Saturday, October 27, 2012

Burning into Colorado

A ton of new beers enter the Colorado market every year. But almost none of them can brag that their sales benefit a specific nonprofit.

So, when L.A.-based Firemans Brew officially launched in the Centennial State last month, it brought with it a unique commitment - donating a portion of all sales to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. And it is only appropriate, as the brewery, which sprang to life six years ago, is the creation of two actual firemen/homebrewers who felt they needed to make something appropriate for celebrating after putting out a fire.

Rob Nowaczyk, one of those firefighter founders, related how the idea sprang up after battling a Southern California brush fire. And like a fire, the beer that came from those discussions has spread outside the L.A. area to Chicago, Texas, Arizona and Colorado with its unique philanthropic bent.

"If we put a product out there that's gimmicky ... no one's going to buy it a second time," Nowaczyk said in an interview. "I think we bring a good quality beer, but at the same time we're able to raise money for firefighters all across the nation."

It's important to remember, though, that the beer was conceived to be consumed after enduring arduous work in hot conditions. So, for those looking for something to burn into their taste buds, this isn't it.

Of the three Firemans Brew beers , the Brunette is the most impressive. An 8 percent ABV German doppelbock, it's got a chocolate-tinged malty body with a nice underlying hop presence that gives it gravitas.

The Redhead - picking up a theme here? -  has an appropriately smooth palate introduction for an amber ale, but while the requisite caramel mouthfeel is there, its personality is somewhat lacking. Meanwhile, the Blonde, a pilsner lager, has a slight uptick in malt flavor from the Americanized versions of this style, but its lack of hop presence makes it also a pleasant but not memorable offering.

Six-packs of the individual beers or sampler 12-packs containing all three are on store shelves now. Nowaczyk acknowledges that the hop-subdued nature of his creations may seem odd in today's day and age, but he's hoping they're less for the advanced beer-geek crowd and more for residents wanting to make the leap into craft beer - for a cause.

"I think if someone likes a lighter beer, their palate will like it," he said.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Best of GABF, 2012

Picking the best beers at this year's Great American Beer Festival was like trying to discern the best team in baseball this season. Though there wasn't a single standout that everyone was talking about, there were a lot of things there to like, some from unexpected sources.

So, as all of our taste buds slowly begin to function at normal speed again, here is one man's annual toast to the best he found among the 580 breweries and 2,700 beers that called to everyone on the GABF floor.

Beer of the Festival: In a sea of sour beers that seemed willing to push taste limits, The Bruery's Sans Pagaie - a sour blonde ale barrel-aged with cherries - struck a near-perfect tone of tartness with just a hint of creamy softness to make it even more palatable. The California brewery had a full lineup of standouts, but this well-deserved medal winner was the one that sent quite a few members of the Fearless Tasting Crew away remarking it had outdone itself.

Very Close Runner-up: Of all the Texas beers that stood out this festival - and, yes, there were a lot - North by Northwest's Barton Kriek had the tart excitement of a cherry blast that was pushing boundaries but was grounded enough to make you come back again and again to try more.

Best Hop Bomb: Tribute beers can sometimes be overdone by breweries trying too hard to make them memorable. But Pizza Port Carlsbad's 547 Haight, brewed for the The Toronado San Francisco's 20th anniversary, was an imperial red ale that squeezed every grassy ounce of its ton of hops and laid it on a chewy malt under-beer to find a zingy yet balanced wallop.

Best Big Dark Monster: Barrel-aging seems to be reaching its historical peak, with more breweries understanding how oak, whiskey and other characteristics can truly make a beer better. To that end, Sun King's Batch 333: The Velvet Fog brought the biggest hammer down on drinkers, blistering them with a Belgian quad soaking up both the earthy darkness of the aging barrel and lighter, fig-like flavors that made it intriguing and complex.

Best Spiced Beer: Six Rivers Brewery's Chili Pepper Ale is the best chili beer in America, and that point may not even be debatable anymore. This year's offering was pepper-spiced to dance on every taste bud again, but the solid, fuller body underlying it gave just the right cushion to render it challenging and highly enjoyable.

