Monday, July 29, 2013

A Lone Tree That is Branching Out Smartly

(Note: This is part of a semi regular series looking at Colorado breweries that have opened since May 2011.)

Since its opening in December 2011, two things have stood out about Lone Tree Brewing. One is that it may have the hoppiest pale ale in the state of Colorado. The other is that it has seemed to be, by virtue of its location, the most suburban of the state's growing legion of suburban breweries.

A recent visit to its Park Meadows Drive location confirmed that, thankfully, the former designation regarding its hop content remains true - and is noteworthy in some of its newer lupulin-laced projects. And the latter superlative is only helping to bolster its uniqueness and well-deserved reputation.

The creation of homebrewing buddies Jason Wiedmaier (pictured, speaking to crowd, above) and John Winter,  Lone Tree was the first unique brewery to wander into the craft-beer no-man's land between south Denver and Castle Rock. As such, a visitor might expect slightly blander tastes those at Denver and Boulder locations catering to more seasoned palates. And, for the most part, one would be wrong.

Start with the Outta Range Pale Ale, a beer that falls short of viscous but nonetheless feels thick for can be a slightly watery style. It presents a juicy flower taste, like a celebration of blooming and filling the mouth, and you may have to think twice about what you are drinking.

The Hop Tree IIPA delivers more of the same flower-heavy body, this time with a bigger but cozy body in which to showcase the floral arrangements of a double IPA. It's bold without being overwhelming, and it earns the title "hop juice." It, in fact, is the best beer Lone Tree makes.

But it's not all hops that make the brewery stand out. The Mountain Mama Helles is extremely smooth and has just enough of an earthy wheat on its backbone to give it a pleasant, subtle personality. And Ariadne's Belgian Blonde is meaty enough to enjoy for a long time, as it presents a full body with a slightly sweet, Belgian-yeast-tinted taste.

There are some instances when Lone Tree lags in flavor. Acres O'Green Irish Red is even less assertive than the typical, laid-back Irish red ale. And the Marienplatz Pilsner on tap this summer is clean to the point of being unobtrusive, fading too quickly from your taste buds to warrant a memory.

But the fact that the brewery began bottling the pale and red in February - and expanded to add the IIPA for off-premises sales this month - shows how it is growing in the vision of Front Range beer aficionados.

And the fact that it added four 20-barrel tanks in December means that head brewer Wiedmaier will get the chance to produce more of the beers he grew to love as he was getting his master's degree in German history and immersing himself in the culture. And that is certainly a good thing, both for the Lone Tree regulars in the south Denver suburb and those urbanites who haven't gotten a chance yet to see what it can do.

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Sunday, July 21, 2013

A Mountain-Sized Good Idea

There is no dearth of opportunities for beer exploration in Colorado, from the state's many festivals to myriad brewery-restaurant pairing dinners. But there is just one Colorado resort that has a dedicated craft beer program - and it's doing a hell of a job with it.

The craft beer program at the Vail Cascade Resort launched quietly in December 2011. But it has ramped its activity this year, and a recent visit with the Beer Geekette showed why it's not just worth a visit when you're up in the mountains but could serve as a model for what other major hotels can do.

Laura Lodge, organizer of the annual Big Beers Belgians & Barleywines festival in Vail, (and pictured with the Beer Geekette above) was approached by Cascade officials about starting the program after they saw the crowds the Great American Beer Festival drew. Her idea was not just to throw a few local beers on tap but to keep things very fresh and interesting.

The beer mix at the resort's Fireside Bar and its restaurant, Atwater on Gore Creek, is 40% Colorado craft, 40% U.S. craft and 20% international - on tap and in bottles. What's more, Laura rotates all five of the taps every six to eight weeks, and she's yet to offer the same Colorado brewery twice. The bottle list is extensive, and the cellar list (pictured below) features some finds; the Cascade got the only case of Breckenridge's excellent Summer Cab Ride sold outside the Denver brewery.

Meanwhile, the programming started originally with "Friday Night Flights," a weekly effort to offer beer pairings with food that has evolved into full-time offerings of flights on the menu. And the resort that serves as home once a year to Big Beers now has something going every month.

Once a quarter, the Cascade goes all out with its "Sip, Savor & Brew" program featuring seminars, food/beer pairings and discussions with two to three breweries asked up for the weekend. During the other months, it has a "Brewmasters Weekend" format great for the beer geeks who want to enjoy food and conversation with brewers and still see the rest of Vail.

This past weekend, it began on Friday with a "Small Plates and Craft Beer Pairings" event in which Atwater's Chef Jay melded four Upslope Brewing beers with his own creations. Sometimes, you were impressed with the food, such as his fancy corn dogs (pictured above) paired artfully with the Boulder brewery's mild but pleasing Craft Lager. And sometimes, guests marveled at the ability to combine hard-to-pair beers, like Upslope's 10% ABV Imperial IPA with a sweet onion popover and grilled peaches smothered in cheddar cheese (pictured below) that offset the sharp hops.

