Sunday, March 09, 2014

Two Divergent New Breweries

Two of Denver's newer breweries celebrated big events yesterday. Jagged Mountain Brewery held its "grand opening," about four months after its soft opening. And Diebolt Brewing released its International Ale, a white IPA, seven months after opening.

The two events are separate points in the breweries' development, for sure. Both both are significant enough to allow to step back to look at their growth, which, it turns out, is actually a bit divergent.

Jagged Mountain came onto the scene with an early reputation that it was going to be among the biggest brewers in town in terms of alcohol-by-volume products. Its First Descent Old Ale, at 13 percent, quickly became the strongest regular offering in town. And it wowed crowds at festivals like Denver Beer Festivus with offerings like its Red Point Double Red Rye IPA that were both strong and creatively tasty.

But part of what makes this brewery someplace worth going out of your way to visit is its mastery of styles that are considered less than challenging. Its Junta Dog Enigma, for example, might be the best brown ale in town, fully of nutty sweetness with a hinted but not overpowering feel of chocolate. And its Spearhead saison — stronger than much of the style at 8.2% ABV — is a little short on the traditional peppery notes but makes up for it with a honey sweetness.

Jagged Mountain still has its flaws. Its Zero Gravity session saison, meant to appeal to the gaggle of Coors Light drinkers it expects to file in before Rockies games, tastes far too much like a bubble-gum-flavored jelly bean. But overall, its body of work ranges from solid to eyebrow-raising.

Diebolt, meanwhile, made less of a splash even as it presented a menu full of bold styles, from multiple saisons to an IPA to a Belgian dubbel. It's even hand-bottled several of its beers. But whatever Diebolt has done, it's seemed to draw little attention. And the reason is this: Whether the style is a big one or a more traditional one, the taste of its beers seems undersold.

The Diebolt Standard Porter, for example, is a little sweet but also watery, hinting at chocolate but not roastiness. The Colorado Greenback IPA, coming in sessionable at 4.8% ABV, has almost no hop mouthfeel. And while the Saison Voila is largely smooth, it's also quite boring, without a stand-out flavor to grab your attention.

Yet, to see the potential that Diebolt holds, one needs only to try its C'est La Saison, a winter saison bursting with a cherry-like flavor that resonates but is not overdone. It's the most flavorful beer on the menu, and one that shows such a level of originality and mastery of saison's possibilities that you can feel it as a gateway to the next level. The decision to age a separate version of the beer in tequila barrels, giving it both a smoky flavor and a fruit/vegetable edge that hints of sweet cucumber, shows even more potential.

So, Jagged Mountain and Diebolt have split somewhat in their growth so far, with the "big" brewery enhancing its reputation with well-made mainstream beers and the smaller brewery succeeding most when it's gone big and bold. It will be interesting to see what the next year brings for them.

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I was there and can attest to the tastiness of weird-named Brown Ale. mmmmmmbeeer
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