Friday, March 01, 2013

Colorado's Best - or Greatest - Winter Seasonal Collection

The looming end of winter (20 days and counting) causes the mind to wander toward thoughts other than the general lack of mountain snow this season. It makes one think too of the beers that keep you warm during the coldest part of the year.

And while there were many beers that brightened the winter, as usual, one crop of seasonals stood far and above the rest: Those from Great Divide. In fact, the Denver brewery's winter seasonals could arguably constitute the best temporary collection of the many that Great Divide ever has put out.

There was little surprise in the 22-oz. bottle of Espresso Oak-Aged Yeti, arguably one of the 10 best beers made in Colorado. (Admit it, you're now trying to put the rest of that list together in your head.) That the espresso felt just a slight bit toned down from past versions seemed to even make it more appealing, offering a swirl of flavors that you had to stop to identify in a dangerously accessible package.

But something tasted different - and significantly more pleasant - about the Old Ruffian Barley Wine this year. This bomb of malt and hops greeted you with an alcohol-heavy feel of aged Scotch and segued into a mouth-filling sharp bitterness that was less citrus than it was earthy hops. It was the rare beer that managed to be huge in hops and malt and eminently drinkable - a true treat to find.

And finally there was Orabelle (pictured above), the new addition to the collection and one that should come back annually. This Belgian tripel is shocking in its lightness of body and fullness of taste. The yeast is cranked up a notch with added candy sugar and lemon zest, then it's enlivened by orange peel and coriander. But as a grainy semi-spice creeps up, nothing about it is overbearing, leaving an exquisitely gentle beer for a style that sometimes can be chaotic in its heaviness.

All of this is worth mentioning not because there should be great shock that Great Divide produced a good collection. It's one of the five best breweries in the state (yep, you're finishing that list too) for a reason.

But after blowing palates away with the introduction of the chocolate and espresso Yetis a couple years back, some of its more recent releases, like the Nomad Pilsner, have missed the mark. Not only was this season's threesome great, they each stood up to any beers you could walk into a liquor store or a beer bar and buy. And that is what's worth celebrating: Three home runs, across the board, all out at the same time.

Now, let's talk about some year-round distribution of these ....

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