Then, on Saturday, there was a simple "Meet the Brewmaster" event in which Upslope head brewer Alex Violette poured six types of beer for three hours in the late afternoon and offered free samples to anyone around. This was a great event not just because all comers got to try both the standard offerings and only-at-the-brewery specials like the new Session Pale Ale but because it offered a chance to chat with the beer creator (the subject of a future blog). And afterward, Violette (pictured below) hung out for hours at the Fireside Bar, drinking and chatting beer with a group of craft fans.

While there are a good number of beer-specialty restaurants around the state, the idea of taking craft beer into places where Bud products were once the predominant order is both bold and long overdue. And what Lodge is doing at the Vail Cascade is worthy of support and qualifies as a good excuse to get up to the mountains even when the snow isn't four feet deep.


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Monday, July 15, 2013

Colorado Brewers Rendezvous: Oh Yeah!

Sure, there were 73 breweries planted in Salida's Riverside Park - the largest gathering of beer makers at an outdoor festival in Colorado history. But it wasn't the number of brewers so much as the age; at least half of them, by my count, were less than three years old.

And it was that youth, that seeming camaraderie of spirit to define Colorado beer in their own terms, that just imbued this past Saturday's Colorado Brewers Rendezvous with a certain energy, a certain newness. And one couldn't help but walk away with a few trinkets of knowledge from the Colorado Brewers Guild's annual signature event about where the state of the craft brewing industry is going.

1) Tart sours were sooo 2012. Now, even the boundary-pushing beers are having their boundaries pushed in new directions.

Take, for example, Trinity Brewing's Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gangsta, an intriguingly dark and chewy sour that combines the tastes of roasted chocolate, raisin and a tart cherry strain. It's enough to make you stop and think a little longer than usual.

Or, if roasty sour wasn't quite enough, Three Barrel Brewing took it a step further and added ancho chile to the already jarring taste of a chocolate sour and might have made the intriguing beer of the festival with its Melaza. The Del Norte brewery is supposed to have beer in at least one Denver liquor store by the end of the summer, and it couldn't come soon enough.

2) The more herbs or spices in the beer, the more fascinating it gets.

Example A is Cannonball Creek's Rosemary Sourdough Saison, whose lighter body allows you to taste not only the floral flavor of the rosemary but just a hint of sour. Combined with Strange Brewing's excellent Zora Rosemary Pale Ale, and you have two area beers that make a baker jealous of their flavors.

Example B is Copper Kettle's Mexican Chocolate Stout, a time-tested pleaser with a chocolate-cinnamon come-on and back-of-the-tastebud kick that is now available in bottles. Everyone should try this at least once.

3) Dare I say there is a kolsch battle going on in Colorado? Steamworks was serving up its Colorado Kolsch, which is by no means new but continues to set the standard for crisp and refreshing in this state with just enough light hops to give it full flavor.

But I have to hand it to Elevation Beer, whose 8 Second Kolsch was on tap at every bar in Salida. It is sweeter, with just a hint of light fruit to its heavier-than-hops malt taste. And it presents the state with a good problem: Which of two kolsch beers to spend time with this summer.

4) You know who's impressive? Fate Brewing. Yes, one could have picked out almost any brewer at the rendezvous, admittedly, for recognition. But the new Boulder brewer, which kicked convention in the teeth by making a fantastic watermelon kolsch already this summer, debuted its Gose Saturday.

It takes guts to make a German sour to begin with, but this version calms the salty overtones too often prevalent in the style and adds a citrus twang without a peltingly sour body. At the very least, it will be fascinating to watch where this 5-month-old brewery goes.

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Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Best Beer Day of 2013?

Yes, that distinction normally goes to opening night of the Great American Beer Festival, with its pageantry and pre-parties and expectations. But the truth is, if you're in downtown Denver - and your liver is prepared - you can catch most of the action in that 24-hour period.

This Saturday, however, even Superman couldn't fly fast enough to get up and down the Front Range and soak in all of the beer celebrations going on. Here's a quick look at your choices, all of which are happening over an 11-hour period in what might be the best beer day of the year.

* Colorado Brewers Rendezvous, Salida
From 1 to 5 p.m., Riverside Park will be flooded with 73 brewers, from both craft breweries big and craft breweries small, to celebrate the Colorado Brewers Guild. And for $35 at the door, you too can get in.

This is one of the finest Colorado festivals of any given year, both because of the breadth and depth of who is serving and the good quality of the beer that brewers bring to impress each other. But also, there's just a spirit of collegiality at what is essentially a CBG rally that you don't find at a lot of other festivals. This is where the Beer Geekette and I will enjoy the day.

