Monday, November 03, 2014

Five Things I Learned from the All Colorado Beer Festival

With 67 breweries and nearly 200 beers on hand, Colorado Springs' biggest annual beer event once again was a great way to get a snapshot of the state scene. And between tasting at the festival and participating as a celebrity judge, there are a few things one couldn't help but notice.

1) Pikes Peak Brewing is reaching new heights.
The best beer at the festival - and the one that seemed to generate the most conversation - was a Whiskey Barrel-Aged Stout from the Monument brewery that somehow took on sour characteristics. Both the complexity of the beer - it maintained a dark, sweet body even as it took on sour overtones - and the fact that brewery owner Chris Wright decided to run with an experiment gone differently than he expected shows just how mature this 3-1/2-year-old brewery is getting.  And its Penrose Private Reserve, a Belgian golden ale aged in red-wine barrels, wasn't too shabby either.

2) The next big Fort Collins brewery? How about Horse and Dragon?
The hall at the All Colorado Beer Festival often features a lot of newer beer makers looking to make their name. And it reinforced a thought that others have said for several months now - that Horse and Dragon, which opened in May, is worthy of grabbing attention even in one of the state's best beer towns. Particularly interesting was its Sad Panda Coffee Stout, a beer that wasn't just heavy on coffee but on creamy vanilla and caramel flavors, putting a new spin on the style.

3) It's time for more chai beers.
Yak and Yeti has earned well-deserved national accolades for its Chai Milk Stout, but for some reason other breweries have seemed slow to pick up on this interesting flavor profile. Avery's typically taproom-only Chai Brown, which was hidden back in the VIP tent, was every bit as good, though, cushioning the extra spice with a solid brown body that complimented it well. The only question: When will more breweries jump on this emerging bandwagon?

4) Biggest surprise: Shamrock Brewing
I got to judge the specialty category with two others this year, and it was only later that we discovered the highly flavorful, well-balanced winner we chose was Shamrock's Death by Coconut Chocolate Porter. But the Pueblo brewery, once an afterthought in southern Colorado's beer scene, also brought along a Big Papa double IPA that was simultaneously smooth and huge in flavor.

5) Colorado Springs' newest breweries are producing decidedly mixed results.
As a former Springs resident, I've been pleased to see the explosion of breweries down there over the past two years - but not all new breweries are equal. Iron Bird Brewing rolled out a crisp, well-made IPA. but Fieldhouse Brewing's watery Cranberry Saison and Nano 108's overly malted and oddly bitter Imperial IPA show there is certainly some work still to be done. That's not saying these breweries won't grow into great representatives of the local scene; they're just not all there yet.

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As an aside, Shamrock's Death By Coconut is a collaboration with Oskar Blues'.
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