Saturday, February 22, 2014

A Blizzard of Early-Season Surprises

Traditionally, the months of January and February have not been kind to craft beer drinkers. After breweries start to phase out burly winter warmers, they often put creativity on hiatus or turn to "spring beers" which seem like slightly duller summer brews.

But the past month-and-a-half in Colorado has been a time in which a number of breweries have tried to find a new taste. And there is a lot worth shouting about.

First, there are what you might call the winter beer extensions - big, tasty and dark with a little more creativity than you find in some of the oatmeal malt bombs that define the Christmas season. The best of the bunch is Denver Beer's Cocoa Creme Porter, a rich beer in which none of the flavors - chocolatey cocoa, sweet cream - are subtle, leaving a truly unique taste. Odell Brewing created something similar in its Sweet Elevation Creme Brulee Porter (pictured above), a slightly more subtle blend of warming and sweet-tooth-satisfying flavors that could be found only at the taproom. Finally, there also is Fate Brewing's Chocolate Pretzel Porter, which is made with actual pretzels in the brew but leaves a salty, pleasant taste most apparent.

Great Divide Brewing went in a different direction for its unique early-winter beer, Lasso IPA, a "session IPA" that rings in at 5% ABV. To be sure, the beer feels more like a watered-down version of its much better Titan IPA, and with the ABV being as high as it is, I'd prefer just to drink a Titan. But it's a worthy effort that should spur some thinking in the industry about what can constitute a beer that's both lower-alcohol and hoppy.

Then there's one of the more interesting combinations of traditional lighter beers and experimentation — Breckenridge Brewery's Ophelia Ale, a style the brewery describes as a hoppy wheat. Looking like a cloudy hefeweizen but containing a zing that is surprising and a nice bump up from the style, this isn't for wheat fans so much as it is for hop fans and people wanting something new.

And therein is the heart of some of this season's surprises - they are, at the very least, something new. But, even more than that, they are efforts to ramp up a slow time for taste buds, and are quite successful at it.

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