Thursday, August 25, 2011

Reaching Enlightenment through Buddha Nuvo

When you buy a $39 beer - assuming that is an action you ever take in your life - you expect it to be good. Mystical good. Good as in the beer quenches your palate, then the empty bottle washes your car and does your taxes good.

It was with some trepidation, then, that I purchased the first $39 bottle of beer in my life two weeks ago: The 14-brewer collaboration effort known as Buddha Nuvo. It was a treat I had gotten to see these brewers making way back in February. But when I cracked it open for the Fearless Tasting Crew, no one knew what to expect.

The most concise appraisal of this 750 milliliter investment is this: You could buy dozens upon dozens of more economical beers and chances are you'll not taste even one of the booming symphony of flavors that mesh to make this one of the most memorable Colorado beers in years.

Buddha Nuvo's ingredients include spelt, oats, cans upon cans of pumpkin, peppercorns and the rare Asian fruit known as Buddha's Hand. This 12% ABV saison is fermented with Brettanomyces, aged in French Oak Chardonnay barrels and primed with honey.

You're jolted right away by its strongly floral and perfumey nose that precedes a jasmine-tinted flavor greeting your palate. Swirl it around, sip it down and something else emerges - a muscat-like, slightly grape, slightly plum flavor that feels almost granulated in the way that it falls over your taste buds.

The taste is piercing, and in it you can pick out the dance of ingredients that brewers from places like Trinity, Rockyard, Black Fox, Crooked Stave and Strange - among others - tossed into this creation. It lights up your tongue somewhat like a foreign spice and then leaves you with a sharp alcoholic backtaste that is comparable to the fizz of champagne - not a distraction but an addition.

The Beer Geekette may have put it most simply when she said: "It tastes like a tropical forest." But even such forests can get heavy at times. Buddha Nuvo, on the other hand, is a wholly pleasant, if challenging experience. And it is a thoroughly modern and thoughtful beer that combines a lot of daring ideas with ingredients that, surprisingly, conform within one bottle.

So, go ahead and splurge at participating breweries, beer bars and liquor stores. This one's worth it.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

This Week in Colorado Beer

Wow, it's been a while for this column. But there's some good stuff happening this week, so here's just a few of the highlights ...

Mountain Brew Book Signings

(And yeah, I'm a little biased toward these events)

*Wednesday, 6 p.m.: Ale House at Amato's in Denver

*Friday, 5:30 p.m.: Oskar Blues' Tasty Weasel Taproom in Longmont

Beer Festivals

*Saturday, 1 to 5 p.m.: San Juan Brewfest, Durango, $25

*Saturday, 6 to 10 p.m.: Foam Fest at the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo, $20 plus festival admission

Anniversary Parties

*Saturday, 11 a.m. to close: Trinity Brewing's third anniversary party at the Colorado Springs brewery. No cover.

*Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.: Freshcraft's first anniversary celebration, featuring rare tappings from Oskar Blues, Avery and Upslope and rare bottles from Odell and Boulevard. No cover.

Firkin' Fun

*Wednesday, 4 p.m.: Elk Mountain taps Red-Headed Stepchild.

*Friday, 3 and 7 p.m.: Dry Dock taps Watermelon Kolsch.

New Releases

*Thursday, 6 p.m.: Rock Bottom Downtown Denver taps Red Rocks Irish Style Red.

*Friday: Twisted Pine releases Black Swan Saison.

*Saturday, 2 p.m: Oskar Blues releases Deviant Dale's IPA in Lyons.

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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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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Stop ... Lager Time

Colorado has more beer festivals than Batman has archenemies. But there are four that year in and year out stand out:

*Denver's Great American Beer Festival in late September;

*Vail's Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines festival in early January;

*Salida's Brewers Rendezvous in early July; and,

*The Manitou Craft Lager Festival, coming up this Saturday and Sunday.

Each of these brings a unique assortment of brewers from across the state and country. And each is notable because the brewers don't just show up but bring harder-to-find selections and even make unique offerings to roll out at the events.

But the Craft Lager Festival, entering its ninth year this year, earns special kudos among the group because it has played a significant role in Colorado breweries taking an outdated style of beer and spicing it up. And any event that makes the lager - the kind of beer most often associated with megaswill - special is worthy of our compliments.

And I'm not just saying that because this is the first festival at which we'll be selling my book, Mountain Brew.

Really, take a look at some of the offerings that will be available this year. Odell Brewing is rolling out a pilot kolsch beer. Rock Bottom Colorado Springs is bringing a chili pepper Mexican lager. And AC Golden, known largely for its Colorado Native lager, is bringing a German-style pilsner that you can't find on store shelves.

