Sunday, April 07, 2019

A Most Unique Denver Brewery

Your first impression of the offerings at Dos Luces Brewery, frankly, is: These aren't beer. The thick, multicolored samplers at your fingertips are bright and flavorful, but there's no way they are beer.

And yet, owner Judd Belstock not only is serving up beer, he is fashioning malted beverages in a uniquely American way from the Pulque and Chicha traditions of Mexico and Peru — traditions passed down from his father, who spent a portion of the 1960s with the Peace Corps in South America enjoying the unusual native beverages.

As the brewing world descends on Denver this week for the Craft Brewers Conference, there are no shortage of great breweries making memorable beer for them to stop by. But there may be none so wildly unique as Dos Luces, so much so that the biggest question is whether it inspires copycats or simply remains a one-of-a-kind draw.

"Our mission statement is we want to change the way that people think about beer," Belstock said.

Over the past 10 years, the onslaught of sours, pastry stouts and IPAs with all manners of adjunct ingredients already has redefined beer. What separates Dos Luces' offerings is the wide range of tastes they produce from just two base styles of beer.

Chicha, a corn-based beverage made in the Peruvian tradition, has a natural sweetness, even as Belstock makes it with a slightly nuttier-tasting blue corn, and it works perfectly as a base when spice is added. The brewery's flagship Chicha Inti has strong flavors of both clove and cinnamon, and that has given life to a series of one-offs, including a Pumpkin Spice Chicha from late 2018 that used ginger to create a particularly refreshing aftertaste.

Pulque, a Mexican drink traditionally made from the sap of the maguey plant, brings a slightly more familiar taste, one that's less juice-reminiscent and more earthy and malty in its design — particularly in the always-available Pulque Metztli, which is Brett-fermented and kettle-soured. It's produced fascinating spin-offs such as a slightly tart Strawberry Nutmeg Pulque and a Lime Ancho Chile Pulque that brings the full mouth of a meal cooked with spices rather than the traditional burn of a chile beer.

Belstock (pictured below) makes his creations from barley and corn in order to meet the definition of beer, though the lack of hops in his offerings renders them eligible for just two categories at the Great American Beer Festival — historical and experimental brews. At his first festival last year, just a few months after the brewery opened, he found drinkers confused as to what they were imbibing, yet still wanting to come back and have more.

The reaction is understandable, and it's one that only will grow as he adds more twists on his two flagship beers, including a collaboration Belgian-style saison made with maguey sap — brewed with with Atrevida Beer Co. of Colorado Springs and BorderX Brewing of San Diego — that will be on at Dos Luces throughout this week. That follows the brewery's first imperial chicha, released last month.

But as other breweries scramble for ways to stand out in a crowded market, Dos Luces needs only to attract attention for people to note how it's different. And in a city that has embraced everything from traditional English-style cask beers to oenobeers, it deserves its own spotlight.

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Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Three Variants of Notable Beers That Made Winter 2019 Special

Technically winter is done, and that means that people already have started talking about summer beers and festivals and front-porch pounders rather than fireplace sippers. But we shouldn't forget the most recent season so quickly.

Particularly, we shouldn't forget the way that a number of breweries took traditional beers, added to them and made variants to remember for a long time. It's not that they necessarily were better than the originals - well, in the case of Westfax Brewing and owner Anthony Martuscello (pictured above), yes it was - but it was that new ingredients and aging took beer that stood tall on its own and made a separate and unique beer that stood very tall on its own.

Here, then are three in particular that are worthy of mention - and of repeats in the future:

1) Westfax Brewing Rye Are You Judging Me
Silently Judging, a Laws Whiskey bourbon-barrel-aged imperial stout that the Lakewood brewery released in the fall, was big and smooth and roasty and slightly boozy - everything you want in an imperial stout. But aging the same base imperial stout in a Laws Whiskey rye barrel produced something entirely more flavorful, replete with pervasive vanilla and a back-bite spice and so much warmth that it lit up the cold night for the brewery's third anniversary in February. And, thankfully, there are still bottles available.

