Saturday, February 21, 2009

We're New - And We've Brought Our Own Beer

As far as beer experiences go, a lot of Irish pubs can be letdowns. Sure, they have Harp and Bass on tap (right next to Bud and Miller). And, yeah, the menu will be loaded with all of the different crazy ways you can mix Guinness with other beers (I once combined Ireland's finest brew with a PBR, but that's a story for another time). But generally the taps and menus don't change from pub to pub.

Going to Katie Mullen's, the new Irish pub on Denver's 16th Street Mall, is more fulfilling than visits to most of its genre, however. First, the place is so big it actually has four separate full-length bars, meaning the large crowds that have populated it since Monday's opening seem a little less menacing. And after sampling a few of the menu items, you'll find something that's right there for you - and that is tasty.

From the beer perspective, though, the menu is fairly lengthy and includes both a couple of Colorado microbrews and some favorites from other European countries. There aren't a lot of other Irish pubs that have Hoegaarden on tap, for example.

My favorite touch, though, was Katie Mullen's Lager. It's an amber-style lager brewed for the bar by Steamworks Brewing Co. that has just enough malt backbone to stand up to the darker beers around it and to the boxties or shepherd's pies with which you will be enjoying it. Bars and restaurants that have a brewery create their own beer for them show they want to be unique; Katie Mullen's Lager is tasty, smooth and slightly chewy all at the same time. Slainte!

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

This Week in Colorado Beer

Special events
*Saturday, 1 to 5 p.m.: Bristol Brewing in Colorado Springs is throwing a Firkin Rendezvous. Roughly 20 Colorado microbreweries will be bringing cask-conditioned ales to tap. Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door.
*Saturday, 2 to 5 p.m. Wynkoop hosts its annual Beerdrinker of the Year finals, in which a panel of judges grill three finalists from across the country to see who deserves the prestigious title. Venzke Weizen, a smoked dunkel named for last year's winner, will be served during the event.

New tappings
*Tonight, 5 to 8 p.m.: Avery releases Brabant, a barrel-aged stout with heavy emphasis on the bourbon influence. The release party is free and head brewer/legend Adam Avery will be signing bottles for people who buy them.
*Saturday, 4 to 7 p.m.: Dying to get to an Avery release party but can't make tonight's soiree? Head up to the Boulder brewery again for the release of its Maharaja double IPA, complete with Indian food. (This one costs $15, however.)
*Tonight: Trinity Brewing in Colorado Springs cracks out its Chi Belgian Golden.
*Thursday, 6 p.m. Rock Bottom restaurants across the state debut their Fire Chief Ale, which helps to fund firefighter-related charities.
*Friday, 5 p.m. Ska's new Modus Hoperandi makes its debut. For those of you in the Denver area, Falling Rock Taphouse starts pouring it at this time.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

New Release: Odell Red Ale

Nothing normal comes out of Odell. This is the company, after all, that produced a double lager as its summer seasonal for years and rolled out an oak-aged ale last year that made most Russian imperial stouts look American light impersonators. It's all a wonderful trip, but it's not your father's stylings on beer.

So, when you crack the top off an the new Odell Red Ale and find yourself greeted by a hop flower burst, you realize you're back again in experimental land.

Brewed with a variety of hops, this beer presents the reddish hue of its style but comes as something between a bold red and an IPA. The tougher malt character actually seems to reel the hops into more of a balance, restraining them even as it comes on with a full body.

This is a bigger red for people who want more from what can be a pretty basic style. But it's not quite the citrus mouth-splitting IPA that hop heads are craving either. Chalk it up to Odell's twist on a classic, and know going in that this will interest and please you without necessarily blowing you away as you contemplate what - if anything - it resembles.


Sunday, February 15, 2009

New Release: Great Divide Rolls Out a Pair

So, I guess my "daily" updates on new beers lasted for all of about two days. But while I didn't post one Friday, I have a fairly good excuse: I was immersed in tasting the next two subjects of this blog. As for yesterday, well, let's just say I took some to recover . . . no, I mean think about the two beers I'd enjoyed.

Great Divide released two beers Friday night that are united in their rich, dark coloring but decidedly different in most other ways.

The Espresso Oak Aged Yeti is owner Brian Dunn's greatest creation since the Belgian IPA that he broke out for the Great American Beer Festival two years ago. Much like its brothers in Great Divide's imperial stout family, this one packs a significant alcoholic wallop and decidedly thick body that makes it an appropriate wintertime beer. But the infused espresso here strangely seems to lighten the load, pulling your taste buds' attention away from the strong characteristics of the barrel aging and toward an aromatic, almost chewy sensation that takes over your mouth. Because of the smoothness of the blending, you may realize only later how surprisingly strong this is. But unlike other coffee beers or imperial stouts, you will have no trouble putting several pints of something this easy down in a night.

