion
If these two breweries made an Old Milwaukee clone, I'd still stand in line for it. The fact that they made a double IPA may make me push people out of my way for it.

 * New Belgium/Rare Barrel On the Shoulder of Giants 2017
This is a golden sour aged in oak barrels with peaches and jasmine pearl tea from two breweries that have earned their national reputations. Enough said.

* Guild Collaboration Cherry Coast to Coast
The Colorado Brewers Guild teamed up with the Brewers Association and nine other states' craft-brewing guilds to churn out a sour ale. And they made it with Crooked Stave. This really might be the absolute definition of craft brewing.

* Mockery/Baere Mocking Baered Episode 4: Intercontinental
The running collaboration from the pair of 4-year-old Denver breweries that fly too far under the radar may be the single best story among the back stories of beers at the festival. But even without it, this giant pastry stout would be hard to ignore.

* Lone Tree/Cannonball Creek Dry-Hopped Malt Liquor
Just let that sink in. And then realize that Cannonball Creek nearly stole the show with a pale ale last year. This should be the most spot-on and yet wildest malt liquor of all time.

* Funkwerks/New Image Arnie
Kettle sour is a very popular style this year. But when you see two brewers who have consistently surprised and taken styles to new levels working on this genre, the result will be worth trying.

 * Cerberus/Fossil/Goat Patch Deception IPA
Last month I took a weekend trip to Colorado Springs and discovered that the brewing scene is as evolved and complex as it's ever been. Denverites probably don't know these three very good breweries. This sour Belgian IPA should tell you all you need to know about the Springs.

 * Fate Brewing/Ladyface Ale Horchata de Garde
Boulder's most underrated brewery teams with one of America's most interesting brewpubs to make a biere de garde with an accent of Mexico? My 2-ounce cup runneth over.

* Caution/Moonlight Pizza & Brewpub What the Duck Five-Spice GoséIf there's a beer that seems to have an ingredient that doesn't belong in beer, but it happens to be made by Caution, run to it. This collab also may introduce the world to an underrated Salida brewery.

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Monday, March 26, 2018

Collaboration Fest: Where the Stories Behind the Beers Matter

Speaking about collaboration beers to Jordan Fink, co-owner and head brewer of Denver's Woods Boss Brewing, is a little like talking about throwing the greatest party you can imagine. It's not an act of obligation, of somehow working with your cohorts to find a shared vision, to him so much as it is an inspired task, one that can leave you giddy with the possibilities of what you can create.

"I can't speak for anyone else. But for me, I have so many friends in the industry. We get together and drink together and talk about what we'd like to do together," Fink shared Thursday night at an industry gathering to welcome Thirsty Monk brewery to town. "It's an official opportunity for us to mind-meld and do things that we'd never do alone ... I love being with other brewers."

If Fink gets you excited about the idea of what can come from brewery collaborations, you're not alone. On Saturday afternoon, 200 breweries will unveil more than 100 beers that are the products of their unions at the fifth annual Collaboration Fest at the Hyatt Regency Denver. The gathering, put on by Two Parts and the Colorado Brewers Guild, is one of the best in the state at showing off the daring and creativity that sometimes only comes when two or more friends masquerading as pseudo-competitors poke each other enough, saying, "Is that all you've got?"

The beers that will be on display are worth mentioning and will be dissected in a column later this week. But the spirit of the festival is more than the liquid that is poured into your taster glass. It's the "why" behind the beers that are going into that glass.

So, after streaming through countless emails and sharing a few beers recently with some of the participants in the event, here are five of the best stories of how collaborations came together.

1) Escaping from a Desert Island
Denverites Baere and Mockery Brewing originally decided to brew together because they opened just a few months apart, but their experiment has turned into a four-year odyssey of beers that tell the story of someone being stranded on a desert island and then working to escape. Following efforts like a smoked pineapple saison, this year's edition, Intercontinental When I Eat French Toast, is a huge pastry stout imagining the story's hero fleeing from the island on rum barrels and floating all the way to France, co-owner Kevin Greer shared.

2) Beer-Crowd-Sourcing 
For its collaboration with organizer Two Parts, Little Machine Beer wanted to let ticket holders to the festival have a say. So, after deciding the style would be a saison, it's been having attendees vote on most of the rest of the ingredients for months, and the result (shown in production above) will be the aptly named People's Beer.

3) Getting the Band Back Together 
Fink began his brewing journey at Tommyknocker Brewery, and to celebrate his heritage, he invited as many former fellow beer makers from the Idaho Springs icon back to craft a collaboration. The resulting baltic porter, 10K Alumni, involved eight breweries and was the 10,000th batch made on Tommyknocker's system.

4) A Cross-Border Experiment
Upslope Brewing of Boulder and Santa Fe Brewing (shown at right) wanted to craft a beverage that showed off the
best of each of their states. Thigh Five, a "southwest common" includes huitlacoche, a plant fungus that grows on the ears of corn and has a slightly smoky flavor. Bet you didn't see that coming.

5) Let the Music Play
Any shared set of interests, from a common neighborhood to a common distributor, can bring about a reason to craft a collaboration beer. But when you are the two breweries in Colorado most closely associated with love of music — the former-punk-rock-promoters-turned-impromptu-concert-hosts at Ratio Beerworks and the guys from Ska Brewing whose name reflects the tunes blaring over their speakers when they began to brew — the Magnetic North Norwegian white IPA can only be a melodious product (as shown in the photo at top).

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