* American Homebrewers Association rally, Left Hand Brewing
Those who haven't been to an AHA rally are missing out on a great collection of beer geeks hanging out, commenting on the massive tanks at the host brewery and just chilling. This particular rally, scheduled from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Longmont brewery, is free to AHA members and costs only the price of AHA membership to anyone else wanting to get in (though RSVPs are preferred here.)

Plus, host breweries always break out the good stuff for the AHA crowd. In this case, Left Hand will be tapping a vintage Wake Up Dead (rumored to be circa 2010) and holding a q-and-a with everyone present.

* Breckenridge 23rd anniversary block party, Denver
Seriously, the guys who make 471 IPA and Vanilla Porter are old enough to drink and almost old enough to rent a car. And from noon to 6 p.m., they're closing down the roads around their Kalamath Street location and celebrating in style.

A $23 ticket gets you four full beers, unlimited tasters of rare and unique beers, barbecue and music. And those rare beers include Belgian Double IPA, Barrel Aged Belgian Oatmeal Stout, Double Belgian Agave Wheat and "471 on the Moon" - three-quarters 471 IPA and one-quarter Oatmeal Stout, aged in a Cabernet barrel.

* Twisted Pine 18th anniversary, Boulder
As far as anniversaries go, this one is a little more celebratory. Twisted Pine beers can now vote, go to R-rated movies and date their former teachers without legal consequences.

To celebrate, they'll have samples of more than 30 beers, including their 16th anniversary barleywine and 10 small-batch experiments. Tickets are $25, and the party goes from 2 to 7.

* 17th Annual Biergarten Festival, Morrison
This one actually starts Friday night and extends through Sunday, so it gives you a little flexibility. Colorado's German American Chamber of Commerce serves up German music, a German buffet (plus a bratwurst-eating contest at 4 p.m. Saturday) and beer from the likes of Paulaner and Hacker-Pschorr.

Eight bucks gets you in Friday (4-10) or Saturday (11-10), and the Sunday (10-2) festivities at TEV Edelweiss Pavilion are free. And if you're ambitious, you can wake up from one of the other four Saturday events and shake off your hangover here.

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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Throwing Caution to the Wind

A blog reader recently suggested that since I have no immediate plans to update "Mountain Brew," I should use this space to do more on breweries that opened since the book went to press in May 2011. And I thought that might be the best suggestion I'd heard in a long time.

So, while I've scrawled on a few of the state's newer breweries (see the last paragraph of this post), I wanted to start this series of posts by catching up with the first brewery to open after the deadline cutoff for the book - Caution Brewing in northeast Denver.

Since its June 2011 debut, Caution has evolved from the brewery making beer for co-owner Danny Wang's parents' restaurant (Lao Wang Noodle House) to one opening a second location in Lakewood this fall. And the appeal of his beers and the ensuing need to expand can be traced to one trait - Danny's unwillingness to make anything just to style.

Take his Lao Wang Lager, which has the classic light lager body - but then gets jazzed up with Asian spices from his parent's restaurant, making it the most interesting beer of its style in the state. Oh, and it might also be the best beer to pair with spicy or otherwise exotic tastes, its ginger and anise overtones settling in to any dish in front of you.

Or there's one of his newer creations, the Card Your Mom Saison, infused with cardamom to give a big nose of spice backed with a Belgian-candy-sugar body that makes this both inviting and appealing.

The more you drink of Caution's beers - such as the very new Frothy Sheet Wheat, a nitro-infused wheat that creates a Hefeweizen mouthfeel with the pillowy body of a Guinness - the more you find your expectations raised. So, if after a tasting you find that the Wild Blonde (brewed with rice) or the Honey Matrimony (brown ale brewed with Colorado wildflower honey) seem a bit dull, it may just be the comparison other beers have created.

Caution doesn't throw out the highly hopped beers like most other state breweries; even its Hippity Hops IPA with whole flower chrysanthemum and Chinese rock brown sugar uses sweetness to cut hop acidity. But it creates such interesting varieties that even a hop head may not mind.

Still brewing on the former Odell Brewing five-barrel system that notably produced 5 Barrel Pale Ale (pictured above), Caution will have 12 full taps to tinker with even more experiments at its second location. And Danny and co-owner Betty Fey (pictured way above) can hopefully find an even wider audience for beers that should be saluted for their uniqueness.

(To see write-ups on other breweries that have opened over the past two years, click here for Pikes Peak Brewing, Denver Beer Co., Hogshead Brewery, River North Brewery, Cannonball Creek Brewing and Colorado Plus Brew Pub. And I promise these will come a lot more frequently in the coming months.)

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