Friday, September 30, 2011

GABF, Day One: The Colorado Breweries

When a company selling a retail product tells you that it's about to release a "game changer," you should be skeptical. Yet, just a couple of sips into Left Hand's bottled Nitro Milk Stout last night, and I knew they were not exaggerating the importance of this beer.

The Longmont brewery has found a way to smooth out the best milk stout in America without the gadgetry that is normally required to be in a nitrogen-aided can. It brings out the subtle sweetness of the dark brew without pushing that attribute too hard for people who might not like it. As odd as this may sound, it makes a great beer better.

So, why is this important? Because an American product, which the brewery ships to stores today, is about to give Guinness a run for its money. I confess I've never been a Guinness drinker because I find it a little dull. This beer offers the smoothness that stout drinkers with less envelope-pushing palates than mine will appreciate, as well as the added kick of flavor that will grab the attention of someone who might normally go for a big IPA. It has the chance, I believe, to be the biggest thing to emanate from Colorado since Fat Tire.

Yet, Left Hand's big announcement was just one of the things that jumped out at the first night of the Great American Beer Festival, which I spend mostly talking with Colorado brewers and trying to find the next great thing coming out of the state. Here's what is there:

*If you haven't been to Lao Wang Noodle House in Denver, you haven't tried anything from the three-month-old Caution: Brewing Company, as that is the location of its only account. Go. Brewer Danny Wang's Lao Wang Lager, brought to life with a proprietary mix of Asian spices in the brewing, jumps across your taste buds more noticeably than many of the finest ginger beers in the country. You'll want to pair this with food.

*In the discussion of the state's best IPA, Avery's Dugana IPA is often overlooked. It shouldn't be. It has a larger pop of ass-kicking grassy hops than many, and it may be the best thing the Boulder beermeisters are serving at their booth this year.

*Want to play a fun game? Go to Shamrock Brewing's booth, try the Poacher's Pale Ale and try to identify what kind of hops are in there. Brewer Jason Buehler picks them from his favorite mountain biking trail - hence, the name - and the mystery hops give an interesting but slightly indiscernible taste to this subtle but enjoyable beer.

*In a world of wheat experimentation, Dostal Alley Brewpub & Casino has found a good niche. Buddy Schmalz's Summer Ale is sopped in chamomile with an orange backtaste. It's worth a try.

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