2) Verboten Brewing Sweet Chai Whiskey Barrel Boots
Killer Boots, the Loveland brewery's caramel porter, is a wonderful
beer that is made slightly bitter by its additive. But when the beer is aged with chai spices, brown sugar and vanilla, it takes on a complexity where the spice and sweetness take over the booze and create a level of flavor that almost gets overwhelming but stops right before it goes over the edge. Available now at the brewery (it's the third from left in the third row in this small sampler I had yesterday), it is something that has to be drank to be understood properly.

3) Left Hand Raspberry Milk Stout
It's difficult to mess with one of Colorado's deservedly signature beers, but the level of raspberries used here and their pungency in this beer, from nose to taste, actually creates a whole different brew. This is fruity sweet bordering on tart - the rare stout where the dark body, while perfectly cushioning the beer, almost takes a back seat to the vibrant addition to it. This is not some gimmicky knock-off but a bold addition to the milk-stout line to show how the base beer can be used in a totally different and more supporting way to create something that's a style unto its own.

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Thursday, March 21, 2019

6 Beers that Stood out at Collaboration Beer Fest

It used to be that Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines was the one festival after which you took out your notes the next day to revive your memory of what you had because there was so much good stuff on the floor that you inadvertently got drunk. Well, certainly after this year - if not before - Collaboration Beer Fest has moved into that category.

From daring ingredients to hopped-up gems to a surprisingly deep and wide variety of smooth dark beers, there was beauty as far as the tongue could taste at the Colorado Brewers Guild/Two Parts festival once again this year. And if there was something different from past years it was this: The beers everyone seemed to be talking about days afterward weren't the ridiculous 13 percent pastry stouts so much as a perfectly made Baltic porter or expertly crafted double IPA or even a California common. Yes, a steam beer got people talking at a beer festival.

With a few days worth of hindsight, then, here are the creations that people likely will be begging for months down the road:

1) Dueces Wild/Brass Brewing Cerberus Brewing Imperial IPL
Everyone was thoroughly ready for the Cerebral/Weldwerks New England-style double IPA, which packed in the expected pineapple rush with appropriate bitterness. But this gem from three Colorado Springs breweries actually seemed more impressive - a bright, hazy, juicy and highly Polynesian-style hop bomb that drank as easy as an India pale lager but with more mouth-filling flavor than ever has been associated with that style.

2) Station 26/Brink Brewing Imperial Milk Stout
The body was creamy and yet wonderfully dark, without any telltale sign of the high alcohol within it. But it was the cinnamon and chocolate adjuncts in here that absolutely lit up the mouth and made fantastic use of the already impressive base beer.

3) Ska Brewing/Call to Arms Baltic Porter
Yes, this is a style that appears to be on the rise again, and it's because of creations like this that imbue it with a deep roast atop an easy-drinking body. Nothing fancy here, just a lot of taste, done by two expert breweries.

4) Living the Dream/Angry James Brewing Imperial Coffee Brown
Silverthorne's Angry James deserves more attention as one of the finest coffee-beer makers in Colorado. This was a flat-out dark-roast, fill-your-mouth-and-make-you-want-to-swirl-it-more-for-fear-of-losing-the-flavor pleaser - simple yet absurdly tasty.

5) Comrade Brewing/Epic Brewing Dry-Hopped California Common
Maybe you should have figured that if anyone could have found a way to add hops to a very subtle style of beer and make it really, really interesting, it would have been the geniuses behind Superpower IPA and some of the best hazy beers made in Colorado. But truly, this flavor was complex and maybe even a little bit funky in the way the hops seemed to rest tantalizingly on top of the base beer, making for one of the most surprising finds of the day.

6) Jagged Mountain/105 West Rum-Barrel-Aged Imperial Ice Cream Old Ale
Of all the potentially gimmick beers in the show, this was the one that seemed to really capture a unique flavor that you would want to try again, even if maybe not by the six-pack. Enormous cherry from the chocolate-cherry Little Man Ice Cream that was thrown into the boil gave this a sweet but not cloying overtone, and the boozy old ale quality reminded you un-subtly that this was beer, not some kind of milkshake treat.

