Thursday, July 31, 2008

Phantom's New Brews

I'm sorry this is about a week late, but I wanted to inform all my friends in the Springs of two new brews on tap at Phantom Canyon.

First is the Demolition Cream Ale, one of the best beers made by the downtown staple. Smooth, creamy and a bit heavier in alcohol than most creams, this is an easy yet still meaty treat for the summertime. The cream usually stays for a couple of months, but I would recommend getting down there sometime before Labor Day to ensure you don't miss it.

Second is one I've never tried before - the Blueberry Ale. The good news is that from a picture Phantom sent out in an email, it's not actually blue (take note of this, Anheuser Busch). Blueberry is becoming one of the favorite experiments of several brewers, and I'm eager to see what Andrew has done with this. But I feel obligated to mention too that this is going fast, so don't waste time.

That's all. Happy drinking.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Breckenridge Beer Festival

So, did anyone else out there hit the Breckenridge Beer Festival this weekend? I did, and I have a couple of thoughts coming out of it.
*As far as outdoor summer beer festivals go, the atmosphere was more pleasant than Ft. Collins but not quite up to Salida standards. The crowd was a little smaller, slightly classier and less chaotic than the Ft. Collins event, and the lines never grew more than four or five people long. The town-square setting was pleasant, but without the shades offered by the trees in Salida's downtown park, it also got a little hotter.
*Once again, festival organizers and brewers underestimated the desire for some of their beers. This didn't touch the one-hour-in-and-you're-running-low tendency of the best brews at the Arapahoe Basin festival, but I was a little disappointed that I couldn't still get an Odell IPA more than an hour before the end of the show, especially since I was wearing an Odell IPA shirt. Some popular booths, like Alaskan Brewing, packed up way too early. Other good ones, like Pug Ryan's stayed throughout the show. Which brings me to my next point . . . .
*Dillon's Pug Ryan's is quietly becoming one of the unsung stars of the Colorado beer scene. It stole the show at the Arapahoe Basin festival in May with its new helles bock, and few beers seemed to get the compliments in Breckenridge that its Breakfast Porter pulled in. I decided after starting the day with the coffee-heavy porter that every beer festival should begin with a similar wake-up-the-taste-buds drink.
*Nobody does festivals better than Boston Beer Company. Most breweries bring a few staples, maybe a new arrival and they roll out some schwag and free samples. The makers of Sam Adams come prepared to make you think. I noticed this at the Vail big beers festival in January and again this weekend. Rather than just give you a beer, they wanted attendees to vote on whether their next roll-out would be a Blackberry Witbier or a Coffee Stout. It's a great way to make you care more about the company and to give you a reason to go to a festival rather than to just go down to the corner liquor store. The winner for me, by the way, was easy: the coffee stout was surprisingly light but filling in its fine taste; the witbier was too sweet and pungent.
*Overall, as a first-time attendee, I have to say I enjoyed the festival. Almost every major Colorado brewer was there, and the atmosphere was a pleasant, easy one. You can never go wrong visiting one of Colorado's most laid-back ski towns, and the offering of 22 beers there is just one more reason to head to the mountains.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Changing - and Sometimes Wincing - Face of Wheats

I'm normally the last guy to complain about additions to wheat beers. I couldn't stop talking about Papago Brewing's orange vanilla wheat after the 2006 Great American Beer Festival. And 21st Amendment Brewery's watermelon wheat was, to me, the standout wheat of the 2007 gathering. The peculiar taste, added strongly enough to give character without saturating the unfiltered body, makes a beer stand out in this genre.

But what exactly is the new fascination with adding pomegranate to beer? First Fort Collins dashes the taste into its Major Tom's wheat just enough so that you can feel a slight tinge of something extra but not really taste a mouthful of the fruit. Then, last night, I got to try a Serenac Pomegranate Wheat. Serenac, a brewery most familiar to East Coasters, makes a wonderful black and tan and other enjoyable beers. The pomegranate wheat, however, was like a syrup, so sweet that I actually found myself sipping, stopping and staring at the glass to make sure there weren't any seeds in there. I love breweries who experiment, and anyone who does should get extra points just for their originality. But I think the pomegranate trend has just gone too far.

Lastly, I must give props to Breckenridge's Agave Wheat, celebrating its first full year in existence by becoming a beer that I hear more and more members of the Fearless Tasting Crew talking about. It's slightly citrus overtones perk up the wheat and give it kick rather than make you pucker. That's what a fruit-infused wheat should be, nothing more.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

A Stout for the Summer

Summer is about Belgians and spicy blondes and lighter pale ales. It's not about dark beers . . . at least I thought so until I stopped by Breckenridge Brewery tonight.

There I discovered the Thunder Stout, the newest in the small-batch series that already has produced the magnificently hoppy 471 IPA. I don't normally get stouts in the hot months, but it was Breck's, so I thought it was worth a try.

What I found was a beer with a thick head, incredibly creamy body and the kind of light, silky nitro-tap sensation that takes you by surprise when you're not expecting it. A wonderfully easy beer, it had the smooth body of a session beer but an approachable and yet still filling character that didn't reek of unique flavor so much as it screamed of gentle happiness.

The exact taste was elusive - was it a mellow oatmeal body or did I sense just a touch of the vanilla overtones that mark the brewery's porter? - but it was seductively light and pleasing. Yes, I'll still order the 471 IPA first when I go back, as I did tonight, but at least I know there is something surprising waiting for me after I've finished that.

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