Best Colorado Beer: Both Avery's Oud Floris and Strange's Zora Pale Ale woke a lot of taste buds. But the honor here goes to New Belgium's NBB Love Felix, a sour blonde ale aged in oak foeders that was reminiscent of the best Belgian-style beers ever made in Colorado in its assertive yet citrus-splashed body. Here's hoping to seeing more of this beer around.

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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Colorado Kicks A** Again at the GABF

If you would have said before the Great American Beer Festival that Great Divide, Odell, Oskar Blues and Bristol would nab zero medals this year, I would have figured the rest of the U.S. had caught up to Colorado.

As it turns out, the state's just so good at making beer these days that the rest of its breweries are catching up on the seasoned experts.

Twenty-eight Centennial State breweries walked away with 35 medals at yesterday's ceremony - a total second only to California's (49) and well ahead of third-place Oregon (24). And Funkwerks scored the biggest prize of any of the locals, hoisting the trophy as Small Brewery of the Year.

No brewery had more than two individual medals, and the seven that did spanned the spectrum: Dry Dock, Funkwerks, New Belgium, Rock Bottom Westminster, SandLot, Tommyknocker and Twisted Pine. Some of the medal winners, such as Avery's White Rascal, are at this point considered classics; others, such as Keystone Light, are not.

But if you want to set up a tasting checklist for the next year, all the winners are listed in a story I wrote for my day job at the Denver Business Journal that includes good anecdotes about a few of the beers, including a gold-medalist from the crew at Equinox Brewing (pictured above). Check it out as soon as your liver recovers from this past weekend.

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Friday, October 12, 2012

Some Thoughts on GABF 2012, Day One

It's certainly a bigger, bolder festival this year, and the beers that were being poured proved that quite amply.

* Everyone, it seemed, is bringing a taste bud-wrecking barrel-aged big stout. Fiftyfifty Brewing's Eclipse Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout was black as night and twice as thick. Goose Island continues to pour on a shockingly drinkable Bourbon County Brand Stout. And (512) Brewing showed off a Whiskey Barrel Aged Double Pecan Porter that managed to be both sweet and highly, highly alcoholic.

* The lines at the name breweries continue to get longer each year - and sometimes with disappointing results. After waiting 10 minutes for Cigar City's Cucumber Saison, I got a beer that seemed to be all vegetable and no Belgian spice. Yet, festival goers seemed to ignore a lot of the up-and-comers. You could slip right in and taste a fantastic barrel-aged quad (Batch 333: The Velvet Fog) from last year's most awarded brewery, Sun King. And while everyone I ran into - literally, everyone - was talking about Destihl brewpub of Illinois becoming the new sour king with superb creations like its Sour Strawberry Ale, that line was never more than four or five people long. These are trends of which drinkers should take advantage.

* At a time when chili is becoming a more common ingredient - and often a good one - Six Rivers Brewery continues to stand far and above the crowd with a solid-bodied Chili Pepper Ale that somehow exudes spicy balance. Mad River Brewing brought its A game too with a more kick-you-in-the-teeth Super Chili Pepper Madness.

* Once the sole domain of Blue Moon Brewing - which still serves its Peanut Butter Ale solely at the GABF - peanut butter is showing up as a more common ingredient these days in beers. And there seems to be a clear secret to its success: The darker the body, the better it blends. Beer Engineers of Alabama used it perfectly in its Leadbelly Peanut Butter Porter. Meanwhile, when Catawba Valley Brewing of North Carolina tried to make a lighter-bodied PB&J, every ingredient was too quiet.

* Finally, in the often-discussed category of sours, it seems that people are cranking the pucker meter up a few decibels this year. Just try Allagash's Coolship Resurgam, a spontaneously fermented ale that is golden and tart like a sour pixie stick. Or go to Cambridge Brewing and find its Cerisse Cassee, a beer of the show from a few years back, even more jarringly good - and with a distinct barrel taste this year.