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Thursday, March 14, 2019

8 Under-the-Radar Beers You Need to Try at Collaboration Fest

Collaboration Beer Fest, which has staked its claim as being one of the five best beer festivals in Colorado, goes from 2 to 6 p.m. Saturday. Between the bomb cyclone and the college basketball conference tournaments, the event, which has more than 100 beers made together by anywhere from two to 10 breweries, seemed to sneak up this year.

"Sneak" is a term that rarely describes what's poured at this celebration of unity in the craft-beer industry, which often turns into a contest on who can make the strangest and yet most enjoyable experiment. This year, for example, Coal Mine Ave and Seedstock are making a margarita imperial gose, Jagged Mountain and 105 West have brewed a rum-barrel-aged imperial ice cream old ale, and eight RiNo-area brewers are presenting your run-of-the-mill mushroom schwarzbier.

But one of the secrets of the festival is that some breweries turn in another direction and go subtle - and they can often create some of the tastiest beers in the room. So, with that said, here are eight beers that are likely to fly under many attendees' radars but that should land solidly on yours if you are going (which you should).

1) Casey Brewing and Blending/Outer Range Brewing IPA
It's just a simple IPA, in a sea of double hazies, wood-added IPAs and blueberry protein milkshake IPAs (yes, that's an actual offering). But it's a simple IPA made by two of the finest brewers in Colorado who are not on the Front Range. And that sounds simply wonderful.

2) Ratio Beerworks/Revolution Brewing Southern Hemisphere Pilsner
The boom in recent years in Australian and New Zealand hops, particularly the wonderful and slightly woody Nelson Sauvin variety, typically have gone to create new tastes in IPAs. Having one of RiNo's best auteurs combine with one of Chicago's star breweries to spruce up a lighter-bodied pilsner with them should put the hops even more front and center for all to notice.

3) Cannonball Creek Brewing/Beer Media Pre-Prohibition Pilsner
Sure, I'm biased, since I was one of about a dozen beer writers who showed up at Golden's finest brewery on Feb. 1 to let Brian Hutchinson do the real work and then take turns between us stirring the mash (that's me above and Brian below). But Cannonball Creek has proven to have the magic touch with subtle beers, enough so that a bunch of hacks like us couldn't screw this up.

4) Living the Dream Brewing/Angry James Brewing Imperial Coffee Brown
You may not have made it up to Silverthorne yet to try Angry James' Two Tone Footer Stout, which is dry-hopped with coffee beans and takes on one of the least bitter, roasty mocha feels of any coffee brew in Colorado. But if you have, you know not to walk past another one of its coffee experiments, particularly when it's made with this underrated Littleton beer maker.

5) Tivoli Brewing/MSU Denver Belgian Tripel Brut
In a show full of daring professional brewers, you may not want to try the beer made partially by a bunch of college kids. But remember that Metro State has a program specifically for students to learn how to brew and to operate a brewery. And know too that this is a tripel spiced with orange zest, hibiscus flowers and Indian Coriander, so there's nothing dull about it.

6) Station 26 Brewing/Brink Brewing Imperial Milk Stout
Don't know Brink Brewing? The Cincinnati beer-maker just won Very Small Brewing Company of the Year at the 2018 Great American Beer Festival. And since Station 26 pretty much can't miss, this should be a fun, if semi-traditional, style.

7) Comrade Brewing/Epic Brewing Dry-Hopped California Common
Those who remember the Comrade/Uberbrew Triple IPA from Collaboration Fest 2017 were reinforced in their beliefs that this south Denver beer maker could do anything with hops. Dry-hopping a steam beer will put that statement to the test, but it and Epic have worked their own magic separately before.

8) Pikes Peak/Red Leg/Cerberus/FH Beer Works/Black Forest/Goat Patch/Dueces Wild/JAKs wine-beer hybrid with syrah grape must fermented with saison yeast
OK, there's nothing subtle about the beer here. But people may be tempted to overlook it because the eight breweries behind it are Colorado Springs-area crafters with limited to no distribution in Denver. In truth, the Springs scene has been improving significantly in recent years, and the breweries here (particularly Cerberus, Goat Patch and Pikes Peak) are among its stars.

