Thursday, January 29, 2009

This Week in Colorado Beer
Sorry for the late calendar, but it's been one of those weeks where I work so long that I don't even have time to think about beer when I get home.

New tappings
*Odell put out its red ale tonight. Aggressively hopped and coming in big at 6.5% ABV, this is a red for the colder season. Review coming soon.
*Thursday: Gordon Biersch (in Broomfield) will tap its Weizen Bock from 6 to 8 p.m. Appetizers will be served to mark the occasion. I'm outta there if there's no bratwurst.

Beer dinners
*Saturday: Oskar Blues pairs up with Louisville's Empire Lounge for a feast (though I'll be damned if I can figure out the starting time). Maybe it will find something to pair with the new Velvet Elvis oatmeal stout.
*Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.: Falling Rock hosts a barleywine dinner. The menu remains confidential, though '07 Bigfoot has been promised. Tickets are $50 if bought by Saturday and $60 if they remain thereafter.
*Thursday, 6-8 p.m. It's not quite dinner, but Bristol Brewing's next class in its winter term of Beer School is an upper-level course on Beer and Food. The "lab fee" is $40 for the beer and food.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Torpedo = Taste Assault

A few weeks ago at the Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines Festival, those of us at the "Brewers Gone Wild" seminar had a rare treat: Sampling a new product before it hit the shelves.

The test case for which we were guinea pigs: Sierra Nevada's Torpedo Extra IPA.

The verdict: Get it when it comes out.

I can't vouch for the fact that it's hit the Denver area yet; I was in Argonaut on Saturday night, and there was no Torpedo to be found. But we were told it was going to be available by the end of January, and Sierra Nevada's website now lists it in its beer portfolio. So, if it's not out yet, let this serve as the preseason hype for an exciting new entrant into the league of great beers.

Torpedo, as brewer Nick Ison explained to me, isn't quite an IPA and it isn't quite a double. Its dry hopping features Citra hops - a fairly new player on the brewing scene - and certainly has that sweet, sticky scent of an all-enveloping double IPA. But while it comes on big, it doesn't have the extreme bitterness on the backtaste of others in its class. Instead, its piney character rests gently in the mouth before lighting up like a Zippo on the back bitter taste buds.

Torpedo Extra IPA will serve as the first new nationally released year-round beer for the Chico
legend in more than a decade. And while it may not create its own category at the Great American Beer Festival, it's worth the wait for a biting yet wonderfully drinkable experience.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

This Week in Colorado Beer
Beer Festival
*7-10 p.m. Friday: Denver Winter Brewfest at Mile High Station. Twenty-five Colorado breweries. 75 beers. Arts, crafts and live music, if that kind of stuff appeals to you. Did I mention 25 different breweries? Thirty bucks in advance and 35 at the door.

New Tappings
*5 p.m. Friday: Falling Rock Taphouse puts Dogfish Head's Palo Santo Marron, a 12% ABV brown ale aged in rare South American wood, on tap. This could be one of the bargains of the month, since there's no way you'll drink more than one unless you're there all night.
*5-9 p.m. Tuesday: Bristol taps its Skull 'N Bones Grand Cru. I can't vouch for this particular creation, but I've never had a Skull 'N Bones beer that wasn't great.

Beer Dinners
*Tuesday: Rock Bottom South Denver hosts its monthly Chef & Brewers dinner, four courses paired with four beers, including the '07 Barleywine. Appropriately, it's $40.

An Ongoing Party
*Kannah Creek Brewing of Grand Junction began its 2009 Robert Burns Birthday Celebration on Tuesday, and the beer is still flowing. On tap: The Scottish, a beer that is nutty but not flowery, a little like Burns himself.

Monday, January 19, 2009


Just in Time, the Obamanator is Back

Wynkoop Brewing rolled out its politically themed maibock around the time the Democratic National Convention pulled into Denver, hoping wisely to capitalize on Barack Obama's popularity. It went away afterward, but on Monday the LoDo institution pulled out yet another batch of it to celebrate Obama's inauguration.
For those unfamiliar, the Obamanator doesn't have the tough body of one might associate with a beer that rhymes with, say, The Terminator. Instead, it's an amber-golden lager with a semi-sweet malt body. Maibocks typically are made in the spring, and this definitely has the lighter feel of a warmer season to it.
The color, aroma and taste, while true to its German style, also remind one of a heavier, sweeter blonde ale (which makes one wonder if they were thinking of another Democratic presidential candidate when they first brewed this). It is lightly carbonated with a slight caramel backtaste to it. This is by no means a world-shatterer or a beer that will bring change to this country. But it goes down easily enough to hide its higher-than-normal alcohol content.
The brewery, in case anyone was wondering, doesn't have any big plans for the inauguration, other than to have it on the television and to make sure its presidentially themed beer is flowing. Surprisingly, other breweries, such as CB & Potts and Gordon Biersch, have been sending out e-mails advertising their openness as if this was a championship football game. But beer and presidential politics will flow together tomorrow - a tradition that I'm sure would make past presidents and beer lovers like Ulysses Grant happy to hear.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