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

The 50-Stop Guide to the GABF

With a record 578 breweries pouring more than 2,700 beers, there's no way that Great American Beer Festival -goers can try even a scintilla of what is on the floor over the next three days. The best thing you can do is this: Don't stop. Keep moving. Keep searching out the next great beer as you traipse across the convention center floor.

And with that in mind, I've put together a very basic list of how to make it from the entrance point at the festival to the far end of the room in bursts that will allow you to grab a great beer, walk just far enough to let you finish your sample and grab another. It's rudimentary and skips a lot of fantastic brewers because of the goal to do this in one session, but you can't really go wrong with any of these options.

The lettered and numbered locations represent points on a map that you will get once you enter the festival or that you can download here. But the general idea is that you're moving up and down each of the rows.

1) Bell's Brewery - A7 - Just inside the entrance, jump-start your taste buds with a Two-Hearted Ale, a hop monster that's annually voted one of the five-best U.S. beers.

2) Capital Brewing - A13 - A few booths down you'll find Autumnal Fire from this Wisconsin brewery, last year's gold-medal-winning doppelbock.

3) Fat Heads Brewery - E19 - Skip the whole next row but stop at the end booth, where this Cleveland-area brewery with catchy logos will serve you up its 2011 gold-medal-winning BattleAxe Baltic Porter.

4) Allagash Brewing - I2 - In the next group of breweries, you'll find Belgian heaven in anything they serve, through Vrienden really rocks.

5) Ballast Point Brewing - M8 - Ask for the Victory at Sea, an imperial vanilla coffee porter that any taste bud will enjoy.

6) The Bruery - M16 - Black Tuesday is a barrel-aged stout that runs about 20 percent ABV, and the lines to get it are well worth it, a California friend tells me.

7) Avery Brewing - Q8 - Do not avoid the Colorado breweries, because some will serve hard-to-find gems, such as the barrel-aged Oud Floris sour.

8) Caution Brewing - Q16 - Round the corner at the end of the row and grab the Lao Wang Lager, an Asian-spiced beer that will be the most unique light-bodied effort you'll try all night.

9) FiftyFifty Brewing - M27 - Beer-geek buzz is off the charts for this California brewery. Try whatever suits your fancy.

10) Oskar Blues Brewery - I10 - These guys occupy two booths, so the lines should be shorter. The whiskey-barrel-aged Ten FIDY is worth it.

11) Three Floyds Brewing - E31 - RateBeer called it the world's best brewery. Others have called its Zombie Dust the best pale on the market.

12) Sun King Brewing - E35 - Expect long lines at the Indiana brewery that took home a GABF-high seven medals last year. The Wee Muckle is probably the best scotch ale you'll find.

13) Founders Brewing - A22 - Near the end of this row, you'll find a Breakfast Stout that is unlike just about any you've tried.

14) Jolly Pumpkin - B11 - As you start the second of the four brewery rows, just ask these guys how sour they go. The answer may shock you.

15) Boulevard Brewing - F1 - Look for new collaborations they may be pouring. If none appeal to you, the Saison-Brett is a good backup.

16) Green Flash Brewing - J14 - Skip over two groups of breweries to find arguably the hoppiest brewer in America. Go big with Imperial IPA or Rayon Vert.

17) Blue Moon Brewing - N1 - I know it seems wrong to stop at a major-label brewery at the GABF. But try the Peanut Butter Ale, and you'll never look at Blue Moon the same way again.

18) Odell Brewing - R1 - You can pay $25 for the limited-edition Woodcut #6 that is filled with tropical-tasting Mosaic hops. Or you can sample it here.

19) Equinox Brewing - R18 - Turn the corner and find a non-bottling Fort Collins brewery that does classical styles right. Try the O'Rion Irish Red, a gold-medal winner last year.

20) Firestone Walker Brewing - N19 - Hopheads will find few tastier options than the Double Jack. Yes, it's available out here. But it's still worth stopping for.

