Friday, October 26, 2007

A Feast of Colorado Beers

First, if you haven't seen my column on pumpkin beers that ran in today's Gazette but are interested, here's the link:

That said, I apologize for taking so long to get back with another post about the Great American Beer Festival that ended two weeks ago. I half blame that on the amount of work I've been doing here at the Statehouse. But at least 50 percent of the reason also is that it's taken me this long to recover from the event.

Let's start by listing all of the Colorado beers that took home medals this year - and it would be an understatement to call it a lot. The big guys won. Very tiny breweries wore the jewelery. The biggest suprise was that Great Divide, possibly the state's best brewer, took home nothing. But that is the chance you take when judges are capturing the essence of the beer for just a brief moment in time.

Here's a look at the local winners, with commentary where I could (because I couldn't taste everything, I hope you understand):
*Avery Brewing: Almost as shocking as Great Divide's lack of medals was the fact that this Boulder landmark took home just one - a silver in the double red ale category for its Hog Heaven, a heavy but still smooth barleywine-style ale.
*Blue Moon Brewing: Gold in the specialty honey lager or ale category for its Honey Moon Summer Ale
*Boulder Beer Company: Bronze in the robust porter category for its Planet Porter.
*Bristol Brewing: In what has become an annual tradition, the Colorado Springs boys brought home a medal - specifically, a silver one - in the Scottish-style ale category for their chocolatey Laughing Lab. But in what was a long overdue recognition, they also brought home silver in the American-style sour ale category for their perenially exceptional Skull and Bones Cuvee, their ultra-acidic, cherry-soaked masterpiece.
*CB & Potts Restaurant and Brewery in Highlands Ranch: Gold among European-style darks for its Dunkelstilsken, a slightly chocolatey and smooth dunkel that is best sipped in summer.
*Coopersmith's Pub and Brewing of Fort Collins took a silver in the herb and spiced beer category for its Sigda's Green Chili, a beer with enough heat to seer your throat.
*Coors Brewing: Its lone medal was Coors Light's bronze for American-style light lager. Considering that Old Milwaukee Light took the gold in this category, you can decide for yourself whether the bronze is an honor.
*Durango Brewing: Gold in the other strong ale or lager category for its Derail Ale, which was not at the tasting booth.
*Flying Dog Brewery: The Denver brewery nabbed a bronze in the American-style amber lager category for its Old Scratch Amber Lager.
*Glenwood Canyon Brewing: Silver in Vienna-style lager for Dos Rios.
*Gunnison Brewery: Gold medal in the herb and spiced beer category for its Summertime 69.
*New Belgium Brewing: Two bronzes for the Fort Collins legend. The clean, fresh, suprisingly smooth Mothership Wit Organic Wheat Beer won in the Belgian white category. Meanwhile, the shockingly tart but complex La Terroir took it in the American-style sour category, the only disappointment being that New Belgium didn't have it on the floor at its booth.
*Odell Brewing: A huge year for Fort Collins' second best-known - but best - brewery, with three medals. Possibly no winner at the festival was as deserving as the delicious first-year IPA's gold in the American-style India pale ale category. It also snagged a silver in American-style hefeweizen category for its smooth Easy Street Wheat and a bronze in the double red ale category for its hopped-to-heaven Extra Special Red.
*Pug Ryan's Brewery: Dillon's own steakhouse grabbed the Bohemian-style pilsner silver medal for its Pallavicini Pilsner.
*Rock Bottom Brewery Westminster: Gold in the Irish-style red ale category for its Red Rocks Red.
*Rockyard American Grill and Brewing: The often-overlooked Castle Rock brewery nabbed a silver in the German-style strong bock category for Warning Sign, a 10.1 percent ABV concoction that was still very smooth, sweet and dark.
*Sand Lot Brewery at Coors Field: Denver's annual medal grabber took two this year, and both were in the same category: Oktoberfest beers. Move Back earned gold and Green Side Up a silver. Unfortunately, neither were at the tasting booth.
*Steamworks Brewing: A huge year for the Steamboat Springs brewery with three medals. The slightly smoky Steam Engine Lager took a well-deserved gold in the American-style amber lager category. Colorado Kolsch won silver among German-style kolsches. And What in the Helles, a Munich-style helles that delivers a very full, enveloping taste, snagged bronze.
*Tommyknocker Brewery: The Idaho Springs brewery tied for the state lead with three medals - its silver-winning Prospector Porter (brown porter), its bronze-winning Butthead Bock (bock) and its fellow bronze-winning Imperial Nut Brown Ale (old ale or strong ale). As a brewer at their booth told me: "You get the recipe right at the right time, you're good to go."
*Twisted Pine Brewing: The Boulder brewery took gold in the wood-and-barrel-aged beer category with its Oak Whiskey Red, an intense combo of slight sourness and hearty alcoholic oakiness.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Return of the Sours

It seemed that 2005 was the year that sour beers stood up and announced their collective arrival at the Great American Beer Festival. Two years later, American sours are so established that they even have their own new category in the judging - but they are once again the talk of the festival.

