Sunday, June 29, 2014
When Highlands Ranch's first brewery opened in November, Grist Brewing seemed to be more of a symbol of the growth of the state's beer-making industry than a brewery that deserved scrutiny on its own. Heck, if the most suburban of all Colorado suburbs could now be home to a local craft brewery, then it mattered less how its beer was and more how the crowd reacted to it, some thought.
But those amused purely by the spectacle of a Highlands Ranch brewery are missing out on what is an impressively developing brewery — and a brewery, for that matter, that does some of its best work in styles that few breweries can call their finest.
Take, for example, Grist's Transition State Kolsch, a 5.5 percent joy of a beer that is light without being cloying and presents a subtle but perceptible hop kick at the end. It's as close to a perfect drink-after-cutting-the-grass beer as you'll find.
Then there is the Romancing the Cobblestone Vienna Lager, a solid beer stocked with slightly roasted caramel malt that is smooth with just a hint of nuttiness and plenty of breadiness. Just launched a few days ago, this beer is worthy of a place on Grist's permanent roster.
Grist isn't all about lagers; in fact, those were the only two lagers on the brewery's tap list this weekend. But the fact that a new brewery can roll out two exciting and fresh lagers is a sign that it's got a lot more potential up its sleeve.
That potential can be seen already in several of Grist's current beers. The White Eddy White IPA, for example, offers higher IBUs — 62 — than anything else on the menu, and a complex, almost barrel-must taste that layers woodiness on top of bitterness (even though it's not barrel-aged). And the Berliner Weisse combines a good burst of tart with an underlying and surprising sweetness.
Mind you, Grist still has its weaknesses, namely in its Belgian line of beers. The She Devil Saison and Ground Rule Tripel both have such sweet profiles that cotton candy seems to be the dominant taste. And the Niobrara Stout is a little sooty and a little too light in body to leave an impression.
But in a space where you may see kids playing and after-work crowds filling up bring-home growlers, Grist reminds us you can not only bring beer to the suburbs but make the beer impressively enough that it's worth driving down from the city in order to try it.
Wednesday, June 18, 2014
For me, no brewery fits that description more than Grand Teton Brewing of Idaho, which I've long considered one of the quiet gems in America. And so, last night I decided to catch up with that old friend, trying the latest beer in its cellar reserve series as well as a slightly older member of that series that I had let age for a little while.
The new kid on the block is Splash Down Belgian-Style Golden Ale, a 7.5% ABV classic recipe made with European Noble hops and Belgian Abbey yeast. Pouring a deep golden color, it has a surprisingly dry finish.
This seasonal, which launched in mid-May, has just a hint - maybe more of a whiff - of sweetness, but what strikes you about it is the readily apparent alcohol you get on the backtaste. It's a solid offering but one of the more unspectacular members of the reserve series, and it can best be called a big summer beer more appropriate for nighttime porch drinking than daytime patio drink-while-you-sweat gatherings.
Rummaging around in the beer fridge, I also found a 2013 Double Vision Doppelbock, a reintroduction of a previously successful 2009 release that I noted then for its huge caramel profile. Well, give it a year after its release to rest, and that profile changes.
Both sweet and dark, with a touch of molasses settling on the back of your tongue, the aged version presents a roasted, slightly chocolate character as its warms. It becomes a very, very tasty gem, one whose flavor profile is made all the more appealing by the fact that it comes with a medium body rather than a heavier body that could have made this overwhelming.
Ah, good old friends of the beer world. We should all make time to call on them more often.
Labels: Grand Teton Brewing
Saturday, June 14, 2014
I'd managed to cellar the Denver brewery's 15th, 17th and 19th anniversary beers (no, I don't know why I didn't keep 16 or 18) and figured that this seemed to be a great time to break them out and try them. And what the Fearless Tasting Crew discovered a few nights ago in doing so was that wood-aged IPAs get older nicely, syrupy beers need that extra year of mellowing and beer geeks everywhere should spend more time collecting these gifts for a future vertical tasting.
20th (not aged): Belgian ale with viognier grapes
We started with the newest to ensure we set a baseline for freshness. This latest anniversary version is actually the easiest-drinking Great Divide has made in years, despite its 8.2 ABV presence. The grape is subtle and the body is sweet without being anywhere near cloying. Crew members decided it was a tasty high-alcohol summer beer, though not an earth-shattering new experience.
19th (aged 1 year): Strong ale brewed w/ birch syrup, aged on birch wood
Those who remember this ale at its birth generally associate one word with it: Syrupy. The aging seemed to do wonderful things to it. The sweetness mellowed, while the taste of the birch wood was more accented. This is still an extremely thick-bodied beer, but one that seems to have grown up from its somewhat rambunctious youth.
17th (aged 3 years): Wood-aged double IPA
It's usually a bad thing to age an extremely hoppy beer, as the citrus/grassy mouthfeel had, as expected, almost completely disappeared. But the oak has taken on a new life, and a vanilla taste now seeped smoothly through the beer where hops once dominated. I could have used a tad more bite to my taste buds (thinking that drinking this at 1 year of age would have been fantastic), but this was the favorite selection of the other three crew members.
15th (aged 5 years): Wood-aged double IPA
I'm not sure exactly what the difference in recipes was for the 15th and 17th anniversary ales. But the difference in aging was this: The hop taste had completely vanished here, leaving more oak but also a smoother, almost buttery texture to it. And that lingering touch of sweetness presented itself in such a way that you no longer had a beer lacking hop bite but a completely new ale, showing off a big wood backbone but a pleasant, complex taste. This was the winner to me.
And when I head to the 20th Anniversary bash in a little while, I may just have to ask if any more of the 15th Anniversary ales still exist, as I think it might be completely different again in another two years ....