Wednesday, January 27, 2010

This Week in Colorado Beer

I've come down sick and can't drink beer at the moment, but that doesn't mean you can't ...

The Ranger Is Rolling
*New Belgium's Ranger IPA, which I wrote about a week ago, finally hits stores and bars this week. Falling Rock Taphouse offers a public kickoff of it Friday at 5 p.m., and Trinity Brewing in Colorado Springs is holding its own release party for it at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

New Tappings
*Thursday, 6 p.m.: Rock Bottom Brewery Downtown rolls it its latest, a Subzero Winter Ale. The tapping is part of the Apres-Ski Party associated with the SIA Snow Show over at the Colorado Convention Center, so expect an even more festive atmosphere than usual.
*Friday: Fort Collins Brewery unleashes its Scotch Lager, yet another intricate non-ale from the brewery that arguably leads Colorado in lager experimentation.
*Friday, 5 p.m.: Trinity taps its Stop Making Sense Eis Bock, a doppelbock aged and frozen before it's tapped. It comes in at 11% ABV, so bring a driver.

New Offering
*Right around now, Left Hand Brewing has been set to release its 400 lb. Monkey, an IPA it had been testing since June. This new creation adds an almost bubble-gum sweet tinge to the classic bitter hops. The taste is a bit more atmospheric and maybe just a bit more aged than a bite-your-buds fresh hop. But it's definitely another classic in the Longmont brewery's collection.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

New Belgium's First IPA

After 17 years in the business, the Fort Collins brewery known for its Belgian-style creations and experiments in sourness has crafted its first India pale ale, due to hit shelves on Feb. 1. And Ranger IPA stands out from the crowd in one particular way: it is one of the lightest IPAs you will taste.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing, depending on what you want out of your hoppy beers. But the straw-golden body and slightly floral-citrus nose immediately indicate that the IPA you are drinking here is not one of the scorch-your-palate hop bombs that breweries like Stone and Russian River have made into the very definition of the style.

The lightness present here isn't without taste. Indeed, the warmer it gets, the more that the grapefruit characteristic wafts to the surface and makes its presence known. In fact, once you prepare yourself for the lack of taste bud assault to come, you admire the core easiness that is present here.

And maybe that is what one should take from this newest entry into the IPA market. New Belgium hasn't given to the beer world a creation that will re-define the style or make you wonder how much earthy, grassy flavor a brewer can drop into one glass. It is, instead, an easily accessible beer that drinkers not fond of the big, bold flavors that dominate the style can still drink. And enjoy.

This won't go down as one of New Belgium's master strokes, like the far-less accessible Le Terroir that pushes the boundaries of sour beers but leaves you shocked at its complexity. This is just a smooth, palatable take on the IPA - take it or leave it.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Five Lessons Learned from the 2010 Big Beers Festival

This is a few days late and maybe even a few dollars short, but there are a couple of things that I think everyone learned from this year's Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines festival in Vail:

1) Sour beers are not only becoming more common among brewers, they're becoming more palatable to everyone's taste buds. The prime example of this is Odell Brewing's Friek, a blend of "old, young and even younger" barrel-aged sour beer - in the words of master brewer Doug Odell. The effort had the distinctly biting characteristic of tart cherries aged in the older barrels but was smoothed out by last year's harvest raspberries that were blended into the youngest strain. It was crisper and fresher than many of its sour counterparts - though maybe not with as piercing a bite - but I knew that it truly had transcended the genre when the Beer Geekette, who usually winces at sour offerings, said she enjoyed it. Let's hope this is the breakthrough beer that brings sour into mainstream offerings.

2) The roasted, percolated, straight-out-of-the-jungle taste of coffee beers is hitting new heights every day. This had become apparent by some local breweries' efforts, especially those of Pug Ryans and and Backcountry Brewery, at recent local festivals. But San Diego-based Ballast Point Brewing's Victory at Sea Imperial Porter may have ratcheted the competition up a notch. This 10% ABV concoction from took a coffee beer to levels the genre doesn't normally go: a fresh-brewed frontal assault with just a tiny bit of vanilla on the backtaste. It was arguably the strongest yet most pleasing beer at the festival.

3) It's time for Papago Brewing to start distributing outside of the greater Phoenix area. The purveyors of the GABF-famous orange wheat and vanilla coconut porter masterpieces displayed in a special tasting seminar a Irish cream coffee stout that made the perfect pairing for ice cream (which may not be a combo you've always thought of, but trust me when I say that you want to try it). Scottsdale-based Papago is doing with new flavors and styles the same wonderful experimentation that the much more heralded New Glarus Brewing is doing with fruit beers. Yet, they're just one state away, and that bar at the border that stops them from getting through to Colorado needs to drop.

4) Dissension, thy name is cherry imperial stout. The most debated beer of the festival, at least to the Fearless Tasting Crew, was Longmont-based Pumphouse Brewery's 10th Anniversary Cherry Imperial Stout. Some in the bunch thought it was an overload of cherries and chocolate that just made it unpalatable. But I felt it was one of the gutsiest experiments at the show, a bold bombardment of taste buds that was quite heavy and over the top but the closest thing that's ever approximated chocolate-cherry cake in liquid form. And it seemed to be the statement that announced brewmaster Dave Mentus to the world.

5) The traditional definition of a big beer is starting to fade. Barleywines, double IPAs - these were the featured attractions that defined the "big beer" genre for at least half a decade. But while some of them were still turning head - Coronado Brewing's Idiot IPA was one that exuded flowers while keeping its bitterness in check, for example - they were not the stars of the festival. Belgian strong ales, spiced porters, oak-aged offerings, these are starting to take the headlines in many ways now. And this is not a bad thing, even for us hopheads that would gladly attend a DoubleIPAfest if anyone were to throw one. It just showed that the American craft brew revolution of the past five years continues to spread its tentacles in many directions. And that can only mean good things for the daring taste buds of this country.

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Friday, January 08, 2010

Big Beers Time

When you talk about the best of the numerous beer festivals in Colorado each year, only one even deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the Great American Beer Festival. And that one - the Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines Festival in Vail - is on tap for this weekend.

What's cool every year about this is that some of the best brewers both from around the country and around the world bring their most bodacious offerings and let you compare what greatness in large form looks like at many stations. What is even cooler this year is that a number of breweries will be bringing new creations specifically crafted for the tenth anniversary of the festival.

For more information, see the festival's website. If you don't have plans for this weekend, I'd recommend you find a way to get up there; if you do have plans, I'd recommend you cancel them and get up there.


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