Sunday, September 28, 2014

GABF Week - The Can't-Miss Events

Denver Beer Fest and the events around the Great American Beer Festival have grown to the point where the idea of going to even a small percentage of them has become ludicrous. Therefore, you have to choose your schedule very carefully.

Here then are a few of the highlights of the week as you plan your itinerary. This is not a comprehensive list of all events; you can find those at The Denver Post or at Westword. Rather, this is one man's attempt to give you a couple you might want to focus in on with your valuable time.

* 10 a.m.: Backcountry Pizza & Tap House of Boulder kicks off Sour Sunday - 28 beers, including offerings from Almanac, Evil Twin, Russian River and more. Blow your taste buds early.
* 11 a.m.: Black Sky Brewing of Denver celebrates its first anniversary with a BBQ and several special tappings. And the menu at this metal brewery always seems to surprise.
* 1 p.m.: If you're already in Boulder for Sour Sunday, be sure to stop by Avery Brewing for the release of its latest edition of Rumpkin, its fantastic 16% rum-barrel-aged pumpkin ale.

* Noon: Crooked Stave kicks off a week of noon special tappings with its Blackberry Dark Origins. Port Nightmare on Brett and L'Brett d'Peach are among the week's other highlights.
* 5 to 9 p.m.: Falling Rock Tap House's GABF tapping party is taking place for the 17th straight year. In addition to beer from the likes of Avery, Odell and Russian River, you can probably catch a few brewers there.
* 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.: GABF week involves a lot of learning. Metropolitan State University of Denver is putting that into very traditional form with a one-time, $35 class open to the public entitled "Ales, Lagers and Beyond: Tasting and Appreciating Beer."

* All day: Many breweries are doing special tappings all week, and it feels almost too selective to mention just a few. But veritable newcomer Jagged Mountain Brewery has a worthy lineup this week that includes a Barrel-Aged First Descent Old Ale - one of the strongest beers in Denver - plus ditties like a Cognac-Barrel Voodoo Goat Barleywine later this week.
* 5 p.m.: Upslope Pumpkin Ale is widely considered one of the best pumpkin ales in Colorado and is a former gold-medal winner. Tonight, the Boulder brewery releases it for the season.
* 5 to 8 p.m.: The first of the beer fests before the beer festival is the Paramount Café Beer Fest, featuring 20 area breweries and costing the low, low price of $20.
* 7 p.m.: Freshcraft is another one of the beer bars that will spend the week offering specialty days and nights from various breweries. One that shouldn't be missed is tonight's New Belgium tapping, featuring a number of sour beers that are hard to find anywhere else.

* 2 p.m.: Strange Craft Beer releases its first round of bombers in its 4-1/2-year history, ensuring that one of Denver's best-kept secrets will be getting a little less secret. Cherry Kriek, Grapefruit IPA, Dr. Strangelove Barleywine 2013 and its farmhouse ale all go out officially to the public today. Show up with me, and we can start the campaign for bottling Zora rosemary pale ale.
* 3 p.m.: One of the things that's surprised me is the lack of vertical tappings you see during this week. River North today offers just such a tapping of its J. Marie Farmhouse Ale four ways - classic, wine-barrel, whiskey-barrel and barreled and bretted.
* 6 p.m.: Music concerts have been done during Denver Beer Fest. But Renegade Brewing seeks to break new ground with Offensively Delicious, a comedy event. The $40 evening at the Oriental Theater gives you access to two professional comedians. But, more frighteningly, it also lets you see the (brief) comedy stylings of the 11 breweries pouring at the event as well.
* 6 p.m.: You won't have to look too hard to find barrel-aged beers at GABF. But if you want to cut out everything else, the new World of Beer in downtown Denver gives you unlimited tastings at a barrel-aged competition for $40.
* 7 p.m.: One of the coolest new out-of-state beers that will make its way around Denver Beer Fest is Sam Adams' Kosmic Mother Funk Grand Cru. The Boston brewery takes over Lucky Pie LoDo tonight to serve it up.

* 2 to 7 p.m. and 9 to midnight: Epic Brewing offers not one but two sessions of its Firkin Fiasco, featuring 50 different firkins. The $25 tickets almost seem underpriced.
* 6 to 10 p.m. Crooked Stave once again offers its What the Funk festival of sour and barrel-aged beers opposite the opening GABF session. I mention this purely in passing; tickets are sold out.
* 6 to 11 p.m. Three Floyds beers are sought out, but the Indiana brewery isn't available in Colorado most of the time. That changes briefly today at a party it's hosting with TRVE Brewing at Summit Music Hall.
* 7 p.m. Speaking of things you can't find here much, Cigar City will have a host of beers available at Freshcraft tonight. As a bonus, they'll be serving them up with some rarer beers from Colorado geniuses Ska Brewing.
* 11 p.m. If your liver isn't already crying "mercy," head over to Euclid Hall, where Avery Brewing is offering 14 beers with a seven-course midnight breakfast. Tickets are $125.

