Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Colorado's Winning GABF Team

In the days since the 29th Great American Beer Festival has ended, more than one person who attended has uttered the comment: "Wow, it was a strange year for medals." And certainly, many old favorites were pushed aside and new kids on the block went home with new jewelery.

How strange was it? AC Golden, the experimental brewing arm of Coors that specializes in refreshing but fairly unchallenging lagers, took home more medals (3) than the following four Colorado brewing giants combined: New Belgium (1); Great Divide (1); Avery (0); and Odell (0).

That said, surprise or not, it's time to salute the Colorado breweries that were recognized for their mastery of certain styles and type out that list of beers that need to be tried in the coming months.
AC Golden (Golden): Gold for its AC Dunkel, silver for its German Pilsner and bronze for its Schwarzbier in categories for those styles. Interesting that none of these have been bottled yet. Hopefully, that will change in the next year.

Blue Moon (Golden): Coors' craft-style brewing arm wins the biggest award that a Colorado brewer scored in the competition: Large Brewing Company of the Year. It also nabbed a gold in the specialty honey beer category for its Summer Honey Wheat Ale. And it grabbed gold in fruit beer for its Chardonnay Blonde, beating out New Glarus' legendary Raspberry Tart, which earned a bronze in the fruit beer category.

Boulder Beer: Gold in the English-style mild ale category for its easy-going Business Time Mild.

Bristol Brewing (Colorado Springs): Laughing Lab Scottish Ale wins a well-deserved medal yet again, a bronze in the Scottish-style ale category. And the Old #23 Barleywine takes silver in its namesake category.

C.B. Potts (Fort Collins): Dark Side Lager grabs bronze among European-style dunkels.

Del Norte (Denver): Manana, one of the most refreshing summer beers you'll find, earns gold in the American-style amber lager category.

Dillon Dam (Dillon): McLuhr's Irish Stout garners silver in the classic Irish-style dry stout category.

Dry Dock (Aurora): Say hello to Colorado's most awarded brewery of 2010, which I'm told lost out on a second consecutive small brewer of the year award by a tie-breaker to California's Mad River Brewing. The haul: four silvers for Noble Stuff Export (dortmunder/Oktoberfest), Bismarck Altbier (German-style altbier), U-Boat Hefeweizen (south German-style Hefeweizen) and Whale Tale Wit (Belgian-style witbier).

Equinox (Fort Collins): Less than five months into its existence, this family-run brewery in downtown Fort Fun nabs a bronze for its Eclipse (English-style) Brown Ale.

Glenwood Canyon (Glenwood Springs): Carbonator - a big, sweet, alcoholic doppelbock - takes gold in that category.

Great Divide (Denver): Colette, arguably one of the big-beer maker's most understated creations, wins silver in the French- and Belgian-style saison category.

Left Hand (Longmont): Fade to Black, last year's wonderfully dark holiday beer, wins a gold for foreign-style stouts. It's a great beer, but the grumbling you hear from beer fans across Colorado is the realization that this award cements the fact that the former holiday beer, Snowbound Ale, is really never coming back.

Mountain Sun (Boulder): Illusion Dweller pulls in a silver for English-style IPAs.

New Belgium (Fort Collins): Move over, La Folie. Eric's Ale, the delightfully puckery peach beer, wins silver for American-style sour ale.

New Planet (Boulder): 3R Raspberry Ale takes bronze in the gluten-free beer category for the gluten-free brewery that is less than a year old.

Pagosa Brewing (Pagosa Springs): Coconut Porter wins a silver in the all-inclusive specialty beer category.

Pug Ryans (Dillon): Here's one the judges nailed: Hellats Good Beer wins gold in the bock category.

Rock Bottom: Old Elk Brown Ale, brewed in the Park Meadows location, wins gold in the English-style brown ale category. The Louisville-based chain won six other awards as well, but this was the only honored beer from one of its Colorado locations.

Rockyard (Castle Rock): Ryed Hard and Put Away Wet, which could have won another medal if there was a category for best beer names, earns silver in the pro-am competition for the collaboration between brewer Jim Stinson and homebrewer Adam Glaser.

Sandlot (Denver): It was another big year for the Coors Field brewery, with gold for Flor Hosen (German-style marzen) and silvers for Random Luck (American-style pilsner) and Clueless Beer Writer (Vienna-style lager). Now, um, when will these be on tap at games?

Ska Brewing (Durango): Bronze medal winners for Ska Special (classic English-style pale ale).

Steamworks Brewing (Durango): Two multiple-award winners return: What in the Helles? (Munich-style helles) takes gold and Colorado Kolsch (German-style kolsch) wins silver. And then a new favorite arises, as Backslide Stout earns a gold for oatmeal stouts.

