Saturday, May 16, 2009

This Week in Colorado Beer

GABF Tickets
Yes, the Great American Beer Festival still may be 4-1/2 months away, but that doesn't mean it's not time to write it in red pen on your calendar for Sept. 24-26. Tickets go on sale Tuesday for American Homebrewers Association members (June 1 is you're not shelling out the paltry $38 for the membership). And while you might think, "Oh, I can get these later," remember that the festival sold out about two weeks in advance last year.

Today (May 16): Summit Brewfest and BBQ in Colorado Springs. Any summer beer festival can have 38 different brewers there. But seven different kinds of barbecue? Mi adore. The festival runs from 2 to 10 p.m. today (which may be the longest single-day beer festival session in the state) and tickets are $20. This is a first-time event at the Norris Penrose Event Center.
New Tappings
Today (May 16): Bristol Brewing once again breaks out an IPA cask from noon to 9 for those that might want to stop by and grab a beer before the Summit Brewfest.
This week, hopefully: Avery will soon be putting out its Sixteen, a saison brewed with jasmine, peaches and honey, to celebrate the Boulder brewery's 16th anniversary. It's not listed on the website yet, but I have it from a good authority (a mass e-mail sent out from the brewery) that it's coming. Find it in bombers at local liquor stores. Or head up to the brewery Monday night; if it's not on tap yet, you can at least hear a presentation on barrel aging by the Society for the Pursuit of Hoppyness.

Beer/Food Pairing
Tuesday: Duo hosts another beer pairing dinner, with a twist. Not only will Great Divide be pouring its fine ales to go with the crusted snapper and chocolate torte, but Denver-based Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey will be there as well. Tickets are $35.

Welcome Back

Finally, Little Kings Cream Ale, the 7-oz. bottles that you probably drank in college (at least I did) have made a triumphal return to the state. The beer from Cincinnati's Hudepohl-Schoenling Brewing Co. made a return to Colorado, which used to be its second-largest U.S. market, earlier this week, according to news release sent out from the company. I can't say I remember a lot about the beer, but I do recall that it was smooth and fun to carry around those little bottles.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Bigger and Lagerer Than Ever

At a time when it seems like every business is shrinking or dying, here's a bit of good news: The Manitou Craft Lager Festival is expanding this year.

In its sixth year, one of Colorado's most unique summer festivals is going for the first time to a two-day schedule. Mark off Aug. 8 and 9 on your calendar, and then pick either or both.

Not only is it expanding its visiting hours, but the festival also is expanding its locale. Anyone who remembers the cramped quarters at Soda Springs Park last year will be pleased to know the event is moving down the street to the roomier Memorial Park, which also happens to have a lot more convenient parking adjacent to it.

Festival guru Jason Yester, whose Trinity Brewing in Colorado Springs will celebrate its first birthday later this year, said he's expanding the non-profit festival to drive up revenue, create more capital and eventually bring in some big-name bands, hoping to make it a "mini-Telluride." And of course, he's hoping to increase the number of brewers, a feat he's managed to pull off every year so far at what is believed to be the nation's only solar-powered beer festival.

There are plenty of festivals to talk about this summer, from A-Basin to Salida to Breckenridge, and I hope to lay that schedule out in the near future (if I can just get off work earlier and start blogging more). But I've always had a soft spot in my heart for the lager festival, as its unique beer parameters, longest-lasting Springs-area tradition and annual team-brewed edition of Warning Sign imperial eisbock make it a place that just feels a little bit mellower and a little happier than anywhere else.

Until then, crack open a cold lager - a good one, that is - and get ready for it.

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Friday, May 08, 2009

An Elegy for an Up-and-Coming Brewery

Today is a sad day. Even as I sit at my computer typing this, John Dunfee may be pouring the final beer at Arctic Craft Brewery.

The up-and-coming Colorado Springs brewery, which opened quietly in an industrial area east of downtown about seven years ago, mixed up a wicked Belgian sour ale, operated out of a former garage and leaped over bottling to begin canning its beers last year. But in the end, what felled it was not its wildly independent streak so much as the same disease that has taken down too many businesses lately: Bad financing.

Earlier this week, I spoke to John, who had closed his insulation business at the end of 2007 to give it a full-time go at the brewery, for an article I was writing on the increasing number of Colorado microbreweries canning their beers. As optimistic as always, he told me right away that the canning of his On-On Ale was going great, then added that business wasn't so good.

The details of Arctic's demise are probably better suited for the pages of the Wall Street Journal than a simple beer blog. Besides, once he started telling me about what was happening, I was too shocked to write down the intricate details.

But the end should never overshadow the great run the little brewery on East Platte Place had.

Walking in there, you might not have known what kind of brewing talent was at work. There were about eight stools at the bar, an occasional game of beer pong going on in the back and a few regulars smoking by the plastic curtains near the open garage door. But after just a couple sips of the beer, you realized John had both a special drive and a special creativity.

Most people will tell you his best work was done in his Milk Stout, a dark, almost chewy production that popped your eyes open with its late-hitting creamy sweet punch. It once won a mock Springs beer bracket at The Gazette, felling even the great Bristol beers.

But that spark of life popped up in a number of other original creations as well. There was the Peach Lager, an admittedly shocking combination that was more flavorful and more refreshing than 95 percent of lagers on the market. There was an experimental Oktoberfest he let me try last summer that actually had strains of sour waking up its slumbering formula. And of course there was the Patientia, a stunning Belgian-style sour ale that jolted your taste buds from apple to sweetbread to dill pickle, never letting you stop thinking about the gift in your mouth.

John had plans for Arctic beyond canning the On-On Ale, wanting to introduce the Milk Stout to a greater audience and eventually, he told me, move to a bigger and more prominent location. Rarely did a friend try one of Arctic's beers and come away unimpressed; I always felt it was just a matter of getting more exposure before the brewery took off.

Instead, John's cleaning out the brewery tonight and then starting a job doing grounds maintenance for a local school district. When I asked him if he was planning to start another brewery or at least keep his professional hand in the game, he replied with a note of exasperation: "I think I'll get out of brewing for a while."

It's a shame. Good brewers do come along, but many of them are by the book, keeping to the tried and true styles and not wandering outside that wall. John saw those styles and then decided to have fun with them, adding tastes and ingredients you don't find in a lot of beers - and succeeding wildly.

Thanks for what you've given the Colorado beer community, John. Here's hoping that we'll see you pouring again some day in the future.


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