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Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Old 121 Brewing: Old Fashioned and Loving It

Caution Brewing reveled in making beer with ingredients that most brewers would enjoy only with the food portion of their dinners. Cardamom, a proprietary Chinese five-spice blend, a hearty helping of Earl Grey tea — these were the things that made the Lakewood brewery so magical and unique.

So, when the new brewery in Caution's former 1057 S. Wadsworth Boulevard home opens on Wednesday, the tap list might seem shocking in comparison: a honey brown ale, an Irish red, a lager, a pale ale with Mosaic hops. And in that sense, Old 121 Brewhouse might just be the anti-Caution.

The co-owners (pictured above) of what will be the sixth brewery in Lakewood have backgrounds with some of the largest and most experimental breweries in the area. Head brewer Jason Bailey learned the art at TRVE. Brett and Karla Zahrte held various roles at Coors Brewing. Both Brett and Jason spent time ramping up the production at Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project.

But when they and partner Eric Gupta decided to launch their own brewery, they wanted something laid back, with a focus on easy-drinking styles without the words "hazy" or "brut" or "pastry" anywhere in their descriptions. And while they may eventually work with nearby businesses to get some kegs out to them, they also have no interest in pushing Old 121 into the realm of distribution.

"I want to see people out here enjoying what they've got. It's not so much about making a big name for ourselves on the scene," Bailey said over a beer on Tuesday, one day before the soft opening. "We're not going to try to run the race with everybody else in the industry."

Instead, Old 121 wants to be the neighborhood brewery, a place that is easily accessible to the growing residential population in central Lakewood. Three of the four partners live in the western suburb, and the Zahrtes grew up in Golden going to a local bar that they considered to be like a community as it welcomed in families.

To that aim, Old 121 also will make its own sodas, including two dry-hopped sodas, and will be the first brewery in the Denver area offering iced tea on draft. It will have a video-game machine, and its owners hope it can be that place that people feel comfortable pulling into out of rush-hour traffic and having a beer or two without fears of being intoxicated.

The beers, by the way, are just what one may imagine for a place with the laid-back goals of Old 121. The honey brown is pleasant and easy - malty and a touch sweet without being cloying. The Irish Red (pictured in front of the brewery's beer engine that will be used for pouring an English mild collaboration with Grateful Gnome that is titled "tastes like beer — one star") is all malt with a medium body and a sessionable feel to it.

They're beers that you will enjoy if you're not expecting to have your taste buds blown away. They're beers that, appropriately, just have an old-school feel.

"Really, what we're trying to do here is build a community gathering space, open a local watering hole," Brett said. "We're trying to keep this taproom focused as a neighborhood fixture where you can come and get that after-shift lager."

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Monday, February 18, 2019

Oskar Blues' Best Beer. Period.

Oskar Blues has been a national canning pioneer since 2002, released arguably the first session IPA that actually tasted like an IPA and has reeled off delicious beers in its 22 years ranging from an imperial red to a coconut Irish porter.

And that history and variety makes the following statement all the more amazing, even as it is true: Its new Can-O-Bliss Tropical IPA is the best beer that the Longmont brewery ever has made.

Cloudy enough in its fireball orange color to pass for a hazy, the recently released effort has qualities similar to the hot style, from its Polynesian fruit overtones to its smooth finish with a backbite of bitterness to remind you this isn't some kind of fruit-infused IPA. But this takes all those notes several steps further, creating a brew that is nothing less than Hawaiian fruit salad with enough traditional hop kick to finish strong and create a truly unique flavor profile.