21) Cigar City Brewing - J20 - This Florida goldmine does everything well. But just the name "Cucumber Saison" makes me want to try it.

22) Jailhouse Brewing - F33 - Looking for the next great find? Brewers tell me this Georgia newcomer may be it. I'm trying the Conjugal Visit red ale, just to support a great name.

23) Nebraska Brewing - B29 - Before jumping into the giant line next for New Glarus right next to this booth, pick up a gold-medal-winning Melange a Trois barrel-aged strong beer here to pass the time.

24) New Glarus Brewing - B28 - After your five-to-seven-minute wait in line, beg them for the Raspberry Tart, even if they say it's gone.

25) Trinity Brewing - Brewpub Pavilion - The Brewpub Pavilion is a new addition spotlighting local brewpubs and featuring some of the food they serve (for sale). Stop one is here for Saison du Tomme, an example of the great sour twists this Colorado Springs brewery does.

26) Six Rivers Brewing - Brewpub Pavilion - Chili Pepper Ale, infused with four types of fire-roasted chiles, is the best chile beer in America, hands down.

27) Cambridge Brewing - Brewpub Pavilion - These East Coast experimental masters stole the show a few years ago with the sublimely sour Cerise Cassee.

28) Pizza Port Orchard Beach - 04 - Head toward the back of the room when you leave the Brewpub Pavilion to find a number of Pizza Port booths. The Bacon and Eggs Imperial Breakfast Porter is nice.

29) Russian River Brewing - 014 - Some classics - i.e. Supplication and Consecration - aren't on the pour list this year. But you probably can't go wrong with the Framboise for a Cure.

30) Grand Teton Brewing - S3 - This Idaho brewery's Howling Wolf Weisse Bock may be one of the 10 best beers in America.

31) Telegraph Brewing - O25 - California Ale won last year's gold for Belgian and French ales. And I bet the lines here are still short.

32) Stone Brewing - 01 - The joy of Stone is all of the barrel-aged experiments they bring to the GABF, such as the double-dry-hopped Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale with Nelson Sauvin and Citra.

33) Chuckanut Brewery - G15 - Stroll for a while toward  the front before finding this Washington brewery that took home a boatload of medals last year for classic styles. It might be time for a Helles.

34) Brooklyn Brewery - C8 - In the next group of booths, you may find the sharpest dressed brewer in the hall, Garrett Oliver, pouring high-alcohol treats like Brooklyn Black Ops, a Russian imperial stout.

35 and 36) - End of C row - Round the corner and you run into the Pro-Am Competition booth, where professional brewers work with homebrewers to make some of the most daring and interesting beers on the floor. (Anyone remember the Curry Porter last year?) You'll want to try at least two.

37) Iron Hill Brewery - C23-25 — As you start back down the other side of the row, this Philadelphia-area brewery will occupy three spaces and serve the entire spectrum of flavors. To truly enjoy them, go big with something like a Bourbon Porter or Chocolate Factory Stout.

38) Elysian Brewing - G30 - The Great Pumpkin is the closest thing you'll find to sticking a straw in a pumpkin pie. Don't miss this unique experience.

39) Breckenridge Brewery - H1 - Rather than continuing south, jump across the aisle. And, yes, you can find Breck beers at nearly every bar in Colorado. But it's a lot harder to find their  Stranahan's WellBuilt ESB, a high-alcohol special bitter aged perfectly in the whiskey barrels of its name.

40) Short's Brewery - D18 - Facing Breck is the Michigan brewery known for its absurd yet tasty flavor additions. Try the Strawberry Shortscake or Peaches 'n Creme. Unless you love sucking on pine needles, it's best to avoid the Spruce Pilsner.

41) Weyerbacher Brewing - D22 - This Pennsylvania brewery is one of the great hoppers in the country. Grab for the Double Simcoe.

42) Deschutes Brewery - H18 - Stay focused, as you have one goal here: The Abyss, a break-your-tastebuds imperial stout that can be harder to find out here.