And, of course, that doesn't even count the fantastic offerings from smaller breweries that aren't available statewide, such as Pug Ryan's Helles Bock or Rocky Mountain Brewery's Smoked Hefeweizen.

The only complaint that patrons have had in the past about the festival is that it's grown so fast that breweries run out of beer too quickly. But organizers have always responded strongly to feedback, and there are great hopes that the beer flows until close to closing time this year.

So, cheers for the Craft Lager Festival, which runs from 1 to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. And I hope to see a number of you down there celebrating this unique take on the Colorado brewing tradition.

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Monday, August 08, 2011

Cheers for All Seasons

This month's edition of 5280 magazine has a thought-provoking article - or at least the things I like to think about - in which it lays out seven beers that are perfect in each of the state's four different seasons. It's a well-written and mouth-wateringly photographed piece by Patrick Doyle, Natasha Gardner and Geoff Van Dyke.

But no proper geek can look at a story such as this without weighing in with some opinions. And with that, let's take a walk through the seasons to dissect this piece of work ...


Cheers for: Giving a nod to Steamworks' Colorado Kolsch, one of the most refreshing beers in the state. Including Avery Joe's Premium American Pilsner, because even lagers deserve a good hopping. Citing Ska's Mexican Logger, a light, particularly apropos beer for the season.

What they forgot: I realize that the lists were made up of beers that you can buy in the Denver area, but no summer list is complete without Pug Ryan's Helles Bock, sweet and full of body and the best there is for the season. Also, this seems like the proper season for New Belgium's delicate but flavorful Mothership Wit, which the article put in the spring collection.


Cheers for: Including Breckenridge 471 IPA, the most well-balanced double IPA in the state and a great pick for any season. Noting the "mashup of flavors" in Boulder's addictive Flashback India Brown Ale. Giving special recognition to Great Divide's Fresh Hop Ale, a wonderful get-it-while-you-can fall seasonal.

What they forgot: It's no sin to leave out most Oktoberfest beers, but Avery's The Kaiser Imperial Oktoberfest belongs in here for amping up everything the Germans taught us about the season and making it better. In the dark-but-not-dark-of-winter category, Crystal Springs' full-bodied Doc's American Porter is a perfect sipper while you watch leaves blow by.


Cheers for: Leading the section with Bristol's Winter Warlock Oatmeal Stout, simply the most consistent, most warming winter seasonal brewed in Colorado. Including Odell Red as a beer with the malt and hop characteristics to stand up to typically darker winter beers.

What they forgot: Twisted Pine's beers are conspicuously absent from all four seasons; Big Shot Espresso Stout seems an awfully good choice here. Avery's New World Porter negotiates better than most beer the transition from hoppy fall beers to malty winter beers, straddling both worlds well.


Cheers for: Recognizing the greatness of Breckenridge's Imperial Pilsner, which shocks the pilsner genre alive with its 7 percent ABV content. Lauding Mothership, even if it seems a better summer beer. Giving the fist bump of love to Dry Dock's Apricot Blonde, a great beer to ease your tastebuds back to normal after a winter of beating them with heavy malt and hops.

What they forgot: Spring is the time to crack open a light-bodied but slightly spicy saison, and Funkwerks' Saison seems to fit that bill perfectly. And while it's not distributed in Denver, it is highly worth driving to Frisco to get Backcountry's Breakfast Porter, the closest thing there is to hopped coffee, when it's released in mid-spring.

Altogether, though, it's excellent work that is worth debating over a beer or two, 5280.


Monday, August 01, 2011

A Great Beer Bar Closes

Denver beer aficionados got some sad news today, as Westword's Jonathan Shikes reported that Uptown Brothers Brewing has closed.

The bar just up the street from the Capitol never got the chance to live up to its brewing moniker, as owner Paul Lumbye was still readying to make his own beer. And that's a great shame, because if he was half the brewer that he was a beer buyer, it would have been a great product.

In a downtown scene increasingly filled with taphouses, Uptown Brothers made its mark with its unswerving loyalty to small and upcoming Colorado breweries. It was the place in town where you could most consistently find Black Fox or Asher Brewing beers, for instance. And just a week ago Saturday - my last visit to the bar - it was serving Crooked Stave and Renegade beers, before most people had heard those breweries were open.

Lumbye was always there with a smile and happy to talk beers, too. According to the Westword story, he's looking to try to sell Uptown Brothers to someone else who wants to continue the concept. I hope he does, for the sake of local beer lovers. But I also hope he finds his way back into this business somehow, for he deserves to have someone thank him for his dedication to local craft beer far longer than the 14 months we got to do that.


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