Thursday, July 21, 2011

Mountain Brew - Yes, It's My Book - Debuts Friday

Anyone who follows this blog knows its author's proclivity for drinking and writing. And they may have noticed too how all of that seemed to stop from January through mid-June of this year.

Well, here's what happened: In that time period, I was penning my first book, a look at each of the state's breweries and their unique personalities. And tomorrow, Mountain Brew: A Guide to Colorado's Breweries officially comes out.

The book is a labor of love for which I spent nearly two years travelling throughout the state to visit every brewery and to sit down with their brewers or owners and talk about the business. It does not feature critiques of beers, though it does list the signature beers of each establishment. Instead, it's meant to tell the stories of each institution and to serve as a companion guide for anyone who wants to travel through a city or even the state, visit breweries and understand the history of the beer makers they are enjoying.

Those who may want to visit some of the larger and better known breweries in the state can find out more about the outsized personalities in the industry in Colorado. When did Brian Dunn have the revelation that led him to open Great Divide? How did Kim Jordan come up with the idea of granting ownership in New Belgium to her employees? What is the most important thing Doug Odell wants people to know about his brewery? (Hint: It has nothing to do with Odell beer.)

Maybe the part I enjoyed most, though, was learning about the breweries in towns as small as 450 people across the state that rarely pop up on Denver beer-bar taps or at beer festivals but that have fantastic stories to tell. These are places like Three Barrel Brewing in Del Norte, a quiet San Luis Valley town where owner Jim Bricker brews his recipes in a room in the back of his insurance office. Or Ourayle House, a Ouray outpost where James Paul Hutchison makes 1-1/2-barrel batches that he hawks from a swing behind his bar and that he once traded for elk cleaned off a highway. Or Dolores River Brewery north of Cortez, where former Rock Bottom pioneer Mark Youngquist doles out as assortment of non-style-specific ales to rooms packed with what can be as much as 10 percent of the 800-person town's population on a Friday night.
The book will be available at local bookstores and national chains, at a number of breweries and online at places like Amazon or the website of my publisher, History Press. I'm also planning a number of book-signing events, including two launch parties: At 6 p.m. on Aug. 4 at the Denver Press Club and at 4 p.m. on Aug. 6 at Strange Brewing in Denver. I'd love to see any readers there.

Also, I've expanded beyond the blog and now have a Facebook page (Mountain Brew), a website for the book and a Twitter account at @MtnBrewBook. Between this site and those, I'm hoping to spend even more time writing about beer and exploring the breweries of this state.

In the end, if no one bought the book, I'd still look back fondly on my travels across the state, my conversations with the good people in this brewing industry and the adventures that come when you're trying to cram nine brewery visits into one weekend. (A special shout-out goes to Tony Simmons of Pagosa Brewing, who began our 10 a.m. interview by serving me a three-year flight of his barleywines.)

But I'm hoping a few people might buy Mountain Brew and learn the sheer joy, as I did, of the all-encompassing brewery culture of Colorado. And hopefully, I'll even see a few of you when I'm out at those breweries in the months to come.



Monday, July 18, 2011

Oh. Canada.

Drinking Canadian beer makes me think of college. Molson and Labatt's and Moosehead were gourmet treats back then, bold trips beyond the domestic beers that we drank for effect rather than for taste. And even if I couldn't put my finger on exactly what was different about those beers, they just carried an aura to them that made them something special - until, in time, we forgot about Canadian beers.

About a month ago, one of those beverages from the north invaded America. Alexander Keith's, which has been brewed in Nova Scotia since 1820, broke across that largely unguarded border and moved into 22 states, including Colorado. A minor media blitz heralded its arrival. And those of us who once saw its countrymen as some sort of superheroes began thinking just a little bit again about what being a Canadian creation meant.

Alexander Keith's presents a twofold hurdle to returning to that innocent time of Canadian beer worship, however. First, it brings little, if anything, new to a party of American beers that has only blown up in the past 15 to 20 years. And second, it's not really Canadian.

Let's deal with the latter fact first. Alexander Keith's is the most revered brewery in Nova Scotia. But the beer it's sent stateside is actually brewed in Baldwinsville, N.Y. That beer is marketed by Anheuser-Busch, whose Labatt subsidiary owns Mr. Keith's business now. And the three beers introduced in America are made strictly for America; you'll find them on the brewery's new website, but not on the site anchored in Canada.