43) New Belgium Brewing - L1 - Same story as Breckenridge: Skip the known and grab for a Lips of Faith sour like the superb Tart Lychee. Or ask what they cooked up just for the festival. You'll have to get your sour fix here, as neither Cascade nor Captan Lawrence breweries are on the floor this year.

44) Ranger Creek Brewing - L37 - Texas, once a beer wasteland, is now brimming with adventurous brewers. Beer geeks I've met say the Mesquite Smoked Porter is a must-try.

45) Wynkoop Brewing - P22 - If you drink just one beer in which filleted bull testicles were added to the boil, make it the limited-edition Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout.

46) River North Brewery - T10 - Denverites likely already know about the beer formerly known as Hypothesis, a Belgian-style double IPA that is breath-takingly complex. Outsiders should learn about it.

47) Snake River Brewing - P13 - Along with Altitude Chophouse, this is one of two low-profile gems located in Wyoming. And its Pako's Eye P.A. is the reigning strong pale ale gold-medalist.

48) Papago Brewing - L14 - This Arizona brewery is on the leading edge of new flavor profiles. This year, it will unleash on the GABF its Hop Tamale, a chile IPA.

49) Papago Brewing - L14 - No, I haven't recommended double-dipping a brewery yet. But you've just hit 48 breweries, you're tired and your mouth might be burning from the Hop Tamale. So, ask for the Orange Blossom, an orange-vanilla wheat that's the closest thing to a Creamsicle in beer form.

50) La Cumbre Brewing - L6 - Finish up at a brewery that won multiple golds last year, including one in the most popular category at the festival - American-style IPA - for its Elevated IPA.


Monday, October 08, 2012

A GABF Week To-Do List

For some reason, no one wanted to go with me tonight to drink the marinade for a couple of sliced bull testicles. And so, the members of the Fearless Tasting Crew missed out on the opportunity to try Wynkoop's Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout tonight. For real. For shame.

The good news is, while cow cojones may be the oddest thing being served up at bars and breweries outside the Great American Beer Festival this week, it certainly isn't the only unique offering. And while there are hundreds of events worth mentioning, especially for those who weren't among the lucky few to get tickets to the GABF, I figured I'd at least distill down the hundreds of press releases and Facebook posts I've gotten to give you a decent guide to some of the best - including some that are available without a ticket.

*11:30 a.m.: Hops and Pie taps Cigar City beers all day long. 'Nuf said.
*5-8: Beers Made by Walking, at Wynkoop. $15. Eric Steen has gotten nine brewers to make 10 beers with ingredients inspired by hikes. Got a sneak preview of Strange's the other night and learned this is a great idea.
*6 p.m.: Renegade Brewing taps Elevated Wood. What's better than a triple IPA? How about a triple IPA aged in a bourbon barrel for six months.

*1 p.m.: River North continues its weeklong barrel release schedule with River North White aged in both white wine and whiskey barrels. It's a different barrel offering every day.
*5-6:30 p.m.: I'll be signing Mountain Brew at Strange Brewing. And they'll tap two one-barrel brews and play "Strange Brew" all night. Serious fun.
*6-9 p.m.: The Rackhouse Pub throws a rare beer tasting event featuring 21 different Colorado breweries. $35.

*1-3 p.m.: Breckenridge Brewery hosts the Brews Cruise Rendezbrew featuring local craft beer, plus beer from North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Oregon. $15. At its 471 Kalamath St. location.
*10 p.m.: Freshcraft brewed a Big Brown Rye with the guys from Ska Brewing and then aged it in bourbon. Now they tap Colorado goodness.
*10:45 p.m.: Falling Rock Taphouse will first tap a collaboration between Oskar Blues and Sun King - the Indiana brewery that scored the most GABF medals in 2011 - and then just tap tons of Sun King beer.

*9:30-11:30 a.m. Freshcraft hosts the first Colorado Brewers' Brunch, featuring five local beers with big enough flavors to wake up your hungover taste buds. $30.
*11-5: Avery Brewing hosts a poker run with five barrel-aged beers at five of Denver's best beer bars. $45.
*10 p.m.: After the festival closes for the night, Falling Rock will host a number of Colorado breweries tapping rare one-off beers.