Twisted Pine (Boulder): Big taste, big award. Big Shot Espresso Stout takes a bronze among coffee-flavored beers, a popular category this year.

Yak and Yeti (Arvada): The state's only Nepalese restaurant/brewery wins a gold in the American-style pale ale category for its Himalayan IPA.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Best of GABF 2010

Change was in the air this year at the Great American Beer Festival. Yes, the long-time best breweries brought their game (Russian River with a still trend-setting pucker-worthy Supplication, New Glarus with its consistently unique Raspberry Tart, Great Divide shaking things up with its oak-aged Rumble IPA). But this seemed to be the year when five other breweries really stepped up to grab the spotlight.

Call it the "line test." When you grabbed a one-ounce pour, where was it that you just wanted to turn around, head to the back of the line and wait, no matter how long, for another beer to see what else that brewer could do? Just within the confines of the Fearless Tasting Crew, these were those places: Cigar City Brewing, Six Rivers Brewing, Odell Brewing, Cascade Brewing and late-session find Weyerbacher Brewing Co.

And so, here is just one man's very abbreviated opinion of the best beers that could be found at the 29th Great American Beer Festival.

Best in Show: Based on its uniqueness as a cross between a sour and a saison alone, Cigar City's Guava Grove might have been the beer about which the most people left the festival buzzing. But what separated it from the sour genre and truly made it special was that the use of the guava for flavor, unlike sour cherries or raspberries, was not especially penetrating or intense. Instead, it just sat on the tongue, making this the most accessible and pleasing sour beer in a show where more and more made their way to the forefront.
Best hoppy beer: Judging by the fact that it, unlike most other types of hop, showed up in several beers' names, simcoe is the "it" hop right now. And nothing made better use of this edgy and intense floral flavor than Easton, Pa.-based Weyerbacher Brewing's Double Simcoe IPA. Introducing itself with a huge burst of flavor but leaving you with a more full-mouthed grassy rather than bitter backtaste, this beer, more so than any others of its genre, straddled the line between sweet and bite.

Best dark beer: Old-school stouts and porters seem to be on their way out. In fact the words "oatmeal porter" were about as rare this year as the term "light lager." But between chocolate-milk stouts and coffee-infused Russian imperial stouts, the taste that stood out the most was Six Rivers' Smoky Joe's Spicy Porter, which deftly weaved together mesquite, roasted malt and pepper spices into its own creation.

Best traditional sour: The three different barrel-aged creations that went into Odell's Friek looked at first like some strange blend of tomato and pineapple juice. But the raspberry-cherry overlap turned out to blend amazingly well and prove as refreshing as it was challenging. Kudos go as well to Cascade's Apricot Ale and its Kriek.

Best wheat/lager/lighter ale: At a festival that seemed to be all about barrels, coffee, smoke and limit-pushing new ingredients, it seemed that just about the only lighter beer turning heads was Dry Dock Brewing's Paragon Apricot Blonde. Accessibly fruit-tinged without being overpowering and without forgetting that the beer is more important than the additive, this calmed your taste buds and left you thinking "Mmm, session beer" more than anything else you tasted at the GABF.

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Saturday, September 18, 2010

GABF, Day Two: Cup of Joe, Anyone?

The first time I put Cigar City Brewing's Final Push to my lips, I had to hold it up and make sure I was drinking what I thought. Here, after all, was a Russian imperial stout, and it was blacker than night. But the predominant taste was bold and roasted coffee. And, man, was it good.

Among all the brewing trends on display at the 29th Great American Beer Festival, which ends tonight, none seem more pronounced than the clever and tasty ways that beer makers are meshing coffee with their products.

A few years ago, coffee's main purpose seemed to be an add-on to porters, and the java taste was still faint, overshadowed by darker malts that seemed to compete with it for featured flavor status. Now, the beers, whether porters or stouts or bocks, should just be called "coffee beers," as that is their dominant personality trait.

What's more, there's nuances to this coffee. Pizza Port Carlsbad, for example, has its Coffee Monster, in which you can actually taste a slight sweetness of cream balancing out the heavily roasted aspect. Boulder's Mountain Sun Pub and Brewery is offering Onslaught, in which the coffee comes on thick and hard but actually fades into hops that appear on the back taste.

Regardless, if you like the combination of coffee and beer, these are high times to enjoy things - and to see how brewers will move this trend forward in the coming years.

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Friday, September 17, 2010

GABF, Day One: Six Rivers Needs Some Love

Lines were long on the first day of the Great American Beer Festival at such classic beer-geek gathering spots as the booths for New Glarus, Russian River and Lost Abbey. And they've started to stretch out at a couple of well-deserved new entrants into American brewing's upper echelon, such as Cascade Brewing and Cigar City Brewing.