Don't take my word for it; just show up and look at the lines that form behind the two best sour makers in the U.S., New Glarus and Russian River. Typically stretching 20 people long as soon as a signficant crowd has entered the convention hall, they are comprised of the rabid fans who will get their beer, head straight to the back of the line and go through another two or three times. Not everything those breweries serve is sour, but the stuff that goes the quickest is, and in the case of New Glarus, it often doesn't last for even half of the festival's 4-1/2 hours.

I'm still working on trying to figure out my favorite beer at this year's festival, but I can almost guarantee it will come from this category. That said, if you're headed there today for the final sessions, let me point you to a couple of sours you don't want to miss:
*Russian River's Supplication, a tart but still approachable barrel-aged beer made with sour cherries;
*New Glarus' Raspberry Tart, the most eye-popping of its offerings that blur the line between beer and other beverages but taste so unique that you stop worrying about that and start enjoying them;
*New Belgium's Eric's Ale. I was told when I was at the brewery in early August that they were soon rotating this out of the Lips of Faith experimental series. I'm not sure, then, what its presence at the festival bodes for its future, but I will savor this sour peach ale as long as it's out;
*Bristol Brewing's Skull and Bones Cuvee, which tastes deeper and tarter than it has in years. This could be the real sleeper of the festival;
*Allagash's Interlude isn't quite a full sour, but it's myriad of fruit flavors developed while sitting in French Merlot oak barrels takes this a step beyond normal Belgians;
*Finally, there is Dogfish Head's Fort, aptly described at its 18 percent ABV as the strongest fruit beer in the world. Made literally with a ton of raspberries, this may have pushed the sour fruit taste a little too far for me. But I'm still going back and having more tonight.

Friday, October 12, 2007

National League Beer Championship Series

It's beginning to be increasingly clear that Colorado outpaces Arizona in the world of baseball. But what about in the world of beer? The Fearless Tasting Crew paired off nine similarly styled and named brews to put the two states to the test.

First Inning: Willow Wheat (Prescott Brewing, Arizona) vs. Phantom Hefeweizen (Phantom Canyon, Colorado Springs)
As the game begins, this clearly does not look like it's going to be a slugfest. Phantom offers up a fairly dull take on the wheat beer style, which we tried only because its East Meets Wheat wasn't available last night. But Prescott takes dull to new heights with a beverage that resembled water so closely that we had to look twice to make sure it really was beer.
Colorado 1, Arizona 0

Second Inning: BJ's Brewhouse Blonde (BJ's, Arizona) vs. True Blonde Ale (Ska Brewing, Durango)
Though cleverly named, True Blonde doesn't leap out of the mug at you. Instead, it comes on very subtly, with just a pinch of maltiness. BJ's concoction is by no means an earth shaker, but it has a slightly fuller taste and just enough oomph to push Arizona across home plate.
Colorado 1, Arizona 1

Third Inning: Kiltlifter (Four Peaks Brewing, Arizona) vs. Laughing Lab (Bristol Brewing, Colorado Springs)
The matchup of the Scottish beers ends quickly and decisively. The lighter, slightly hopped Kiltlifter couldn't hold the bagpipes of the Lab, a malty, chocolatey, slightly chewy concoction that always seems to leave this festival with an award.
Colorado 2, Arizona 1

Fourth Inning: English Pale Ale (Beaver Street Brewery, Arizona) vs. Cold Hop British-Style Ale (Boulder Brewing)
Both of these Brits are unassuming pales, but the comparisons end quickly. Cold Hop's low hop aroma is offset quickly by a more striking, stronger grassy taste. Beaver Street's pale starts mellow, stays mellow and fades quickly from your sensory memory.
Colorado 3, Arizona 1