*Noon: Euclid Hall taps sour and fruit-forward beers from Goose Island and Odell Brewing.
* 11 p.m. Once you've beaten your tastebuds all week, the only thing that can jolt them back to life is barrel-aged sours - like the New Belgium specialties that Falling Rock will be pouring. 

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Sunday, October 07, 2012

River North: Best New Denver-Area Brewery of 2012

As River North Brewery reaches its 8-month birthday and beer geeks nationwide begin to pour into Denver this week, the downtown brewery is deserving of advanced recognition as the best new area brewery of 2012.

Yes, there are plenty of deserving contenders. But the plucky brewery that has produced six of its seven taproom regulars from the same strain of Belgian Yeast has shown a creativity in making new tastes that should make it a must-stop during Great American Beer Festival week.

Start with the Hoppenberg Uncertainty Principle, the Belgian-style double IPA formerly known as Hypothesis that is the best new beer made in Colorado this year. A sharply bitter beer (roughly 100 IBUs) that is cushioned by pillowy Belgian yeast flavor, this is the equivalent of huge grass on candy citrus creating a very long-lasting aftertaste.

Then there is Unified Theory, an oak-aged imperial witbier that shocks you with its combination of golden, nearly translucent body and powerful sweet oak flavor. Don't expect this to take home any GABF medals - but only because this breaks ground on its own style, mellow yet eye-opening.

While the rest of the menu doesn't zing you to life in the same way, it's full of consistently well-made offerings. The top-selling River North White is sweet but light-bodied and very approachable. The RN4 is a Belgian strong dark ale that hints at the cherry flavors of a Belgian quad without being overbearing about them. The J. Marie is a heavy-bodied saison with woody and spicy-hinted notes that announces its presences in a non-subtle way.

And then there is the barrel aging, apparent throughout the special tappings of the next week. It is at times almost too subtle - seriously, try hard to pick out the oak in the whiskey-aged BPR - but is a sign that the young brewery is experimenting to find just the right flavor.

There is a lot to recommend in Denver in the upcoming week. But those who pass by River North risk the chance of missing the next on-the-rise star from one of America's great brewing cities.

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Saturday, October 06, 2012

Denver's Next Mayor Brewer

There will always be one man - John Hickenlooper - who will bear the title of "mayor brewer" here in the Mile High City. But the first beer from current Mayor Michael Hancock, unveiled Friday night at Denver Beer Co. (as seen in the great photo from Visit Denver and Trevor Brown), is deserving of kudos as well.

The beer is a spiced pumpkin ale made with gourds grown at Denver Urban Gardens. Hancock didn't come up with the recipe but did grind barley on a pedal-powered mill and toss the pumpkins and hops into the brew.

As far as pumpkin beers go, this one lacks the intensity of feeling like you're drinking liquefied pumpkin pie. The nutmeg and cinnamon jump out at you from the medium body. But the 110 pounds of pumpkins that went into the brew are more of an aromatic touch than a heavy touch, marking this as a spiced amber ale that's more relatable than a stand-out pumpkin beer.

Still, it's a nice beer to have as the nights get cooler, and the brewers at Denver Beer - the real brewers, rather than the celebrity brewer - add more interest to it by sprinkling granulated brown sugar on the rim. And Hancock can boast about the creation for as long as it's available, which should be at least throughout the Oct. 5-13 Denver Beer Fest.

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Friday, October 05, 2012

Fast Food Beer Pairing. Yes, Really.

Beer and burgers are a natural combo. But beer in a fast-food restaurant?

Last month, Denver-based chain Smashburger broke new ground for its industry category by launching a beer-pairing menu for its sandwiches in 16 Colorado stores. Nine different burgers or chicken sandwiches have recommended pairings with five different New Belgium beers.

