Sunday, November 13, 2011

Breck's Barreled Gem

Breckenridge Brewery wasn't always an envelope pusher. As brewmaster Todd Usry told me for "Mountain Brew," it went through a period of complacency before realizing that the industry was making strides that it was not making in 2005. From there, it started producing gems like its 471 IPA and its Vanilla Porter that gained it its well-earned current reputation for excellence.

But in Summer Cab Ride, which the brewery served on tap this summer and released in limited-edition bottles Saturday, Breck has come up with the most unique beer its put out since it started bottling Vanilla Porter in 2007. And Colorado beer drinkers can only hope that it pushes the now-21-year-old brewery toward more barrel-aging experiments in the future.

Summer Cab Ride is the brewery's seasonal SummerBright Ale aged in Cabernet wine barrels. SummerBright, the brewery's lightest offering, arguably is also its least head-turning. But the wine barrel-aging does something truly special to it.

The golden-colored ale takes on a slightly sour, almost pungently Belgian quality, with a grape-skin taste jutting into the beer's qualities at every sip. This is not a strong barrel edge but more one that presents itself around the edges and then seeps gently into every pore of the ale.

In doing so, Summer Cab Ride doesn't leave summer ale style so much as it infuses it with a hell of a lot of personality. There's just enough acidic fruit on here to let you know you've found something special without crossing the line into making this an actual fruit beer.

During Saturday's sale of bombers, the brewery was also pouring a Vanilla Porter and an Oatmeal Stout that it had aged in whiskey barrels; the Vanilla Porter in particular created a new, mellower taste to the beer. Now that such aging has begun, we can only encourage Breck to continue to do more of it, as the results are eye-opening and continue to redefine one of the state's oldest breweries as one that is willing - and very able - to perfect new tricks.


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