Thursday, November 28, 2013

Artistic Beer

Want to know another sign that Denver's is an ever-expanding beer culture? When cultural institutions start to combine brews with the world's finest music and art - and it blends extremely well.

In the past month, the Colorado Symphony and the Denver Art Museum have done just that. The results: one interesting combination and one night that was nothing short of spectacularly classy - and beer-y (if that's a word, you know ....)

First the brilliant: Colorado Symphony's new Beethoven & Brews program. The concept here is decidedly simple: Bring in a high-caliber brewery and let patrons enjoy several selections from it while listening to classical music. It's so simple, in fact, that symphony development officer Jackson Stevens told me he was surprised when he proposed the event and some people questioned whether the combination might work.

I dropped by the Nov. 8 event where a cellist, violinist and pianist took on Beethoven's "Ghost Trio" while Odell Brewing served up IPA, Isolation Ale, 90 Shilling and Mountain Standard at the Magnolia Hotel Ballroom. And the atmosphere was sublime. People of wide-ranging ages - many younger than your typical symphony crowd - strolled casually around the musical event, either sitting and listening intently or removing themselves a bit for conversation. When the musicians needed to introduce a piece or bring the crowd to attention, the 200 people in the room quieted. And the trio obliged it by coming up with a drinking game for its last piece.

As absurd as the idea sounds, in fact, it felt somewhat like the music actually paired well with some of the beer. Beethoven's moody, airy sounds were a perfect match, for example, with the dark, palate-pounding hops of the Mountain Standard double black IPA. Something just felt right about being there.

There are two more $40 Beethoven & Brews shows coming up - a Feb. 7 pairing with Funkwerks and May 9 collaboration with Denver Beer Co. at the same location. I highly recommend you bring a date, especially if the person you're seeing questions just how classy beer can be. And if you don't feel like doing that, just show up and look for me. I plan to not miss this again.

Just before Beethoven & Brews' second effort (the first was with Wynkoop Brewing earlier this year), the Denver Art Museum opened its "Passport to Paris" show featuring three exhibits of French masters. And, for the second time, it asked Dillon Dam Brewery to create a beer to go with it.

Brewmaster Cory Forster (pictured below) came up with La Seine Shine, a lighter golden effort with rosebuds and lemongrass added at the end of the boil, along with Meyer Lemons, a less pungent breed of the citrus fruit. The end game, he explained, was to create "sunshine in a glass" to go with the vivid depictions of nature throughout the exhibit.

Forster also made a biere de garde to celebrate the opening of the Van Gogh exhibit late last year at the museum, and the truth is that was a better beer. La Seine Shine ends with a slight tartness on the backtaste but largely flows over the palate without leaving the impression that the Impressionists have left with their art. But the effort is a worthy one, and the beer is still on tap at both the brewery and at Rackhouse Pub in Denver. If you can find a way to try it after seeing the show, you may understand just the effect that Forster was seeking.

Two artistic efforts. Two interesting results. So, I suppose we should just wait now for the Denver Performing Arts Center to offer up its take on an acting ale. And enjoy the beer culture that Denver offers. 

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Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Subtle Joy of Less Crowded Festivals

After the commotion and chaos surrounding the Great American Beer Festival, "calm" and "quiet" become two very attractive qualities in beer festivals. The problem is, they're also two that can be hard to find.

That is why it is worth giving a shout-out to two recent festivals that showcased the best of beer in ways that allowed attendees to talk - I mean, really carry on conversations - with the people who made that beer. And it's worth asking people to support such efforts in the future, so that they can stand out in an increasingly crowded festival scene.

First was Chef & Brew, the Nov. 14 second annual celebration of food and beer pairing put on by the folks at Beercraving. I didn't attend the initial version, but people who did described as a well-intentioned but disastrously overcrowded effort that negated the chance to pair good beer and small courses in a thoughtful way.

This year, however, the number of people in the Exdo Center was perfectly acceptable, the flow of the lines - never longer than seven or eight people - was seamless and the essence of the event bubbled forth. Anyone who got to try offerings like Caution Brewing's duck and pork meatballs topped with hopped chili syrup and paired with an Oolong Berliner Weisse (pictured below) got a better appreciation of beer/food pairing.

Second was American Craft Beer Radio's Holiday Beer Bash, held two nights ago at Mile High Station. Roughly 30 breweries from throughout Colorado and other states pulled in, with about two-thirds offering holiday beers that gave the festival a unique flair and with almost all of them bringing something you can't always get.