The tropical IPA — or "island vacation in a can," as one rightly could call it — is the first in a planned series of Can-O-Bliss IPAs (and, yes, the name is the worst part of this beer) that will include a hazy IPA and a Citrus IPA over the next six months. It's a nice addition from a brewery that has become one of the 10 largest craft brewers in America — a sign that it is attempting to keep things fresh without venturing too far from the hopped-to-heaven prototype that's defined its rise since the days it shocked the craft-brewing establishment by putting its Dale's Pale Ale in cans.

To be sure, Oskar Blues has produced some fantastic products in its time. Its Death By Coconut infuses that tropical fruit into a subtle but solid body in a way that allows the flavor to shine without being sticky. G'Knight, its imperial red, is a phenomenal big beer (8.7 percent ABV) specifically because it balances the malt and hop characteristics. And its also newly released Bamburana double-barrel-aged imperial stout made in collaboration with Cigar City Brewing with figs, dates and Amburana wood spirals is a dangerously easy-drinking product melding spices and the subtle hint of vanilla from its barrels.

But Can-O-Bliss Tropical IPA creates a new genre in itself — one that uses Mosaic, Azaca, Galaxy, Eldorado and Idaho 7 hops to simulate the flavors of mango, guava and non-tart pineapple without adding anything artificial to the beer. It's a master class in making a bold beer that retains its hop bitterness while pulling out more new flavors than almost any offering in recent memory and, at the same time, pushing into a new, undiscovered style.

Let's hope other brewers follow Oskar Blues' lead in venturing here. And let's hope that what now is scheduled as a seasonal brew becomes year-round very quickly. It deserves that attention.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The Weight of Water - on Beer

Water is by far the largest ingredient in beer. But have you ever really thought about how it affects the taste of the beverage in front of you?

Nick Ison, barrel-aging program manager for Sierra Nevada Brewing, admitted that when it came to formulating recipes, malt, hops and yeast took up most of the space in his head. Then some friends in the brewing industry proposed a modest experiment: Make two of the same beers the same way, with just a variation in the way that the water is treated.

The results were enlightening. And they made for a fascinating, if wildly geeky, discussion at the opening seminar on Saturday morning this year at the Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines Festival.

You see, it's the seemingly little chemical reactions in water that can have a big effect on the taste of that base ingredient that defines how the more-studied ingredients will affect it. PH levels, total hardness and alkalinity of water impact the acidity, the saltiness, even the metallic scent of a beer. There's a reason some brewers condition their water to match the H2O found in Burton-on-Trent, and it's not for kitsch value.

Of all the properties of water, maybe none are essential to taste as sulfide and chloride. Chloride imbues a malty characteristic on a beer, while sulfide can add the presence of salt. Balancing them is key to creating a drinkable offering.

For his experiment, Ison made a Sierra Nevada Saison, one version with chloride added and another version without it. The difference was fascinatingly clear: The effort with more chloride was bigger-bodied, with a minimal spicy yeast profile. Without the addition, it was softer, with little aftertaste.

Chad Yakobson of Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project made a similar comparison set - an NEIPA with a typical 1.5-to-1 chloride-to-sulfide ratio, and the same beer with the ratio reversed. The heavy sulfide edition was kickier, more bitter and frankly more adventurous. It was more aggressive, but there was a certain daring that you couldn't forget.

Matt Ruzsick, Sierra Nevada's North Carolina brewery manager, took the dare with a foreign export stout, adjusting only the chloride on one version and adjusting only the sulfide on the other. The taste differential was a little less obvious in these maltier beers, but the higher sulfide beer had some more carbonation, as well as an aftertaste that stuck around longer.

The only person who didn't make two discernibly different beers was Nile Zacherle (talking in the picture above), the founder of Napa's Mad Fritz Brewing who took the most daring route and made his Pale Lager with water sources that he, um, appropriated from two different springs in town. The malt overtook the effect of the water, he noted, surmising that the incoming water source is not as important as the treatment of the water once it all gets into the brewer's hands.

What does this mean? Largely, it means should give you pause to stop and think about what was done to the primary ingredient to the beer before any trendy hops, special yeast or perfectly roasted malt were added to it. These brewers do. And it just may make the difference between creating that beer you can't forget and the one you can't remember amidst all of your tasting.

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