The Claymore Scotch Ale, meanwhile, is arguably the brewery's most subdued offering since the introduction of the Samurai Rice Ale a few years ago. Though blessed with the sunset-amber hue of its style and a medium-sized body, the immediate impression it affords you is one of easiness. But this isn't the shocking ease of the Espresso Oak Aged Yeti; instead, it's the surprising, slightly disappointing ease of a beer that is satisfactory but not as complex as most of what you'll find on the tap handles in this brewery. There was significant debate among the Fearless Tasting Crew about Claymore's merits. Some felt it hit the right note of maltiness and subdued hops without any overbearing qualities. Others, however, noted the absence of some Scotch Ale qualities such as chocolate notes and a late-breaking malt bitterness. This is not a bad beer, for sure. But it also won't add enormously to Great Divide's legend - whereas the Espresso Oak Aged Yeti should.

Both beers will be available through May. Claymore can be found in six packs, and the Espresso Oak Aged Yeti in bombers.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

New Release: Grand Teton Double Vision Doppelbock

It's always been a great mystery to me that the chocolate bocks and doppelbocks of the world are actually lagers. These are, after all, thick black malt extravaganzas that seem to have nothing in common with the fizzy yellow liquids that also qualify in that category. Yes, I understand that they go through the same cold-fermenting, longer-aging process, but the outcome is as different from an American light lager as a bunny slope is from a double black diamond.

Putting this existential dilemma aside, however, one can find in Grand Teton's new Cellar Reserve beer one of the boldest examples of the doppelbock clan. At more than 8% ABV, Double Vision surely could produce a condition that lives up to its name, but that would mean you'd have to down a couple of these in one sitting, and that won't be easy.

Brewed with a quintet of malts that leave this with a deep brown color, the beer smacks you immediately with an overwhelming malt sweetness that, combined with its thickness, gives this quite a heft of body. As the beer warms, its burnt caramel flavor emerges, and it leaves a slight hint of vanilla on the backtaste.

Idaho-based Grand Teton is dedicating its four-beer reserve series this year to the Reinheitsgebot - the 1516 Bavarian beer purity law - and each of the beers will be brewed to commemorate one of its four permitted beer ingredients: malt, hops, yeast and water. Double Vision highlights the water growing near the brewery, though I promise you that "water" is the last word that will come to mind as you chew through this bold bock.

The Double Vision will be available, beginning Sunday, in 33-ounce bottles that allow for a secondary fermentation. Take one home and put some time aside for this one - it's thick, hearty and an all-nighter by itself.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

New Release: New Belgium Mighty Arrow Pale Ale

There's just something nice about naming your spring seasonal after your former Aussie/border collie mix, as New Belgium owner Kim Jordan did. And, coincidentally, "nice" might be the best way to describing this offering.

Mighty Arrow doesn't offer up the mind-blowing complexity of a La Folie, but this Cascade-hopped ale comes on with a big sniff of wet grass on the nose, followed by a fresh but slightly subdued taste. It mellows quite quickly but never abandons its personality of hops, which add a full aroma to your mouth far more than they sting your tongue.

Mighty Arrow has come out recently but might be hitting stores a little early - a statement that I make because this isn't so much a winter beer as it is the kind of pale ale that you want to curl up with at a baseball game on a warm spring day. Almost shockingly easy going down, this is a subtle treat.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

This Week in Colorado Beer
It's an exciting week for new beers, and beginning tomorrow I'll be posting daily blurbs about both some of what is listed here and some others that have come out recently.

New Bottlings
*New Belgium has released its Lips of Faith Dark Kriek in bombers. The Lips of Faith series, you may know is made up of experimental beers and has produced such greats as its sour Eric's Ale. This is the first time that a Lips of Faith beer has been bottled and distributed.
*Odell just rolled out its Odell Red Ale. It's a red like an American red, except that, in classic Odell style, it's got some monster hops and comes in at 6.5% ABV. Will be available through May.

New Tappings
*Just in time for Valentine's Day, Carver Brewing of Durango is now tapping its Brewer's Reserve Lover's Chocolate Stout. Champagne bottles to go sell for $12.95
*BJ's of Westminster has just put 30 new beers on tap - and, as one might expect, they're not all from BJ's. Eat a pizookie, then call a cab.
*Thursday: Trinity Brewing releases its Farmhouse #34, Saison Nocturnum. Coming in at 12% ABV, it's described as the largest spiced beer ever brewed in Colorado Springs. I'll buy that.
*Saturday, noon to 9 p.m.: Bristol Brewing has an IPA cask tapping. Actually, Bristol has this most every Saturday. So, if you're in Colorado Springs, just make this part of your weekly calendar.

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Saturday, February 07, 2009

Colorado Brewery Tour: Pug Ryan's

When I wrote my column for The Gazette, I did a monthly feature on a different Colorado brewery, usually corresponding to a place more people are likely to visit in that season (ski towns in winter, college towns during football season, etc.) I'd like to restart that tradition today with a visit to Pug Ryan's, a Dillon brewpub/steakhouse in the heart of ski country.