So, once you get past the new "world of beer is flat" reality of global mergers and regional brewing, you ask instead: Is the beer flat as well? The good news is that it isn't. But there's something oddly fruity about Alexander Keith's three American offerings, none of which is marketed as a fruit beer.

The best of the lot is Alexander Keith's Nova Scotia Style Lager, which has a slightly English nose but a more German taste accenting a sharply hopped but subtle-tasting beer that brings with it a heft. Yet, as the beer warms, it takes on a toffee-candy sweet flavor that moves this from fully pleasant to a bit too heavy.

The Nova Scotia Style Pale Ale (and, yes, every offering wants to beat into your psyche that it's Canadian) is very lightly hopped but surprisingly fruity, carrying with it an underlying berry taste. This succeeds fully in being an easy-drinking beer appropriate for balmy American summers, but it lacks the typical characteristics of a pale ale.

And finally, there is the Nova Scotia Style Brown Ale, a beer reminiscent of Newcastle with brown sugar notes to it. The cascade hops in this offering are buried beneath a syrupy honey body that makes this a one-and-done beer for the sake of your taste buds.

It's been so long now since I've had a Moosehead or Molson that I can't compare these new invaders to the beer immigrants I knew in my early 20s. But, like them, Alexander Keith's feels destined to fade into memory quickly, offering little besides a cool-looking picture of a stag on the label that makes you want to go back for seconds.

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Friday, July 15, 2011

The New Tastes of Summer

It's one thing for breweries to rebel against the grain of summer, as Great Divide did in releasing three monster beers a couple of weeks ago. But sometimes, Colorado breweries can go the traditional route, yet produce unexpectedly tasty results in a low-hop, low-malt season.
One of those recently released treats comes from Fort Collins Brewery, the seasonal Maibock that just showed up in the local liquor store in the last week. Brewed in fall and aged in the summer, this is in many ways a traditional spring beer. But it's got the resume and chops to stand out in the summer crowd.

Presenting a decidedly caramel color, this quaffer is toffee sweet, with warm notes of a slight burnt-pan cooking goodness flowing through every taste. What is appealing about it is that is has a very understated yet present body that offers a bock that's both sweet and roasty without being syrupy or heavy.
Crystal Springs Brewing's Summertime Ale, a kolsch-style ale, is appealing in a different warm-weather way. This is a light-bodied German-style beer that introduces itself with a hint of sweetness to open your eyes.

Further sipping reveals a slight honey taste, blending effortlessly with the malts and without the residual heaviness of most honey-tasting beers. Thus, you have a concoction that goes down very easy for hot evenings such as tonight but lets you know it's something more than a light lager.

Surely there are more great Colorado summer creations out there. Anyone have recommendations?

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

The New Beer Drinker's Guide is Here

Actually, that headline is about a month overdue. But piles kind of built up on my desk over those 5-1/2 months when I didn't post (which will be explained in the next week). And when I started rifling through them recently, I noticed some news blurbs were overdue. Like, um, this one.

If you're not familiar with the Beer Drinker's Guide to Colorado, it is one of the finest resources for pub crawlers in this state. You've probably noticed them in breweries across Colorado, whether for sale or on display on the wall. A fold-out map lists 142 separate breweries across the Centennial State, from legends to little guys to all six free-standing Rock Bottoms.

But map author Mike Laur gives you more. There's listings on the back of beer bars, historic saloons, 14ers and parks. Laur explains basic beer characteristics and proper glassware. And he even throws in coupons to about two dozen breweries.

If anything, the brewery list may be too extensive for the average drinker. Laur includes both meaderies (which make a beer-like substance but not quite beer) and extract breweries (which make a substance that can only be referred to as "beer") next to the Great Divides and Odells of the world. In one of my favorite twists, though, he also includes breweries that are set to open soon but haven't quite cracked their doors, giving hard-care beer geeks things to watch for in the coming months.

All this is to say, in case you couldn't tell, that this fifth edition of the map (suggested retail: $14.95) continues to be a great product, and one that adds to the culture of beer fanaticism in this state. That Laur does it as a side business (he's also a Colorado Springs videographer) is testament to his love of the beverage.

Now, if only there were a book that true beer geeks could by along with his map to tell the stories of these places across the state .... But, as I mentioned earlier, just wait a couple of days and that too will be fully explained.