Fifth Inning: Oak Creek Pale Ale (Oak Creek Brewing, Arizona) vs. Indian Peaks Pale Ale (Walnut Brewing, Boulder)
We paired these pales because their names nearly rhyme and, hey, that's good enough for me. But it's also fair to say that neither of these are burning up the festival with their hops. Indian Peaks is lighter and mildly entertaining. Oak Creek, meanwhile, has offered up a beverage that feels less like a finished beer and more like the juice that comes from letting fresh hops sit in water for a week. We'll go here with the more fully developed beer.
Colorado 4, Arizona 1

Sixth Inning: Hop Dog (Papago Brewing, Arizona) vs. Snake Dog IPA (Flying Dog Brewery, Denver)
For the record, I'm pissed that Papago didn't bring to the festival this year its Orange Blossom, an orange-and-vanilla-flavored wheat that was one of the top conversation generators among the tasting crew from GABF 2006. But I vowed to not let that influence my decision in this dog fight. Unlike our last pairing, both of these have quite a bite. But while a slightly mellower-than-expected Snake Dog finds a wonderful balance, Hop Dog's bitterness seems to overwhelm the taste buds more than it charms them.
Colorado 5, Arizona 1

Seventh Inning: Fallen Angel Belgian Trippel (Rock Bottom Brewery Arrowhead) vs. Fallen Angel (Rock Bottom Brewery Colorado Springs)
Seriously, is this a common enough moniker where two beers, even those served at different restaurants within the same chain, should have it? While both are Belgian-style ales, they are brewed very differently. The Springs entry comes on spicy with a decent aroma and finishes quite smoothly. Arrowhead's version is highly estery, and the full blast of yeast taste just makes this feel a little awkward.
Colorado 6, Arizona 1

Eighth Inning: Udder Goodness (Rock Bottom Brewery Desert Ridge AZ) vs. Milk Stout (Arctic Brewery, Colorado Springs)
I suppose we shouldn't expect a state where the average temperature is 240 degrees to be a purveyor of any great stouts, especially a milk stout. While Arctic delivers a complex beer with a chocolatey beginning and a smooth finish, the Udder Goodness is dull and surprisingly watery.
Colorado 7, Arizona 1

Ninth Inning: 1087 Liquid Sun (Rock Bottom Brewery Scottsdale) vs. 1082 Liquid Sun (Rock Bottom Brewery Westminster)
The dueling suns left me with a conundrum. Scottsdale's Belgian-style farmhouse ale had a lingering honey taste that bordered on too sweet as it hit the back of my tongue. But Westminster's faded so quickly from my taste buds that it left little impression. In a case like this, I always award points to the one who at least tries to make it interesting, even if they don't quite succeed.
Colorado 7, Arizona 2.

Well, there you have it - Colorado wins in a landslide. Let's see if the real NLCS turns out this way.

Monday, October 08, 2007

A Few Tour Ideas

The Great American Beer Festival is now under three full days and counting. Oh man oh man, I can't wait . . .

In the meantime, as promised, I've been trying to think of a few ideas for how people could tackle the festival in a thematic way. Here are a few ideas I've come up with, with the caveat that you can target a lot more beers in one night than just the number I'll suggest for any one tour. Feel free to advise me on some more.

The Past Medal Winners Tour: You want good beer, this is pretty much the way to ensure you'll find it. While you may not necessarily discover the new and cutting edge, you'll be sure to avoid a lot of crap this way. Rather than suggest a particular group of beers, I'll just point you to the site where you can find past medal winners:

The Hoptastic Tour: While it's fun to try everything from a light to a whiskey stout, that much mingling of flavor can sometimes leave you taste buds confused. One solution might be to try all of one kind of beer from across the country to really compare brewers on one level. Pales ranging from the traditional pale ale to the hopped-to-heaven double IPAs are among my favorites. I'll mix and match styles within the genre, but maybe give you these beers (with brewer and state) as a starting post for your exploration (with a warning that I haven't gotten the exact beer list yet, so some of these may not show up):
Headwaters IPA, Amicas Brewing, CO
Hop Ottin' IPA, Anderson Valley, CA
Maharaja Double IPA, Avery, CO
Telemark IPA, Backcountry Brewing, CO
Apex Ale, Bear Republic, CA
Hophead, Bend Brewing, OR
Tiger Bite IPA, Blind Tiger Brewing, KS
471 IPA, Breckenridge Brewing, CO
Edge City IPA, Bristol Brewing, CO
Abijah Rowe India Pale Ale, Cambridge House, CT
Dangerous Intentions Pale Ale, Chama River, NM
Mirror Pond Pale Ale, Deschutes, OR
90 Minute IPA, Dogfish Head, DE
Freedom Double IPA, Elk Grove Brewery, CA
Hercules Double IPA, Great Divide, CO
Bitter Sweet Lenny's R.I.P.A., He'brew Beer, CA
Ironbound Ale, Iron Hill, DE
FYIPA, Mountain Sun, CO
Superfly IPA, Oaken Barrel, IN
Odell IPA, Odell Brewing, CO
Torrey Pines IPA, Oggi's Pizza, CA
Shark Attack, Pizza Port Solana Beach, CA
Pliny the Elder, Russian River, CA
Castle Rock IPA, Santa Barbara Brewing, CA
Sculler's IPA, Skagit River, WA
Stone Ruination IPA, Stone Brewing, CA (or, frankly, anything from this brewery)
Rock Hoprah Imperial IPA, Vino's Pizza Pub, AR