Named after an outlaw whose gang held up the game room at Denver's Breckenridge Hotel in 1888, Pug's is a cozy spot in downtown Dillon that's usually crowded enough on weekends that you'll have to wait for a dinner table. That's OK, as the small bar that fronts the brewing area has a moderately sized selection of beers (usually five or six on tap at a time) that are uniformly enjoyable without being overly challenging.

One of Pug's signatures is its Pallavicini Pilsner, a Bohemian-style pilsner named after a ski run at Arapahoe Basin. A multiple GABF award winner, this adds a crisp, sparkling finish to an overall smoothness that makes it a subtle but flavorful leader of this genre of brews.

The Over the Rail Pale Ale - named after a near disaster involving a brew kettle and a less-than-smooth installation process - is another easy drinker with a light grassy taste and a citrus dance on the tongue. An overall bitter sensation leaves a lasting mark on a beer whose taste really picks up around mid-glass.

A personal favorite is the Coffee Porter, which comes on with a grounded-bean scent that doesn't hammer you as much as it rings naturally of coffee flavor in a less harsh form. The immediate visceral assault with a slight peppery late-breaking taste climbs inside your mouth, leaving you to marvel at how light-bodied it is for a big-tasting beer.

On tap for the season is a Saison, a 7.7 percent ABV sticky treat with an overwhelming initial sugary impression that fades slightly into a buttery soft quality. The heavy yeast quality makes this quite perfumey, giving it almost a rock sugar quality that could render it too sharp for some (like my wife, who was helping me taste).

Others on Pug's menu are of slightly lesser note. The lightly filtered Morning Wood Wheat has the fizzy attributes of a golden ale and is easy, though not particularly memorable. And the Scottish Ale Formerly Known As Kiltlifter has a light-bodied quality that made it blend well with our burger but didn't hold up as well on its own.

Though it's not on tap at the moment, one of Pug's great creations is its daring Hellesbock, a summertime treat with more heft than most of its brethren and an almost amber feel. It's usually making its debut around the time of the Memorial Day festival at Arapahoe Basin.

Oh, and the food? Steak, classic burgers, ribs, fish - after a couple of back bowls, it hits the spot. As does the beer in this tiny brewery that often is overlooked but definitely shouldn't be.

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Monday, February 02, 2009

Five Beers for Apres-Ski
There are few times that feels as appropriate for a beer as those first moments after you take off your skis. You've spent the day working your muscles, you in all likelihood don't have to head off to work and you're ready to celebrate.

But you're also dehydrated, tired and probably somewhat cold - conditions that don't lend as well to the beer-drinking experience. So, you have to choose well to get the full enjoyment you're seeking. What do you do?

After being faced with this dilemma just this past weekend, I've spent far too much time thinking about the balance of lightness on the palate with heft of winter warming needed to pull off the perfect combo. I think I've come up with a few ideas. And, in keeping with the ski season, I've tried to confine this list to Colorado beers.

1) New Belgium Mothership Wit
No beer I've had seems to blend such an unfathomable lightness of body with the full heft of taste so much as a Mothership. This is thin and light like those beers you'd never consider drinking, yet it lands in your mouth with a citrus-coriander bite of a classic Belgian white. While you're sweating and slouching into a chair, this beer will go down smoothly but remind you that you can't celebrate without enjoying taste as well.

2) Odell 5 Barrel Pale Ale
All things being equal, I prefer my hoppy beers of the double IPA variety, so thick and sweet that they serve as both a drink and dinner. But when you're exhausted and parched, all things are not equal. A Maharaja, for example, could leave me asleep within an hour in the post-skiing state. So, I'll go for a full-flavored pale that is less alcoholic and significantly lighter in body but still fills the taste buds with flowery enjoyment and presents itself with a backbone.

3) Breckenridge Vanilla Porter
Though any thick, dark beer will warm your frostbitten toes, not all of them will roll so easily over your dry taste buds. But this one adds a kick that is sweet and pleasant while still being warming. You may not want to drink it all night after a hard day on the slopes, but it's like that wake-up call to let you know there will be bold flavor ahead.

4) Boulder Singletrack Copper Ale
In what amounted to unknowing preparation for this column, I spent two days in the hot sun at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival eight years ago drinking nothing but Singletrack. I was dancing and panting and probably should have consumed less alcohol. But the Singletrack was just bold enough to give me some hopped comfort while its medium body flowed through me easily. Heck, I imagine this is the beer I would want with me on the ski slopes . . . if, you know, that kind of thing were allowed.

5) Backcountry Telemark IPA
OK, this one breaks the pattern by tossing some bullying hops into an otherwise mellow category. Maybe it's just that I've stopped by the Frisco brewery so many times on my way home that this is the Pavlovian apres-ski beer of choice for me. But there's also a tangy, accessible quality to the hops that leave them less battering on your taste buds than they should be. Reward yourself. You've earned a beer this big and drinkable.

Anything I overlooked?

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