The New Stouts of Mountain Sun

The annual tradition of Stout Month - sort of a Festivus for beer drinkers - doesn't begin until Feb. 1 at Mountain Sun, Southern Sun and Vine Street Pub. But the eclectic Boulder-based brewery already is rolling out some dark goodness perfect for the cold - er, sometime cold - days around here.

(Warning: These beers were consumed yesterday at the Southern Sun at South Broadway and Table Mesa Drive. I can't vouch for them being at the other two locations yet.)

Its Old School Irish Stout, a seasonal that's been out for roughly a month now, has a hard-to-find blend of chocolate malt flavor with smooth, dry oak-aged backing. Its head quickly recedes, leaving a lighter-bodied stout with a slight blackberry backdrop to the cocoa aroma. A sweetness picks up the longer this sits. In the end, you are left with two thoughts. The first is that it may not be overwhelming in its complexity, but it is soothing and comforting and everything you ask of a stout in January. The second is that the lighter body allows this to pair shockingly well with nachos. Oh yeah, that's a bonus.

The Korova Cream Stout, named after the drug-stocked milk bar in "A Clockwork Orange," also is an easy sipper, though it might be a little too easy for stout lovers. The head sticks around a little longer on this nitrogen-infused stout, which made its 2009 debut just this weekend, but there is little more than a vague roasted malt characteristic on the front taste. The lingering backtaste has a more pronounced hop characteristic, leaving a slightly bitter mouthfeel. There is also a distant toffee caramel taste, but overall this is slightly less interesting than its Irish brethren. Then again, it is a cream stout, so the name may tell you all you need to know.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

This Week in Colorado Beer

New Beers
*CB & Potts in Westminster has gone against the dark-and-alcoholic winter trend and recently tapped its Colorado Blonde Ale.
*BJ's (that's in Aurora, Boulder and Westminster) has stayed more true to typical winter boldness and broken out a Grand Cru. For $4.95 you get a special glass.
*And Bristol is once again tapping an IPA Cask Ale on Saturday from noon to 9 p.m. to help all of you in Colorado Springs start your day right.

Beer Pairing Dinners
*Monday, 6:30 p.m.: Bristol puts on a soiree at its next-door neighbor, the Blue Star, for a $55 fee. There's no menu listed, but previous experience at the Blue Star says this will be creative.
*Tuesday, 7 p.m.: BJ's in Boulder hosts its Winter Warmer dinner, complete with the aforementioned Grand Cru, for $30. Call (303) 402-9294 for reservations.
*Wednesday, 6 p.m.: Rock Bottom' Orchard Town Center location hosts a chef and brewer dinner. Details unavailable because I can't get the web site to open at this very moment.

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Bigger But - More Importantly - Bolder

When 83 breweries show up to a festival bringing the biggest beers they make, you expect a lot of bourbon barrel-aged stouts, double IPAs and Belgian-style tripels. And, yes, there were plenty of each of those at Saturday's ninth annual Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines festival.

But what really stuck out this year was not just how outrageously hoppy or malty the beverages gathered in the Vail Marriott Mountain Resort were, but how creative brewers have become in making beers of at least 7 percent alcohol by volume. And thus, the event served as a peek at what the future of beer might be.

"I think 20 years from now, we'll look back and recognize now as the point where the gloves came off and consumers really recognized what beer had to offer," said Dogfish Head maestro Sam Calagione, whose recent New Yorker profile only helped to raise the visibility of big beers.

Standing out among all the giant American experimenters and ageless Belgian masters, for example, was Altitude Chophouse and Brewery of Laramie, Wyo., a brewpub so small that it considered bottling but had to nix the idea because of cost concerns. Yet, it grabbed a lot of the talk at the festival with a Cayenne Cocoa Bock that creatively combined inky, chocolaty darkness with a late-breaking fleck of heat that served as a defibrillator for the tongue.

