Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Crazy Mountain: Coming Soon to a Ski Town Near Us

Just as the Texan skiers exit Colorado and the leaves begin to come back to the trees, it seems too that new breweries begin to peek their heads out every spring. And the first arrival of the season, Crazy Mountain Brewing Company, brings with it the hope that each of the year's rookie aspirants can carry as much promise as this newcomer.

If you haven't heard yet of Crazy Mountain, that probably just means you don't hang out a lot in the Vail area. The brewery made its splash debut at the Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines festival in January, where it made such an impression with a Belgian golden ale that founder Kevin Selvy was able to secure the final funding he needed to open. It's currently contracting its recipes to be brewed while he puts the finishing touches on its Edwards taproom and production brewery, expected to open in June or July.

Kevin, who was nice enough to meet me last weekend at Bacco's Bar, one of eight restaurants in the Vail Valley that has his Crazy Mountain Amber Ale on tap, brings a wealth of experience to the venture, having gone to school at Colorado State University and later taken a job with Anchor in San Francisco. Although Crazy Mountain has created just two brews so far - the other being its Lava Lake Wit Beer - Kevin plans to experiment with making everything from the ubiquitous IPA to a creation using Ponderosa pine needles.

The Amber Ale is a highly appropriate apres-ski offering, a smooth and drinkable beer at 5.25 percent ABV but once that laces the red-tinged recipe with enough hops to wake up even the dehydrated taste buds on the back of the tongue. Kevin wanted to debut with an amber that was nicely balanced, he said, and ended up meeting that goal while also exceeding taste expectations of the style.

Crazy Mountain will, in time, make its way through not just the valley but all of Colorado, and it will be a substantial new offering to the state's collection of breweries. And, if 2010 unfolds like many years past, it hopefully won't be the only new brewery that debuts and gains traction.

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Colorado Native: An (Almost) All-Colorado Beer

One of the best trends in recent years has been the effort by Colorado breweries to include as much hops and barley grown in the state as possible in their products. And now one beer - and one from a company that you might not expect - has pushed the effort to the point where 99.8 percent of its ingredients and packaging hail from the Centennial State.

Colorado Native is an effort by Coors incubator AC Golden Brewing Co. to jump on the local-first trend and capture the growing audience of people wanting to support community businesses. I wrote about it two weeks ago for the Denver Business Journal, and you can read more about the business plan and specifics of its local nature here.

The reason that AC Golden president Glenn Knippenberg had to hedge on the full 100 percent is that the company still brings in some of its hops from out of state to brew this amber lager. And that's an important difference because almost all of the other beers made to highlight Colorado ingredients, such as Odell's Mountain Standard Reserve '09, were produced specifically to highlight the small but growing hops industry in the state.

Then again, AC Golden is a brewery that doesn't try to break the bank on hops, having produced a few delicately crafted but hop-flower-limited lagers since it first opened inside the Coors brewery about a year-and-a-half ago. The company's goal is to create quality drinkable beers that could appeal to a mass audience - though certainly not as mass an audience as Coors or Coors Light, which many beer geeks would argue don't bring quality to the equation.

In that vain, Colorado Native is much like the company's two previously marketed efforts, Herman Joseph's Private Reserve and Winterfest - not a beer that attacks and challenges the taste buds as much as one that goes for more up-scale drinkability than many lagers.

There is a dough-like, slightly baked husk of malt that introduces the flavor of this beer, and it settles quickly and unconflictingly onto your taste buds after that. Then there is a faint rush of grassy back taste that Colorado Native leaves on nether-regions of your tongue, as well as a bit of chewy, slightly caramel feel that inhabits your mouth for just a few seconds.

But what this is is an amber lager with a bit more weight and flavor then its parent company's other concoctions, a good beer for post-lawn-cutting porch sipping but not one that will inspire you to muse about its complexities with friends. But if Colorado Native lacks somewhat the daring hop bravado that's come to define the Colorado microbrew industry, it should be saluted for doing what many of those edgier beers are attempting to do for local ingredients - but taking it a step further.

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