Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Wait, a low-alcohol beer festival?

Session ales first started making their way into the beer-drinking lexicon a little less than four years ago, while I was doing the research for "Mountain Brew." I can remember Adam Avery saying that he was working on one because he was getting too old to drink 10% ABV beers all night. And Steve Jones commented that he was dedicating his Pateros Creek Brewing to lower-alcohol beers because, as a new father, he wanted something to drink and still be able to play with his son.

But even as more and more people came to espouse session beers, few probably thought the mini-trend would reach the peak it is scaling this weekend: A whole beer festival entirely devoted to beers less than 5% ABV. And that is why Sesh Fest, which kicks off at 3 p.m. Saturday at Sculpture Park in Denver, may just be the most interestingly odd yet appealing brewers' gathering of the summer.

More than two dozen Colorado breweries are committed to creating and pouring low-alcohol beer there - including auteurs like Epic, Great Divide and Oskar Blues, which are not breweries that you typically associate with the word "light." There will be saisons, stouts, pale ales and IPAs; there just won't be the opportunity to get accidentally drunk really quickly while enjoying a great variety of offerings. (And, yes, "accidentally drunk" is a term I use to describe what happens to even the most seasoned beer veterans at festivals with a great amount of options to which you can't say no.)

Steve Kurowski, marketing director for the Colorado Brewers Guild - which is throwing this party in conjunction with Imbibe Denver - said Sesh Fest was designed to be different in ways beyond just the lower-alcohol offerings. The ticket price is a comparatively low $20, the pours are coming in 6-oz. vessels and the restrictions on the ABV are a challenge to brewers to show what they can do.

"I think this as a category hasn't gotten enough exposure in the United States," Kurowski said. "I think it's time to showcase the finesse that brewers can bring to low-ABV beers with a lot of flavor."

One of the beer makers going all in is Ska Brewing, which is sponsoring the festival and using it as a platform to debut its session Rudie Session IPA - giving away cans of the new beer to the first 1,000 people who enter.

Ska co-founder Dave Thibodeau said he's not sure exactly why session beers have become so popular, but at his brewery it traces back to the creation of Mexican Logger some 10 years ago and the ability of people there to drink a lot of tasty beers without getting too hammered.

"For me personally, I like drinking beer most of the time I'm awake - so that's why I like them," Thibodeau said. "Maybe it's the afternoon, and I don't want to be smashed the whole day."

Rudie is the latest in the most discussion-generating of the session beer trend: The session IPA. Are they full-bodied, lower-alcohol IPAs or just watered-down versions of the style? The crew at Ska made it with a lot of El Dorado and Galaxy hops to give it a full, fruity, watermelon taste in a lower-ABV body. And after tweaking the recipe several times as one-off beers, they're ready to take it prime time.

It will be interesting to see how many other beers made for the festival become regulars in breweries' rotations. But then, much of that may depend on the reaction they get from the crowd on this newest and most surprisingly popular of beer styles. I can't wait.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Now Open: Joyride Brewing

It was a master work of timing that the first full weekend for Joyride Brewing - the Edgewater brewery that opened just one week ago - coincided with the Dragon Boat Festival across the street at Sloan's Lake. Neighborhood residents streamed in, kids occupied nearly every table and the community got the taste of its first brewery anyone can remember.

And that taste is an overall enjoyable one. Joyride, the creation of three homebrewers who decided to go pro, doesn't have any beer that will knock you back from the table. It does, however, have a couple of well-crafted efforts that will make you appreciate what more could be coming.

The best of those is the Antelope Amber, a surprisingly hoppy (50 IBU) addition to the style made with five premium malts and four types of American hops. It presents a good mix of pineapple sweetness with a malt base that absorbs the flavors rather than dominating them.

Also eye-catching is the Ice Cutter Kolsch, a technically proficient interpretation of the classical German style that offers a crisp hot bite. In the hot weather this weekend, this is as much as one could have requested to be thirst-quenching.

The more traditional hoppy styles - the Cougar Pale Ale and the 4.2 percent ABV Lil' Edge Pale Ale - both have a softly hopped feel that should welcome in the casual drinker but could let down hopheads in the crowd. And the Belgian Wit, a summer seasonal, was a let-down, offering a dull, unfiltered beer that seemed more like a cloudy hefeweizen.

But Joyride holds promise, and it holds a couple of great summer sippers already. That, combined with its excellent location on the corner of 25th and Sheridan, should make this a worthwhile stop for everyone wanting to explore the new craft brew tastes of the Denver area.

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Friday, July 11, 2014

4 Ways to Reward Your Palate and Destroy Your Liver This Weekend

There are good beer-drinking weekends, there are great beer-drinking weekends and there are those weekends when you're just faced with making painful choices. This weekend is one of the latter.

1) Colorado Brewers Rendezvous, 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday
The 18th annual collection of 75 Colorado brewers squeezing into Salida's main city park and doling out some of their oddities is one of the best beer gatherings of the year. Tickets are just $40 and well worth it. If you don't have a hotel reserved by now, however, it would be wise to start begging friends for some space on their motel floors.

 2) Breckenridge Brewery 24th Anniversary Hootenanny, 11 a.m. Saturday
The word "hootenanny" is fun to write. But it's not as fun as seeing what Todd Usry and the rest of the Breck bunch pull out for their rare beer tasting as they close down Kalamath Street in front of their soon-to-be-former main brewery before they move to Littleton. (If we're lucky, they may haul out some of the Barleywine pictured above.) And if you haven't had the BBQ here before, that alone is worth the $30 ticket.

3) Freshcraft Rare Beer Tasting, 11 a.m. Saturday
You have to love a beer bar that gives everyone a reason to get up (relatively) early on Saturdays. This week, Denver's Freshcraft is busting out an Alaskan Brewing 25th Anniversary Stout that's been cellared for three years, as well as a 2008 Barley Wine from the same brewery. And Alaskan representatives will be there to help you savor the goodness.

4) Avery releases Black Eye, 11 a.m. Sunday
If the screaming hangover doesn't keep you in bed Sunday, head up to Boulder, where the Front Range's pre-eminent experimental beer auteurs bust out an imperial stout aged in rum barrels. Bottle sales don't begin until 1, which only gives you two hours to try a couple of these and decide if you want to invest more - assuming you're still standing.

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