* 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.: One of my favorite features of Denver Beer Fest is beer-themed events thrown by places you don't normally think of first when you think of beer bars. 16Mix in the Sheraton is throwing a Beer and Bacon Brunch for $25 to help you chase away the hangover you know you're going to have.
* Noon to 4: Not planning to spend over $100 on an Avery breakfast? Then you should have the money leftover to sample some truly, truly impossible-to-find offerings from around the country at the $110 Rare Beer Tasting taking place at McNichols Hall in Civic Center Park.
* Noon to 4: Focus on the Beer has done small "Beers Made by Walking" events for the past two festivals, getting a dozen or so brewers to craft beers with unusual ingredients inspired by hikes. This year, it's going big time with 33 breweries offering over 40 beers. At $40, this event at Wynkoop Brewery may be one of the best surrounding the festival.
* Noon to 8 p.m. Can't choose one brewery? Denver Microbrew Tour is offering a hop-on-hop-off bus that visits nine breweries and one cidery for a jump-on, leave-your-car-at-home price of $35.
* 1 p.m. Bury your taste buds at the Alpha King contest at Falling Rock, where brewers who know hops try to take it to the next level and make the hoppiest beer in America.

* Local breweries will breaking out new beers all week, but the one I'm most looking forward to comes today: Copper Kettle taps its S'Mores Porter.
* 7 p.m. Like Surly Brewing? Freshcraft is tapping a number of the hot Minnesota brewery's beers.
* 7 to 8 p.m. Marco's Coal Fired Pizza is offering a number of tappings with out-of-state brewers during the week. Among the most exciting: Deschutes pouring its Mirror Mirror Barleywine on Saturday night.
* Post-GABF: By Saturday night, about the only thing my taste buds can still tolerate are pungently sour beers. Luckily, Falling Rock's traditional post-festival party with New Belgium will feature plenty.
* 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.: And if you want something a little different for bidding farewell to the best week of the year, the Pour House is sending people out with a party hosted by Left Hand and Boulevard.

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Beer-Themed Baby-ish Book

As a new father, I have spent less time thinking about beer these past six weeks (sadly) and more time thinking about infants' toys and books. But thanks to a new offering from Fort Collins' Bailiwick Press, there is one instance at least where I don't have to choose between the two.

"Goodnight Brew" is a parody of the children's classic "Goodnight Moon," but it's the kind of parody that even childless adults will enjoy. Rather than scoping out a quiet child's room as the moon comes up, it takes the reader into a brewery at closing time, where a walrus brewer and his animal coworkers make beer, dance and then clean up.

That may not sound like a riveting plot, but the joy in the illustrated book comes from the way it plays off the sweet, simplistic imagery of "Goodnight Moon," sometimes in ways you're not expecting.

The introduction of, say, the hops wildebeest and a bunch of otters who are in charge of the water (and fixing the tanks) is a nice touch. As is the ability to work beer ingredients and styles into child-like rhyming patterns. (In the great brew room/ there was a kettle that shone/ and a gramophone/ and a pitcher of a chocolate stout with two feathers of foam.)

As a bonus, author Ann Briated and illustrator Allie Ogg then offer a step-by-step guide to brewing and some basic information about styles at the end - in adorable illustrated fashion.

"Goodnight Brew" adds a light-hearted and enjoyable touch to the typical beer-book library lined with brewing handbooks and state-by-state touring guides. And as we all get ready for the Great American Beer Festival to roll into town next week, it may be the appropriate amount of reading material to supplement our drinking activities.

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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Toasting the Beers of Summer 2014

As hard as our current weather makes it seem to believe, summer officially ends Monday. And so, it is with a tear in my eye and a buzzy smile on my face that I give a last shout to the best beers of the summer of 2014 and a few bold ideas that just missed — hoping that drinkers can pick up some of the last of the offerings of this season and start lobbying brewers on what to bring back next year.

The Winners

FOCOllaboration Ale
Maybe it should come as no shock that when New Belgium and Odell combined to make an beer, their union produced a stunningly good American pale ale — one that brought a big, grassy hop taste with almost no residual bitterness. The only surprise was that I had so many people asking me which brewery's version I tasted; it was the Odell product, and that one at least was great.

Super Juice Solution
Trinity Brewing's sour session IPA was easily the most interesting beer of the summer. It was head-scratching in both its complexity and in how much flavor it could pack into so little ABV. The best news: It's still out there on liquor-store shelves.

Franklin's Belgian-Style Strong Golden
Mountain Sun's big-bodied offering was both smooth and surprisingly alcoholic, sweet and solidly clean. And it served as a reminder that a brewery known best for its stouts and IPAs can do some pretty impressive things in other styles as well.

Oats McGoats Oat Malt Rye Stout
Brewery Rickoli won a national "Brewing the American Dream" competition last year that allowed it to learn from and then make a beer with Boston Beer Co. What came from that was the young brewery's best effort yet - a thick, dark ale with a creamy center that combines both warming malt with easy drinking and resembles no gluten-reduced beer that you have tried before.

Barefoot Runaway
Odd 13's summer IPA was a great example of how to tone down the hops but make a beer smooth and light and appropriate for the weather. At 5.6% ABV, it was the right beer for the right time; if this had come out in the winter, it would have seemed too light.

As usual, Great Divide put out some seriously challenging seaonsals, including a sharp rye IPA and the always burly Oatmeal Yeti. But the summer star was a Belgian white ale that came with just a hint of orange zest and was as good a patio sipper as any new creation.

Honorable Mentions

Spontaneous Saison
Strange Craft Beer and five other breweries participated in an experiment by where they all brewed saisons with similar recipes but slightly different additives at the same time. Loved the idea. And the lemongrass backtones make Strange's offering spunky, though a bit short of spectacular.

Buddha's Hand Witbier
Breckenridge Brewery's experimentation created one of the most interesting summer beers of the past half-decade in 2011: The Cabernet-barrel-aged Summer Cab Ride. This year's new creation, made with the Buddha's Hand fruit, is mundane in comparison to that masterpiece - admittedly a high bar to reach - but zingier than most of the summertime ales on the market.

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