The Great Names Tour: Sometimes, all you need is a great title to sell a beer. I'm attracted to try these beers if, for no other reason, than to say: Thanks for being clever. Plus it's a way to mix and match your beer styles. Here's my favorite monikers from 06, complete with descriptions of those I've tasted:
Alpha Male Pale Ale, 75th Street Brewery, MO
E=MC Stout Einstout, America's Brewing, IL
Lunch Lady Lager, Amicas, CO
Jagged Little Pils, Back Street Brewery Vista, CA
Dim Wit, BJ's Arizona, AZ
Smokin' in the Monk's Room, BJ's Portland, OR
Homewrecker, Bluegrass Brewing, KY
The Legend of the Liquid Brain Imperial Stout, Bull and Bush, CO (12%, whiskey barrel-aged)
The Wind Cried Mari, Cambridge Brewing, MA (Light and flowery heather ale)
To Hell 'N Bock, Carolina Brewery, NC
U.S.S. Enterprise IPA, Dry Dock Brewing, CO (Medium hops)
Jewbelation, He'brew Beer, CA
Get Off Maibock, Little Apple Brewing, KS
Katarina Wit, Main Street Brewery, CA
Monkey Knife Fight, Nodding Head Brewing, PA
Saint Arnold Fancy Lawnmower Beer, St. Arnold Brewing, TX (Dry and decent)
Wher the Helles Bill?, SandLot Brewery, CO (A little light but tasty)
Arrogant Bastard Ale, Stone Brewing, CA (Deceptively smooth pale)
Old Leghumper, Thirsty Dog Brewing, OH (Lighter stout)
Inebriator, Tractor Brewing, NM
Polygamy Porter, Utah Brewers Cooperative, UT (Lighter porter)

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Start the Countdown

I don't know if any of you are watching the calendar as intently as me, counting down the days and salivating with each turn of the hand on your watch, but the holiest of holy days in the beer year is almost here.

Only eight days until the Great American Beer Festival. Oct. 11-13. Mmmm. . . . 1,884 beers . . .

There are many things I can discuss in preparation for the festival (and believe me, I'll be posting here a lot more often in the coming days). There are, for example, 42 first-time breweries this year, including four here in Colorado: Crabtree Brewing of Greeley, Del Norte Brewing of Greenwood Village, Rock Bottom of Loveland and Wolf Rock Brewing of Keystone. This is a big moment in any brewery's life, its debutante ball for all the beer bachelors in America, if you will.

There also are record numbers of breweries (408), beers (the previously mentioned 1,884) and categories for judging (75, including more categories of mind-blowing sour beers and a category of its own for the increasingly popular pumpkin beers). All of this means the American brewing industry is continuing to grow and get more creative, and few things should be celebrated as much as that statement alone.

For today, though, I just want to help my fellow beer geeks get ready for the festival. If you don't know where to get tickets or what time the sessions are, just follow this link:

While you're on the page, there is one other important feature you should see: the advance map of the festival floor. I don't know if this is a new feature or one I just haven't noticed in past years (the guy doing p.r. for the festival also said he wasn't sure if it was new, so I feel better). But I know that if you're really gunning for a few of the breweries - especially, say, breweries that gather enormous lines like New Glarus or Stone - this is a good way to figure out where they are and to head straight there. Not only that, but if you're a true geek like me, you could plan out a route and hit a certain agenda each night. I'd love to hear ideas on any good nightly game plans, and I'll discuss that next week. But, the exact spot for the map and the breweries on hand can be found at

Enjoy. And get ready.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?