If it wasn't a peppery bock grabbing attention, then it was one of several Belgian pale ales that brewers were rolling out. Stone Brewing led the way with a Cali-Belgique IPA, first released in August, that artfully blended hoppy floralness with Belgian esters to create something shockingly smooth. But Utah-based Uinta Brewing and Belgium's La Chouffe were among the others who also put their own versions on display, with the Belgian-made entry having significantly less of a hop characteristic.

Big, gutsy saisons also are making their imprint on a style that hasn't been as bold in the past. Several were on display in Vail, including a very sweet and drinkable Saison Rue from California-based The Bruery, a beer that could become the boldest beer of the spring and summer seasons.

And, of course, the continuing fascination with Belgian-style sour ales remains in place. Between Russian River's latest batch of Consecration (which they cracked open at the Great American Beer Festival this year), Cambridge Brewing's Cerise Casee (my personal favorite beer of the GABF) and Deschutes Brewery's Dissident Old Bruin, the best trend in American beer continues to get better.

That said, it's not like the traditional big beers are going away. There were no less than 21 barleywines, 15 tripels, 11 double or imperial IPAs and six bourbon-barrel-aged beers on display. Tasting a hopped masterpiece like Flying Dog's Double Dog Double Pale Ale reassures you the extreme beers that have been the focus of the past 10 years are still evolving art forms.

But now there are tastes for everyone, and more is still to come. At talks over the course of the day, apple and pear beers, huge coffee porters and new experiments with Brettanomyces were all mentioned and may not be far away.

Yes, there truly is a big beer for everyone at this point. Now the trick is finding the time to drink them all.

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Friday, January 09, 2009

Preview: Big Beers Festival

If the Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines Festival does not necessarily resemble the Great American Beer Festival, in which you could trip, fall over and find yourself at a place to try yet another new beer, it's only because it can't match it in sheer size.

But if the ninth annual festival, which began last night in Vail and will go tonight and all day tomorrow, has an advantage, it is this: Everything you try here is going to be fantastic. And some of it may redefine your perceptions of beer.

Last year, the event featured 73 beers from throughout Colorado, America and Europe. The ones that define big beers are there, of course: Dogfish Head, Avery, The Lost Abbey. But there aren't many festivals that give you a chance also to sip a Thomas Hardy Ale, choose between several Urthel selections and get that can't-find-it-anywhere-in-Colorado guest star (which this year is Flying Fish Brewery of New Jersey).

A few tips if you go:
*The main session runs from 1 to 7 p.m. Saturday, but if you miss the 10 a.m. experimental brewers seminar, you've missed the heart of the show. First of all, what would you rather be doing than drinking big beer at 10 a.m. on a Saturday? Second, it gives you a chance to peer inside the minds of the men and women who crafted the product in the glass in front of you, something you can't do at more sterile festivals where you wait in lines to have volunteers pour for you.
*Engage the brewers or distributors at the booths. Not only is it interesting, but you just might find a gem they don't have on display. Last year, we tried a 23-year-old Foghorn barleywine from Anchor Brewing (fascinating, though slightly beyond its prime) and a yet-to-be-released Flanders Red from a brewery that will remain unnamed but knows how much it's appreciated.
*Julia Herz of the Brewers Association does an excellent food-beer pairing seminar in mid-day Saturday (this year it's on cheese). Not only is this a chance to develop your beer palate, trust me when I say that you'll need to step away from six hours of big beers at some point to eat.

And say hello to me if you see me up there. I can't wait.


Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Preview: New World Porter

Avery's New World Porter, which has its official release party at the Boulder brewery tonight, is the perfect antidote to the sometimes overmalted dark beers that dominate the Christmas season. It's thick and black itself, but there's something different about this creation.

You notice it initially in the nose, a compendium of chocolate malt and caramel characteristics that seem restrained by something you can't immediately identify. When you dive past the thick foam head, you notice it again: A slow-rising bitterness that you don't expect on first glance.

That is the dry-hopping that goes into this 6.7% ABV porter, an addition that does not overwhelm the beer but adds a long-lasting and surprising backtaste. Hop characteristics grow more apparent as the beer begins to warm, though they fade slightly near the end of the glass.

After a long enjoyment - this is a slow sipper - you're left with the impression that the more muted five-malt variety and the hopping leave it with a slightly dusty taste. But this isn't the dust that is collected with age - it's the feel of something new, different and refreshing in the world of porters.

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Monday, January 05, 2009

This Week in Colorado Beer
If it's the thick of winter, then there must be big, thick beers in sight . . .

