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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