Saturday, August 20, 2011

Five Craft Lager Festival Thoughts

It's been one week now since the Manitou Craft Lager Festival. Generally, if something sticks in your brain that long, it's made an impression. And there are several things from this year's event that made an impression.

1. Odell Brewing can do no wrong

Usually, small-batch pilot experiments are big, bold flavors too risky to appeal to the mass population. But this year, Odell made a pilot kolsch for the festival. And it may have been the best beer there. Glisteningly smooth and crisp, this version of the German style increased the standard amount of hops in a kolsch by just enough to make this a sharp but still very easy-drinking beer. Let's hope this moves from pilot batch to six packs very soon.

2. Summit County brewers are underrated

The longest lines of the weekends formed at the Dillon Dam Brewery booth, where Cory Forster (far right in the photo) poured a malty, approachable Montezuma Marzen that seemed perfect for the summer heat. Next to it, Pug Ryan's brewmaster Dave Simmons (center in photo, next to me) doled out his thick, sweet Helles Bock and a smooth, easy Pallavicini Pilsner. Pug's sends a few beer in cans to the Front Range and Dillon Dam none; these two breweries are proving, however, that Summit County has a selection worth traveling for.

3. Highly hopped pilsners are an idea whose time has come

Avery debuted its Joe's Pilsner last year and shocked a lot of people with the amount of hops you can put into a 4.7 percent, light-bodied beer. It was back this year, but it was not alone in its genre. Lost Rhino Brewing of Virginia, which is set to begin Colorado distribution soon, showed up with an aggressively hopped Rhino Chaser Pils that added a firm, sweet malt backbone to its character. It would not surprise me to see the hopped pilsner, with its combination of refreshment and bitter joy, blowing up to become the next big style, ala the Belgian sour or black IPA.

4. The clown remains a prince

Shmaltz Brewing of New York and its creepy clown symbol remained the most talked-about out-of-state brewer at the festival. I asked a number of people who stopped by the Mountain Brew booth what their favorite beer was, and the most common answer I got was the Coney Island Albino Python, a wistful ginger-touched white lager. But the bock-like Blockhead and whiskey-tinged Barrel-Aged Blockhead added greatly to the resume of a brewery that should find a way to have a bigger presence in Colorado.

5. Festival organizers were attentive to attendees' pleas

Last year, half the beer booths had shut down with two hours to go on Saturday and attendees were up in arms. This year, festival organizers smartly reduced the two-ounce pours to one ounce, leaving lines a bit long at times but ensuring that drinkers could get whatever they wanted to try. They also added distillers, giving the daring another option of beverages to try. And the security was on the lookout for the excessively drunk, meaning that people who were really wanting to sample and discuss the beers weren't being pushed around by the belligerent. Other than the 30-minute rainstorm that stopped strolling and sampling for a while Sunday, this was a better festival all around than last year. And it once again should be regarded as one of the finest in the state.

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+1 on the hoppy pils, yummy! Enjoyed a great day Saturday, I can't wait for next year!
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