And while you won't find New Belgium's magnificent beers like, say, La Folie on this menu - because, really, what would that pair with? - it is a worthy experiment whose time has come. And some of the combinations are pretty spot-on.

Take, for example, the pairing of the Colorado Burger with Ranger IPA. This is a messy, sprawling burger - pepper jack and melted cheddar cheese slapped with green chilies on a spicy chipotle bun. And, sure enough, Ranger's bitterness compliments it well, giving an earthy, non-fat taste to a greasy (in a good way), multilayered burger.

Then there's the BBQ, Bacon + Cheddar Burger paired with 1554 Black Ale. Both the burger and the beer start out with sweet notes (the bbq sauce vs. the quickly apparent chocolate malts) and evolve together into a slighty smoky, meaty finish.

Not every combo works so well. The attempt, for example, to pair the Spicy Baja Burger - pepper jack cheese, chipotle mayo, fresh jalapenos - with Sunshine Wheat is a mismatch, with the huge spice of the burger leaving the coriander tastes of the beer as an afterthought.

But you have to give props to a fast-food burger restaurant for figuring out that people actually like to drink beer with burgers rather than sip overpriced sodas. And the promotion - which founder Tom Ryan said will go on indefinitely and spread to other cities with local craft brews as well - is one that's worth stopping in to support.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2012

One Last Callout: Best Beers of Summer 2012

With rumors flying that the Denver area could see a light dusting of snow this week, it's time to declare this seemingly endless summer finally over. But before that happens, it's worth reflecting on some of the finest gifts that breweries gave to beer drinkers in what was an unusually tasty season that more often is known for light, forgettable offerings.

So, while most of this six-pack of special beers are off shelves or taps by now, let this serve as a call for these breweries to bring them back again - in summer 2013 or, preferably, even sooner.

* Black Swan by Twisted Pine
A big beer in most every sense of the word, this sixth offering in the Boulder brewery's 2012 Artisan Ale series combined the tastes of peat moss and licorice, mellowing into a slightly sweet ester with an alcoholic kick. It was a black saison complex enough to make you think about what was going on in your mouth as you reach for sip after sip.

* Saison du Buff - a Dogfish Head/Stone/Victory collaboration
Employing parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme as key ingredients in a beer sounds like a gimmick - right until the inital earthy spices, combined with the citrus body of a classic saison, leave an unforgettable original taste. This was first released in 2010 before coming back for a limited run this summer; here's hoping it becomes an annual seasonal.

* India Pale Lager by Great Divide
The so-called "IPL" is another gimmick that a smattering of  breweries have tried in limited runs, often at summer beer festivals. But the hop masters at Great Divide seems to have hit just the perfect balance on it, producing a sweet and grassy beer whose body takes on the thickness of its flavors while still remaining shockingly refreshing for summer crowds. This year it was available only in the tap room. Next year, please bottle it.

* Kaffir Lime Wheat by Denver Beer Co.
You know that Charlie Berger and Patrick Crawford realize they've hit on something good when the Denver Beer co-conspirators actually decide to put a beer in seasonal rotation rather than make it a one-off. The Kaffir Lime Wheat had the tart, powdery quality of a well-made sour, but the citrus was held in check enough to make this widely appealing. Even Fearless Tasting Crew members who tend to eschew fruity wheat beers gobbled this up.

* Snarling Badger Berliner Weisse by Grand Teton Brewing
With the growing popularity of berliner weisses, there appear to be two camps on how to make the German sour - low-alcohol and light or bold and big. Grand Teton's Cellar-Reserve series take on the style was loaded full of both the banana and clove typical to its hefeweizen yeast and the sharp mouthfeel of the Lactobacillus of the secondary fermentation. And it was bold and big. It may, in fact, be the new flag-bearer for the style.

* Trade Winds Tripel by The Bruery
One of the greatest things about the too-soon-departed District Tavern restaurant in LoDo was its offering of this spectacular seasonal on tap. It's likely the Orange County brewery will offer this Belgian golden ale spiced with Thai Basil in the future. Let's hope more Denver bars will be willing to serve it up.

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