But in a sight that becomes more baffling each year, there were no more than two or three people lined up at any given time to drink the haul of Six Rivers Brewery of McKinleyville, Calif. And that's a shame because it means a lot of people are missing out on one of the undiscovered gems of the country.

The seven-barrel brewery that now distributes only in California and Oregon first grabbed my attention a few years ago with its Chile Pepper Spicy Ale, in which it uses jalapeno, habanero, Serrano and Anaheim peppers to create an eye-openingly spicy but still very drinkable beverage. That beer is still around, and it's as good as ever.

But last night, the brewery laid out a trio of beers as good as any at the show (at least among the 65 I was able to taste), showing off its depth and abilities to create masterfully across styles.

The star of the quartet, and maybe of the entire festival, was Smokey Joe's Spicy Porter, which is the liquid equivalent of a mesquite grill wrapped in a starless night with pepper flakes to light up your tongue. Finding out that a local farmer grills the Indian peppers used in the beer made it only that much more appealing.

Its Sour Grapes was just sharp enough to be the perfect blend of a wine-barrel-aged sipper and acidic tongue biter. And its Raspberry Lambic-style ale was a smoother and tarter improvement on the classic Belgian style.

There's a lot to do and see with some 450 breweries in the same room. But taking the time to stop by this one brewery - something that not a ton of people appeared to do on Thursday - will greatly enhance your experience there.

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

GABF Tour: Bold New Tastes

In past years, I've written the essential guide to beers at the GABF, a beginner's guide to the festival and even fun tours for hopheads or people who like beers with goofy names. This year, though, it seems that a tour of another sort is appropriate.

More and more, brewers are adding ingredients to beers that would have been unthinkable five years ago or are making hybrid styles for which there are no printed guidelines. And perusing the list of beers on display this year, it seems that these trends are peaking at the 2010 Great American Beer Festival.

What appears below is largely a blind list: Beers that one reads about, shakes their head and wonders how that's done. Some are old favorites that still stand out for their uniqueness. All are concoctions begging to be tried by those, like me, who appreciate brewers that push the art up to and over the edge.

So, then, here's a look at just a little of what is available, denoted by their booth numbers for 2010 and an explanation for those whose names don't tell the full story. Maybe I'll see you at one of them:
A4. Cambridge Brewing CaCow! (chocolate milk stout)
B26. Wasatch Brewpub Jalapeno Cream Ale
B31. (512) Whiskey Barrel-Aged Double Pecan Porter
C20. Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron (vanilla-tinged 12% ABV brown ale aged in barrels of rare Paraguayan wood)
C28. Papago Brewing Orange Blossom (orange vanilla wheat)
E28. Six Rivers Brewery Smokey Joe's Spicy Porter
F14. Cigar City Brewing Guava Grove (saison with secondary fermentation on guava)
F23. Elysian Brewing Mr. Yuck (sour pumpkin ale)
G1. Odell Brewing Woodcut #4 (barrel-aged, vanilla-heavy double marzen style)
G20-21. Great Divide Brewing Rumble (IPA aged in American and French oak)
H8. Brooklyn Brewery Sorachi Ace (farmhouse ale made with a rare Japanese hop)
I15. Magnolia Gastropub Oysterhead Stout (brewed with real oysters)
I36. Russian River Brewing Supplication (barrel-aged brown ale with sour cherries)
K31. Pumphouse Brewery Sour Watermelon Wheat
J35. Flyers Restaurant Strange Brew Red Pepper Porter
M14. Upland Brewing Kiwi Lambic
P3. New Glarus Raspberry Tart (a classic)
P27. Short's Brewing Black Licorice Lager


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Great American Beer Festival: The Essential Reading List

Yes, the GABF is all about tasting as many beers as you can and trying to keep your taste buds about you and fighting off the urge to call into work sick with a hangover on Friday morning. (And I'll detail some ways to do that tomorrow.) But in recent years, the festival also has added an exciting new feature that lets you enjoy the thrill of beer you felt long after last call has been uttered on Saturday night: The GABF Bookstore.
I could go off about the wondrous guides to making beer here, but the truth is that if you're a true home-brewing geek, you likely know about them already. Instead, I want to highlight a couple of the books and other reading materials that I've pored over in the past year that should be on everyone's to-read list.

Red, White and Brew by Brian Yaeger

Brian is a fascinating case study: A self-taught beer geek who quit a good job as a college spokesman and set off to interview 14 brewers who he thought represented the true spirit of American ingenuity. What came out of it is a road trip that winds through every mindset in American culture and reveals what makes iconic brewers - those from Dogfish Head to New Belgium to East Coast favorite Yuengling - want to be who they are.

