Sunday, August 31, 2008

Russian River Love, Part II

This is a bit of an aside, but I want to mention how glad I am that the DNC is out of town. That's not a political statement in any way. It's just that over the past week, I was too tired when I got home several times to even have a beer, regardless write about it. I'm barely recovered now. And it's time to drink again.

So, I want to get back to explaining a little bit about Russian River for anyone who may not have been able to enjoy it yet. (And if that's you, go get some as soon as you're done reading this.) The Santa Rosa, Calif. brewery is the brainchild of Vinnie Cilurzo, and it's been available only in California and at major brew festivals for about a decade-and-a-half. But Vinnie and his wife Natalie just opened a newer, larger brewery location recently, and hence, they have more motivation to up those sales across the country.

As with most great small breweries, the three beers that you will be able to get here in Colorado are not Russian River's absolute best. The difference between Russian River and most breweries who first cross a timeline, however, is that these beers are still really @#$&in' good. Pliny the Elder is a bold double IPA with a flower-burst smell and a surprisingly smooth flow to it. Damnation, which puts Belgian yeast into a smooth golden ale, is full of ester but not overbearing or overly alcoholic (assuming that you, like me, don't consider 7 percent overly alcoholic). And the Blind Pig IPA may be the mildest offering of the bunch - just remember, I called the IPA the mildest offering of the bunch - and is more drinkable than most IPAs.

What you won't be getting yet - but what you should be running to get at the Great American Beer Festival in October - is Supplication, which, in my opinion, is the best beer in America. A shockingly tart up-front punch (I swear this could jerk someone out of a coma) is followed by the backtaste of a strong brown ale. The most common reaction I hear - including from some pretty astute beer aficionados at my table at the recent tasting dinner - is that this doesn't taste like beer. I don't fully disagree. But this sour brown ale - aged in pinot noir barrels with sour cherries - is more complex and eye-opening that anything else that calls itself beer.

Russian's other jewels, still stuck in California, include: Happy Hops, a surprisingly bitter blonde ale brewed with hops; Salvation, a dark, bitter Belgian that challenges you to define it by its style; and Temptation, a golden ale aged 12 to 18 months in French oak chardonnay barrels that is slightly sour but more approachable than the Supplication.

That's all I have to say. Now go get some. And if you're not 100 percent satisfied, call me and I'll come over and finish the bottles for you.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Russian Is Coming . . . No It's Here

At long last, America's finest brewer has come to Colorado.

Russian River Brewing, that denizen of sour Belgian and hopped masterpieces that make normal IPAs taste like American light lagers, made its grand debut in the Centennial State last night. It announced its presence with a thunderous "yee-haw!" at a beer-pairing dinner at Falling Rock Tap House in Denver. And now it's in the finer liquor stores in the state.

I have much to say about the arrival, and I will say a lot more over the next several days. But I figure the best thing I can do is let anyone who is reading this know is exactly where to find bombers of Pliny the Elder, Damnation and soon Blind Pig IPA (yes, that's all they've planned to bring out here for now), so you can do the important work of drinking beer now and perform the more odious task of reading my babble later.

So, here is the list of liquor stores where you can gobble up the limited amount of Russian River now in the state, courtesy of Elite Brand distributors:

Aurora: Libations
Boulder: Liquormart, Boulder Wine & Spirits, Harvest Wine & Spirits
Centennial: Tony B's
Colorado Springs: Coaltrain
Denver: Argonaut, Mondo Vino and Incredible Wine & Spirits
Fort Collins: Wilbur's and Supermarket Liquors
Glenwood Springs: Roaring Fork Liquors
Greeley: Bittersweet Wine & Spirits
Greenwood Village: The Wine Company
Highlands Ranch: Davidson's and Lukas Superstore
Lakewood: Mile High Wine & Spirits
Longmont: PJ's Wine & Spirits
Loveland: Liquor Max
Thornton: Daveco Liquors and Total Beverage Thornton
Westminster: Total Beverage Westminster
. . . and, of course, Falling Rock Tap House.


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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