The festival was spaced perfectly (see the open areas in the photo at the top of this blog), and I heard from a bunch of people how pleasant it was not to be playing pinball with everyone jutting a 3-oz. cup in for tasters. You could talk with Copper Kettle co-owner Kristen Kozik about how exactly they made the Pecan Smoked Brown Ale they were pouring. And you could find out why the guys from Grist Brewing decided to open in Highlands Ranch and how the community is reacting to offerings like its sweetly big-bodied Third Ring Belgian Strong Ale.

Such festivals may not offer up 49,000 tickets or generate the well-deserved buzz of events like the GABF. But they bring beer tasting down to a familiar one-on-one experience between you and the brewer, or you and the other beer lovers you may strike up conversations with in the room. And that, for my money, is a reason to ensure these efforts have the beer community's support. 

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Saturday, November 16, 2013

A Big Week in Beer

The time between GABF and Big Beers often has been a slow time for anything beer-related other than the release of Christmas beers. But not this year. There is a ton going on in the next week. And here are some things you probably don't want to miss.

Beer Festivals
* Today, 1-5 p.m. Renegade Publick House hosts Cans of Wrath, a festival celebrating high-alcohol beer in cans, as they mark their release of the Hammer & Sickle Russian Imperial Stout. Tickets $45 at the door.
* Sunday, 1-5 p.m. Stapleton Tap House hosts Thanksgiving Brewers Rendezvous, a 19-brewery celebration with some great offerings (Backcountry Breakfast Stout and Grimm Brothers Pack of Scoundrels white spiced beer being just some of the highlights.) Tickets are $40.
* Thursday, 6-9 p.m. Denver Beer Co. hosts Pies and Pints, an event where you can taste pies paired with the brewery's offerings and then decide you'd rather just order them than make pies yourself for Thanksgiving. Tickets are $12.
* Friday, 5-9 p.m. American Craft Beer Radio is throwing a holiday bash at Mile High Station. For $35 you get access to 30 breweries, many of whom will be serving holiday warmers. And you get to hang out with ACBR host Gary Valliere, which is worth at least of your ticket price alone.

New Releases
* Breckenridge just released its Nitro Vanilla Porter, a softer take on its best-selling beer.
* Today, River North debuts a Whiskey-Barrel-Aged J. Marie, its latest experiment with the saison.
* On Thursday, Bristol Brewing releases its Old No. 23 Barleywine, a seasonal that will put hair on your chest.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

All Colorado Beer Festival Ascending

With so many beer festivals in Colorado, a lot of them tend to blend together. And for the first six years of its existence, the All Colorado Beer Festival in Colorado Springs fell into that category of fun but unspectacular.

Something was different about this year's version, though - different enough where the ACBF might have to move into that don't-miss category in 2014. And it was a combination of things that elevated it.

First, the sheer number of breweries set the festival apart. Last year there were 37 beer makers pouring their products there. This year the number rose to 68 - all from Colorado, many small, some just barely open. Kudos to organizer Randy Dipner for that.

Second, one of the drawbacks of this fest in the past, like many massive beer gatherings, was that many of the breweries crammed into the space were offering the same beers you could find on any shelf all year long. That wasn't true this year.

From Gravity Brewing's intriguing Belgian Peppercorn Ale to Epic Brewing's fabulous coffee bomb Big Bad Baptist to Verboten Brewing's Good Day to You - a chocolate porter with sea salt - the Freedom Financial Services Expo Center floor was lined with new and different offerings. Even when a  brewery brought something that missed wildly - such as Fort Collins Brewery's overwhelming Mesquite Chili Lime Ale - it missed by trying, not resting on its laurels.

Third, the VIP area continues to shine and is well worth the extra money. It was there that Grimm Brothers poured the tastiest beer of the festival, if not of the entire year, in its Devil's Riddle Ale, a strong ale aged nine months in Buffalo Trace barrels packed with Brettanomyces to complex effect. And it was there where the likes of New Belgium, Three Barrel and Trinity could happily turn an ordinary festival into a sour festival.

Finally, as a "celebrity judge" for the second year, I had the privilege of helping choose the winners in the IPA/imperial IPA category, and I noticed a huge difference in the quality of entrants just from last year. So when we blindly picked New Belgium's Rampant Imperial IPA for the gold medal and Dry Dock's Hop Abomination IPA for the silver (as shown in the photo at the top), it felt like we were honoring about the best in the state, not just the best there.

The ACBF typically occurs about a month after the Great American Beer Festival. If you haven't been yet, it's worth making a trip to Colorado Springs next year to do so.

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