Yaeger spices his extensive and sometimes very personal interviews - you will cringe when D.L. Geary describes the role his brewery played in the breakup of his marriage - with relevant anecdotes from his own life. And in the end, you'll get a feel for why brewers become brewers and will envy Yaeger for his cross-country adventure, appreciating all the more the nature of American beermakers.

The Beer Guide, edited by Josh Oakes/published by Barry Shlachter

Compiled from the comments listed on about more than 2,700 brews, this is simultaneously the most informative and caustic quick-hit description of beers that's ever been produced. Rating every beer that's even semi-widely available (at least as of 2008) on a one- to five-star scale, this bulky pocket-sized guide could be helpful to you as you decide what to order off of a great beer bar's menu.

But more likely, it will make you double over in laughter when remembering some of the worst beers you've ever drank. (Among my favorites: A description of France's 33 Export as "corn, rice, hay, sweat socks and wet dirty dog and some other maltiness"). And in describing other fine brews in the complexity of their flavors that few magazines touch, it will make you realize why the beers we love are the beers we love.

33 Bottles of Beer by Dave Selden

This isn't a reading book so much as a pocket guide to your own personal thoughts, but it's done quite skillfully. Selden wanted a book small enough to take notes during beer festivals but large enough to give you space to explain their primary qualities in charts, and this may just be a beer geek's dream.

I personally have tried a number of beer guides (though I still think nothing works as well as the actual GABF guide with a steady hand to back it during the festival), but many have been too big or given you too little room to express your thoughts. Selden's version is a pocket-storable guide that gives you a little of both and allows enough room for you to recall which beers you need to try again.

Beer Drinker's Guide to Colorado, 4th edition

This is not a book but a map, and what a map it is. Laying out the whole of the state, it pinpoints the locations of 126 breweries for you, including those with multiple sites (think Breckenridge or Rock Bottom) and those that have yet to open but will be doing so in the near future (anyone ready to visit Caution Brewing Co.?)

Creator Mike Laur broke ground with the first edition of this guide, and its staying power is demonstrated by the fact that you can pull into many breweries throughout the state and see it hanging on the wall and for sale behind the bar. The newest version has an increased amount of coupons, a decent style guide and a drive-time map and should be hung on your wall at home before you set out on any type of beer-tasting road trip.

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Monday, September 13, 2010

This Week in Colorado Beer: GABF/Denver Beer Fest edition

There's a little event coming up this weekend called the Great American Beer Festival. If you're a beer geek enough to read this blog, I assume I don't need to say a lot more. But then, even if you are a beer geek but you don't have tickets, you're pretty S.O.L., as it sold out a record five weeks in advance this year.

But don't despair. There's a couple of places that rumor has it may be serving good beer this week, even if you're not going to the festival.

Denver Beer Fest: This isn't actually one place serving good beer. It's about 35 of them, putting on something like 150 beer tastings, meet-the-brewer events, pairing dinners and even offering beer ice cream. I wrote in my day job about one place that's even making beer cupcakes. And the idea, in its second year of organizing by the Visit Denver convention and visitors bureau, is a wonderful one to get people excited leading into the GABF. In fact, you can see a full schedule of the events here.

But as much information as that website contains, it doesn't capture everything that's going on this week. And neither, frankly, will this blog. But I wanted to list just a few of the highlights for those who are hoping to cash in on all the beer rock stars who will be in town this week.

*Upslope Brewing begins five days of breaking out barrel-aged beers at its Boulder home.
*Jeremy Cowan, founder of New York's Shmaltz Brewing Co., holds a beer dinner/book release at Choice City Butcher & Deli in Fort Collins.

*Great Divide extends its tap room hours from 11 a.m. to midnight, hauls in food from Appaloosa Grill and taps a variety of unique and rare beers for the next four days.
* Gordon Biersch taps its Festbier Oktoberfest beer in Broomfield

*Breckenridge Brewery continues its rare beer tapping that is running from Sept. 11-19, with 12 specially made beers on tap at 12 different restaurants around town. Use this map like it was a treasure map.

Falling Rock
Yes, these guys deserve their own section because of the depth and breadth of events they are offering this week. Here are a few of the highlights:
*5 p.m. Wednesday: Longmont's Left Hand Brewing and Terrapin Brewing of Athens, Ga. release their third collaboration beer: Oxymoron, an India pale lager.
*10 p.m. Thursday: Chris at Falling Rock promises to break out a stash of aged and rare Stone Brewing beers.
*Noon Friday: The annual contest to kill a keg of Sierra Nevada's Estate Harvest Ale in record time takes place again. Hide the squeamish livers.
*10 p.m. Saturday: Still standing after three days of GABF? New Belgium breaks out its rarities. This is a great way to finish the festival, as these often involve a slew of Belgian sours that are the only beers that can revive overused taste buds.

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