Friday and Saturday: Vail Marriott Mountain Resort and Spa hosts the Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines festival. I will write about this at length later this week. But in case you're even remotely thinking about attending, I'd encourage it.
New Tappings
*Wednesday, 4 p.m.: It's time for the release party for Avery's New World Porter, a thick and chocolatey porter that often gets lost amid the brewery's hop-crazy beers. Surprise - even this one's dry-hopped.
*Wednesday, 6 p.m.: The Rock Bottom at Orchard Town Center in Westminster taps its Improper Hopper IPA. The first one is free if you get there by 6:30. No kidding.
*Thursday, 6 p.m.: The Rock Bottom next to the Park Meadows Mall cracks out its Fallen Angel Belgian Tripel, which shares a common name but not a common taste with Belgians served at other locations in the chain. And, yes, it too is free until 6:30.
*Saturday, Noon: What better way is there to start the day in Colorado Springs than to cozy up to the Bristol Brewery bar and have a freshly tapped IPA Cask Ale? This comes after the same brewery breaks out a cask of green chile beer on Tuesday. And an Edge City Dunkelweiss at 5 p.m. Friday. Hell, why not just camp out for the week?

Sunday, January 04, 2009

New Beer's Resolutions

Making New Year's resolutions - at least the kind where you use the turn of the calendar as an artificial kick-start to better yourself - is one of the stupidest things a person can do. One year I vowed on New Year's Eve to lose weight. Then I spent the next day gorging while watching bowl games. I vowed after that never to make another resolution.

But if you turn the idea on its head, take your favorite habit that doctors wouldn't consider life-affirming and then decide that the new year is a chance to plunge deeper into your obsession, well, maybe that's not so bad. And so, I've tried to think of the things I've wanted to do with beer drinking but haven't always had the drive to accomplish. And there are quite a few of them.

What follows is my resolutions for beer tasting this year. While they may be my personal resolutions, I think that most of them are something that we as a community of beer geeks can also resolve to - goals that would not only improve our lives but would help the craft-brewing industry in this, its time of need.

1) I vow to try more new and experimental beers this year.
As the good people at my favorite liquor store know, I already walk in and say: "What do you have that's new?" But I may try one thing and then forget about the rest. No more.
The truth is, I could probably drink Odell IPA 365 days a year and be happy. But then you miss the next great thing that may be coming and never expand your horizons. So, I vow to dive into breweries of which I've never heard. I vow to go to the mix-a-six-pack cooler more often. And I vow to write and talk more about the true finds out there, to promote those beers which friends may not know yet.

2) I vow to drink seasonal beers in their seasons.
Everyone loves the good Christmas beer or the well-crafted pumpkin brew that hits shelves right before Halloween. But I'll sometimes blow through summer, Oktoberfest and even barleywine season (and, yes, barleywine is now an official season) without veering from my normal intake. No more.
Sure, maybe the light, fruity specialty summer brews put out by masters who make beers with a lot more cajones aren't my favorite style. But these same people who I would trust enough to glug whatever experimental liquid they would give me make these seasonals for a reason. They believe they're the right beers for the right time. And so, rather than turn my nose up at the next Skinny Dip that comes out, I'm going to try them. And maybe I'll like some of them more.

3) I vow to keep an open mind - but a short leash - on breweries I've written off.
There's no need to insert names in here. You know who you hate and which of their beers reminds you of chilled urine in a can. And there's no reason to drink those beers.
But some of those breweries, whether they be the mega breweries or the craft guys that really haven't hit their stride yet, are at least trying new things. Bolder tastes. More experiments. And sometimes they get it right. Only, if you don't try, you wouldn't know it. I'll try those new efforts this year. If I like them, bam, that's one more beer for the repertoire. And if their new products are awful too, well, let's just say you'll be able to read about it on this site.

4) I vow to homebrew.
For too long, I've avoided this effort, fearing that if I make something that resembles the aforementioned canned urine, I'll never be able to be critical of another beer again. But that's just cowardly. And, as a homebrewer in the Fearless Tasting Crew reminds me, you learn a lot more about what makes a beer good or bad by doing it yourself.
So, I'll try it this year. And if anyone has good starter recipes, I'll gladly take them.

5) Finally - and this one's just for me - I vow to write more.
Those of you who are good enough to read my scribblings know that I've lapsed for months at a time between postings in the past. No more.
This year, I vow to write several times a week. I vow to comment on a lot of your sites. And once I figure out how this new-fangled computer technology works, I vow to link to other sites so that we can achieve this great beer community that we all want to have. Because if a beer falls wonderfully across your taste buds and there's no one around to hear about it, has that beer really made an impact at all?

Happy New Beers, everyone.

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