Monday, August 18, 2008

Remember the Lagers

My goodness, do these days go fast. Between elections and Olympics, the past week has passed quicker than a Bud Light through a beer bong. Has it really been more than a week since the Manitou Craft Lagerfest? It's a good thing that Jason Yester and Mike Hall once again created a festival to remember.

First, I want to say thanks to all the people who came up to me and said hello. Though I've been writing The Gazette's beer column for five years now, I guess I never realized that people actually read it until last weekend. With so much interest in good beers, it seems like there's hope for humanity after all.

That said, the aforementioned organizers once made me believe in lagers again too. Sure there were a couple of watery swill clones there. But between spices, malt and alcohol, sweet alcohol, there was also so much more. Here's a rundown of my thoughts on the festival. Please feel free to share yours.

1) With roughly 75 beers on tap, I was ready to be seduced by whatever jumped out and demanded to be the Beer of the Show. But in my opinion, that honor should have gone to exactly the beer that has made this festival famous. This year's Warning Sign Eisbock, a combined brew of 14 of the festival participants, packed more strength and hops than one could have imagined in a smooth beer. It seemed only appropriate that the combined efforts of the best lager brewers in Colorado exceeded the output of one. If you want to learn a little about how this wonderful creation is made, check out my column from Aug. 8:

2) A few others stood out too. Here's some thoughts:
- Schmaltz Brewing's Coney Island Albino Python had an attention-grabbing light ginger taste that permeated a very satisfying lager.
- Rock Bottom's Goat Toppler may not have been the best beer at the show (though that was the award the organizers gave it), but its full and malty taste may make it the best beer Jason Leeman has ever made there.
- No beer defied its style so well as Arctic's Oktoberfest, a pungent, almost citrusy surprise that still retains the amber feel of fall but breathes life into a style that is often less than stand-out. It goes on tap at the Colorado Springs brewery in three weeks.
- Ska's Pilsner Lager may have been the best classic lager there, an incredibly smooth and tasty summer beer that didn't challenge you.

3) There's nothing you can do about the lines that people were quick to complain about; the festival has just gotten that popular, and that's something to celebrate. Most people I bumped into were there because they really knew beer, not because they wanted to stand around in the sun and get drunk. This was a true aficionado's' gathering. But you could move the event from Soda Springs Park back to Manitou Springs Memorial Park, which just had a little more room.

4) Kudos to the first festival I've attended this summer that seemed to compel brewers to stretch outside their normal offerings. A-Basin and Breckenridge are fine gatherings, but I could walk into most any decent liquor store or local brewery and get everything I found there. When Arctic is sampling new creations, Durango is springing a much debated blueberry wheat ale on patrons and you're bringing in hard-to-find beers from San Luis Valley Brewing, Rockyard and Carver, this becomes a festival where people can actually explore.

5) Lastly, I hate to say anything that could be perceived as critical, but there was one brewery whose omission was very notable to a number of attendees: Bristol. It just seemed odd that Colorado Springs' best beer maker - and one that creates tasty lagers - would not be at El Paso County's premier beer event. I know that some of the festival organizers did not leave Bristol under the best of circumstances. But if you can bring 14 different brewers together to set aside any competitive feelings and make a fantastic eisbock, there has to be some room to set aside any differences and bring everyone into the show. For the sake of all of us who admire great brewers, bring Bristol back next year.

Otherwise, don't change a thing. This is one of Colorado's great beer festivals, plain and simple.

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