Saturday, April 12, 2014

Colorado is the King of the Beer World

It had been nearly an hour since Scott Witsoe, owner of Wit's End Brewing, has won his World Beer Cup medal by the time I caught up to him last night to interview him for the Denver Business Journal. He was still so excited and downright shocked that many of the words coming out of his mouth couldn't end up in my article.

"It's completely surreal," he said of taking a bronze medal in the Belgian-style blonde/pale ale category for his Jean-Claude Van Blond - despite having brewed it on a one-barrel system. "I turned to my wife and I said, 'Did I just hear that right?'"

A lot of Colorado brewers may have been asking that Friday night, because a lot of them - 20 altogether - took home medals in the competition that involved beers from 58 different countries. But what may have made the biggest statement about the state's up-and-coming beer scene is who took the medals home - a lot of smaller and newer breweries.

Wit's End, Strange Craft Beer, Cannonball Creek Brewing, Aspen Brewing and 11-month-old Riff Raff Brewing all took home awards - and none of them distribute outside the state. Hell, Verboten Brewing of Loveland nabbed two awards.

You can check out the full list of winners here, but the story line running through them - at least through the Colorado group - was that the beers people were talking about got the credit they deserve. Strange's Cherry Kriek, one of the best combinations of sweet and tart in this state, won a gold. Left Hand's Sawtooth Ale, maybe the standard bearer for easy-drinking ales, won a gold. Odell Brewing's Runoff, it's hop-heavy new red ale, won a gold.

Yes, there was audible booing when George Killian's Irish Red took the gold for Irish-style red ale. But for the most part, there was jubilation and acknowledgement that, hey, this was a good night for good beers.

If you don't believe me, just look at these photos, taken by Jason E. Kaplan and provided by the Brewers Association, after the show. You might even be able to see Witsoe (above) or Strange owner Tim Myers (below) mouthing "Holy #*$!, I won!" And if you can't, you should swing by their breweries in the coming days, celebrate with them and hear it in person.

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Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Hey, look - Mexican beer that isn't watered-down and skunky!

Between last week's celebration of Colorado Craft Beer Week and next week's arrival in Denver of the Craft Brewers Conference, you might get the impression that only America produces worthwhile craft beer. And, for the most part, you'd be right.

But in a darkened corner of Denver - OK, actually in a tequila bar in a hipster neighborhood - the Fearless Tasting Crew recently discovered a cache of the rare specimen known as Mexican craft beer. And we came away impressed.

Day of the Dead beer is made in the town of Tecate, but it has no relation - either business-wise or taste-wise - to the beer of that same name. Instead, it was created by a Mexican who lived in Oregon for a while and got addicted to things he couldn't find in many of his home country's beers, like hop presence or color or, hell, flavor. It's made by the third largest brewery in Mexico, but there's not a lot of places around the Mile High City where you can find it.

One of those places where you can, however, is La Biblioteca, Richard Sandoval's tequila bar next to Zengo just west of downtown. And, as it turns out, Day of the Dead beer goes pretty well with the mini bahn mi hot dog sliders and chipotle-laden sushi rolls that are on the menu there.

There are four offerings from the brewery - all of which are decorated with wonderful Dia de Muertos art - and the stand-out of the bunch is Immortal Beloved, a hefeweizen with a big banana and clove nose. It hits the palate with just a little bit of spice, accompanied by a citrus bite that puts the beer down very easily.

Another crew member was equally impressed by Pay the Ferryman, a porter that offers the palate heavy roast with light chocolate and a very smooth, light-alcohol (5% ABV) body.  Hop on or Die, a 6.8% ABV IPA, won't make anyone forget about the legions of taste-bud-bursting India pale ales from this state, but its English-style earthy tones are complimented by just a touch of pineapple in the mouthfeel.

The only real disappointment in the foursome available here was Death Rides a Pale Horse, a blonde ale whose flat maltiness can't live up to its awesome moniker. But by the time you run the gamut of Day of the Dead beers, you may feel the courage to crack open one of the skulls holding Mexico's Kah Tequila (see below) - or you may even want to go back for another round of some surprising craft cleverness from south of the border.

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