Monday, October 27, 2014

6 Pumpkin Beers You Need to Drink Before Halloween

While handing out treats on Friday night you want to have a few tricks up your sleeve - such as enjoying the best pumpkin beer possible. Luckily,brewers showed restraint this year, reversing a trend from last year where many of the seasonal offerings were entirely over-spiced and marginally acceptable at best.

But what stood out most during this October season? Here's one beer geek's suggestions as to how you can conjure up the most for your taste buds in one handful of pumpkin goodness.

1) Pumking - Southern Tier Brewing (pictured at left)
In a universe of complex pumpkin beers, what makes this quaffable and smooth offering stand out is the toasted marshmallow backtaste that adds a vanilla-esque sweetness to the body and allows the cinnamon apparent in the recipe to jolt the roof of your mouth a little but not overwhelm the beer.

2) Dark O' The Moon Pumpkin Stout - Elysian Brewing Co.
This is as bold and spicy as anything you'll find out there. The difference is that the thick, almost sweet-bodied stout envelopes the beer and gives it a firm but soft cushion, allowing you to enjoy the base beer as well as the additives.

3) St. Ambroise Pumpkin - McAuslan Brewing Co.
The biggest surprise of last year remains the easiest-drinking yet highly enjoyable pumpkin beer out there, with just enough hints of pie mix to let you know it's something special but not enough to overpower you.

4)  Hey! Pumpkin - Denver Beer Co.
The Denver brewery stepped up its game this year by ramping up the cinnamon and accompanying spices but not to lip-burning levels. This offers pumpkin enjoyment in medium-bodied form.

5) Pumpkin Ale - Upslope Brewing
Many consider this the gold standard of Colorado pumpkin beers, and the reason why is easy to taste - a complexity of both bitter and spicy additives, all swirling around and daring you to identify them.

6) Gordgeous - Hangar 24 Craft Brewery
OK, this is a bit of a tricky one, as the California brewery doesn't circulate to Colorado. But the star pumpkin beer of the Great American Beer Festival adds a creamy body to its heavy melange of tastes, allowing this to go down very easily. Now if only it could get out to the Centennial State as easily ...

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Best of the 2014 GABF

After a couple of weeks of reflection, the theme statement from this year's Great American Beer Festival finally is coming into focus. It wasn't the year of any one style - like with imperial IPAs, bold sours or barrel-aged dark beers as in years past — but the year in which each of the 700 breweries there put forth something original, something bold that distinguished it from its neighbors and from the growing cacophony of beer makers nationwide.

This is wonderful for its variety of offerings— on Thursday night alone, I was able to taste a Bourbon Carrot Cake, a banana beer and a brew made with Szechuan popcorn. But it makes the job of finding a definitive beer of the GABF — or even choosing best beers in specific categories — hard to the point where such categorization is almost moot.

That said, here as always is one man's thoughts on the best of the very best that breweries had to offer at this year's gathering.

Best in Show: 2x4, Melvin Brewing
For once, even in a year of such diversity, this award wasn't hard, as a number of people seemed to come to the same conclusion. Rarely, if even, has a double IPA been so smooth and so aggressively hoppy at the same time. A spectacularly accessible palate of grassy hops rolled over the taste buds in a way that jolted you and pleased you. It showed why, even without winning a medal, this Wyoming brewery is becoming known as one of the national kings of hops.

Runner-up: Teche Hombres, Bayou Teche Brewing
Out of Louisiana came this Belgian-style wit brewed with agave nectar and aged in French white wine barrels with orange peel. Yes, it was as good as it sounds — and even more complex.

Best Sour Beer: Blue Sunday, New Holland Brewing
An anniversary blend of several previously made sour beers, this shouted a message of sharp, tart cherry and packed more a punch than any similar beers at the festival.

Best Hop Bomb: Notorious, Boneyard Beer
If 2x4 was the best hoppy beer of the show, this was the most mind-blowing: a triple IPA whose flavor seeped into every crevice of your tongue but that still was phenomenally balanced.

Best New Hop Taste: Hop Drip IPA, Magic Hat Brewing (pictured above)
Adding a local coffee to an already bold body created a contrasting and yet strangely complimentary blend of bitter flavors that resulted in a new style of complexity for the genre.

Best Use of Fruit: Serendipity, New Glarus Brewing
This slightly sour ale blending apples and cranberries with a smaller amount of Wisconsin brewery's  traditional cherries during a cherry shortage was heavy with apple and an eye-opener.

Best of the Unusual Beers: Roxie's Golden Bananas, Saucony Creek Brewing (at top)
Fifteen pounds of bananas went into this Pennsylvania brewery's 15-barrel batch of beer, producing a pleasant and interesting beer whose most impressive trait is that it's not overpowering.

Best in Show from Colorado: Swing Se Pliser, Trinity Brewing
Colorado Springs' most innovative beer maker continues to break new ground, this time with a tart and hoppy barrel-aged sour IPA that requires you to think about what you're tasting.

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Thursday, October 02, 2014

The Abbreviated Great American Beer Festival Preview

I'll be honest: I didn't have time to do my usual lengthy GABF preview, picking out 25 to 50 beers that you have to try. I was unprepared that the time I typically spend getting ready for the festival would be rededicated to feeding and caring our my 7-week-old son. I imagine the time crunch will be less next year, but I hope you'll agree that, as a new dad, I had to re-prioritize this once.

That said, I want to offer up two things in preparation for the greatest festival in the history of the planet  to start tonight.

First, I want to refer anyone who is interested to a Facebook chat I just did on how to attack the festival. It mentions some strategies, some up-and-coming breweries and a few tips. You can find it right here.

 Second, I want to give a shout-out to some of the best beers I've tried during Denver Beer Fest, the ever-burgeoning lineup of events leading up to the GABF. Some will be served at the GABF, and others may be just at the breweries, whether now or at a future time. Either way, these are some beers that you should track down if given the opportunity.
Boneyard Notorious: Triple IPAs can be a tricky lot as they try to balance big flavor without too big a presence of alcohol. Oregon's Boneyard Beer may have walked that line better than just about any triple IPA maker in recent history. (At GABF)
Oude Tart: When considering which sours should be on your must list the next few days, don't overlook this Flanders red ale aged 18 months in red-wine barrels. (At GABF)
Eclipse Imperial Stout: At 17.3 percent ABV, this biggest-ever product from Jagged Mountain Craft Brewery is deceptive in how easily the big, dark body goes down. (At brewery)
Fresh-hopped 1000 Barrels Imperial IPA: Strange Craft Beer may never make this hop bomb, complete with 60 pounds of Cascade, Nugget and CNZ hops again. But it really, really should. (At brewery … at least it was)

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