Monday, August 20, 2012

Discovering Art and Ale

Key to enjoying any beer festival is determining its niche (big beers, rare beers, lagers, etc.) - and then throwing yourself headlong into soaking up that part of the beer culture. The Art and Ale Festival, held Friday at the Wildlife Experience in Parker, can best be defined by unpretentiousness, a good number of breweries and a unique amount of tasty food available to the wandering drinker.

Thirty-six breweries graced this festival, ranging from Bud and Coors offshoots to small nearby craft-brewing gems like Lone Tree and Pikes Peak. Truth be told, few brewers brought secret stashes or hard-to-find beers. But there were a few stand-out gems all the same:
* If you asked nicely enough, New Belgium would let you sample its forthcoming Super IPA, a double IPA that might be the best thing the brewery has churned out since it first released Le Terroir. Made with Alpine Beer Co. of San Diego, it is clear, crisp and heavily hopped with sweet varieties like Amarillo and Simcoe. But as grassy and pineapple-tasting as it is, it goes down shockingly smoothly and without any of the heavy malts that can accompany the style. It will make an impression quickly.
* Lone Tree Brewing, meanwhile, offered up a dry-hopped Puddle Jumper Pale Ale that featured a nice combination of minimal body and maximum citrus flavor.
* Strange Brewing poured its Cherry Kriek, which not only was saved from extinction by the brewery's recent location of hard-to-find cherries (thank you very much, drought) but was one of the sweetest and most original beers on tap at Art and Ale.

But what made this event a real joy was not the ale and not even the art so much as the intermingling of the beer and food. For every two breweries, there was generally a free food stand - restaurants serving up pasta, Red Bird Farms making chicken caprese sandwiches, even bar/eateries like the Paramount Cafe slopping out elk chili. Many beer festivals treat food like an afterthought, shoving often-overpriced sandwich stands into the corner so you don't have to run into them. But Art and Ale created a nice flow, both inside the Wildlife Experience and outside in its courtyard, where you could more casually grab a beer, then grab a mini-burger and slowly enjoy the festivities.

And if you wanted to go inside and play with giant gorillas (see photo above) or stare at tarantulas, that was cool too. Art and Ale won't be mistaken for Vail Big Beers for its selection of beverages. But it's a peaceful summertime jog through beer and food that's worth visiting next year.

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