Monday, November 17, 2014

Nitro. Bacon. And Beer.

For those who've never had the chance to spend Saturday afternoon drinking nitrogenated treats and Sunday afternoon pairing imperial stouts with whiskey candied bacon ice cream, you really need to rethink your weekend agenda.

But after two great festivals - Left Hand's Nitro Fest, which went on in a tent outside the brewery despite Saturday's snow, and Sunday's Denver Beer and Bacon Festival that was overly crowded but still showed some original flourishes - one can pick a few things about where the craft beer industry is going. And with that, here are some things learned from this past weekend's bashes.

1) Nitro Fest

* The IPA on nitro can be a good thing.
Nitro is best known as a smoothing agent for big porters but an additive that makes a sharp, hoppy beer a little boring. But if done well, a little bit of a gas actually can sharpen up an IPA. Take, for example, Green Flash's West Coast IPA, a wickedly bitter beer that, with the addition of nitrogen, becomes more approachable but still blasts you with a mouthful of fresh grass. Or there is Bear Republic's Demolition Derby, which gives not only a hard hop finish but a barrel-aged woodiness that shines with the nitro. This is a trend that needs to be pushed further.

* Coffee and pumpkin make a nitro beer glow.
Left Hand rolled out six nitro beers for its birthday bash, but none shined as brightly as Beer Week Sauce, its too-often-overlooked coffee porter that takes on hints of creamy vanilla when gassed up. Just as intriguing: Mountain Sun's Dark Harvest Pumpkin Stout, which is a melange of spices knocked down just one smooth notch to the point where you could drink the complex beer all day.

* Boulder Beer's Shake may be the two best beers of 2014.
Few offerings this year have seemed as genuinely unique as the chocolate porter that tastes like an old-time ice cream treat. But when it's on nitro, it becomes less straight beer and more desert treat - and it may be more intriguing.

2) Bacon and Beer Festival

* S**t you never thought of pairing goes very well together
Maybe you've never had Little Man Ice Cream's whiskey candied bacon ice cream. Even if you have, maybe you'd never thought "Wow, what beer compliments this?" The answer is: Though an Epic Imperial Stout (pictured above) introduces a commonly sought tough-on-sweet texture with the ice cream, the real winner is the Elevation/Epic Epication Blackberry Imperial Saison, which brings out the sweetness in the candied meat like nothing you'd expect. And that's what happens when you get to pair a lot of porks and porters in one brilliantly conceived festival.

* The next big taste? How about a hoppy wheat?
Once a style that seemed more a lark than a serious effort, the light but bitter combo of two seemingly disparate tastes now is coming together quite successfully. TRVE's Scorn, a dry-hopped pale wheat, was extremely crisp and eye-opening. And Denver Beer Co's hopped wheat, which is soon to be its next canned offering, stepped the game up even more with a great blending of the lemon mouthfeel of the wheat and the citrus bite of the hops. Oh, and if you can pair it with Cap City Tavern's bacon potato torte with pork belly, all the better.

* Our Mutual Friend has some tricks up its sleeve.
The most interesting beer of Beer and Bacon was a brown ale from the RiNo brewery - that had been run through a randall full of orange peel, cocoa nibs and Amarillo hops, picking up the orange peel especially to give it a dark desert type of feel. At a time when many breweries experiment by going extreme, the idea of going sweet and subtle with a standard beer was a great winner.

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