Monday, July 11, 2011

Crazy ... Like a Hophead

An Episcopalian priest, a biker and a Bernese Mountain Dog walk into a bar. And then they all have a beer - all except the dog, that is. It may sound like a bad joke, but this was exactly the scene at Crazy Mountain Brewery on Sunday afternoon.

As eclectic as it may have seemed, the diverse group of beer lovers paired like a fine cheese with the selection of eight unique beers pouring from in the brewery whose tap room opened less than a year ago. And for anyone making a first visit to the location in Edwards, about 1o miles west of Vail, it was a mellow, welcoming place to explore new twists on familiar beer styles.

Brewer Kevin Selvy's story is a familiar one: He worked his way up through the brewing ranks, starting in Anchor Steam's winery, before starting out on his own. And, while longing for experimental beers, he brewed a wheat and an amber out of the shoot to introduce Crazy Mountain to the world.

But that wheat - Lava Lake Wit Beer - is a Belgian wit made with chamomile, coriander and Curacao orange peel. It's a strong, fruity, multilayered wheat that thrusts a hint of spice into your mouth in a strangely calming way.

And that amber, Crazy Mountain Amber Ale, is one of the most highly hopped of its variety, with West Coast hops. It mirrors the trend toward over-hopping red ales, but with the smoother and less malty body, it leaves a slightly less substantial but terribly enjoyable amber you could drink all night long.

Crazy Mountain's other joys include its Cara De Luna Ale, a black German pale ale that's more dunkel than double IPA but uses the hops to balance the dark malt nicely. There's the Est Rousse Belgian Amber, which presents a sweet, slightly burnt caramel taste in the same delicate way that a pale ale presents its flowers. And, for a limited time, there's the Apres Cuvee, a barrel-aged blend of barleywine, winter ale and pale ale that's like a big, sweet, oak-encrusted bomb of a hearty pale body.

You have to work to find Crazy Mountain's taproom - it's in the back of shopping center situated beside two roundabouts at the entrance to Edwards - but doing so is worth it. It's a place where you bring your own food, listen to music and kick back at pine-beetle-killed wooden picnic tables and see just who or what walks in to join your afternoon.


Wednesday, July 06, 2011

The Dark Side of Summer: Great Divide's New Releases

Friday night was hot, and standing on the concrete patio outside of Great Divide didn't make it any cooler. At most breweries, the new beers that would have greeted attendees at the release party would have offered some soothing with a tang of fruit or the refreshing lightness of a pilsner body. But that's not the Great Divide way.

Instead, the brewing savants at Denver's most experimental beer maker reintroduced a smoked Baltic porter and a barrel-aged IPA and then topped the evening off with a new Belgian-style imperial stout. When the lightest beer of the trio involves the term "barrel-aged," you know you're in for an interesting evening.

Yet, it once again worked, even if not all of the results were completely what was expected.

The Belgian Style Yeti, a new offering, had a whole lot going on in one complex beer. The dark-as-night malt imposed a roasted chocolate taste but quickly was compounded by an estery spice flavor that left you swirling the 9.5 percent ABV brew over your tongue to determine what style this creation was. In the end, the conclusion was that it was a whole new, um, monster - one that you'll probably only drink one of but will enjoy thoroughly while you have it.

The Smoked Baltic Porter - seriously, isn't this a beer for the dark of winter? - returned for its second year and presented both smoke and burnt malt characteristics that felt amped up from version 1.0. It's a heavy beer built on a firm base of chewy upfront malt and background hops with just a touch of chocolatey sweetness. If you can get over the fact that you might be drinking this on a sun-drenched porch one happy hour, you find that it's multilayered yet still accessible. It's highly recommended for mountain camping trips.

Then there is the Rumble IPA. When Great Divide introduced Rumble in 2010, it was arguably the most interesting beer the brewery had rolled out since debuting its Hercules Double IPA, a hopped delicacy in which the sharp flowery tastes blended seamlessly with the French and American oak barrels in which they were aged in order to create a beer that approximated a highly drinkable version of a brown liquor. But this year's effort feels a bit dialed back. The oak is far less pronounced, leaving the subtly hopped beer with more of a sweet mouthfeel than something dusty and ornate. The result is still enjoyable, but no longer in the realm of Hercules or Espresso Oak-Aged Yeti as a masterpiece that defines the brewery.

What still defines the brewery is daring, though, and these beers can be used as evidence that the spirit of swimming against the current lives on there. And, in what may be the best news, each of the seasonals is available in liquor stores so you can also take them home and enjoy their lurking darkness in an air-conditioned home.


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