Sunday, January 25, 2015

Hopping into the Colorado Market

Colorado is a state that takes pride in the amount of hops its brewers can pack into one beer. Citrus-forward pales, piny double IPAs and even the occasionally well-balanced triple IPA ring beer bars and liquor stores, making any brewery that wants to expand distribution into this state and compete on the basis of its bitterness one that's taking a leap of faith.

But Ninkasi Brewing, which has been flowing through draft and retail accounts in Colorado since Dec. 8, seems up to that challenge. Though the Eugene, Oregon brewery makes a variety of beers, including an expanding selection of lagers, many come at you hard and fast with a hop wallop and leave a more resounding impression than many beer makers that cross the Centennial State's borders.

Jamie Floyd, who co-founded the brewery in 2006 with Nikos Ridge, said during a recent interview, in fact, that expanding into Colorado - the eighth state where one can find Ninkasi - is "a great bridge for us to taste hoppy beers and share ours with others." And sampling just a few of what is here in six-packs and bombers will show you he's not messing around with those hops.

Take, for example, the Total Domination IPA, a beer that uses the flavors of multiple hops to combine into one grassy, piny ball of mouth-filling taste. Maybe the most surprising aspect you'll find after swishing this around your mouth is that it weighs in at "only" 65 IBUs.

Tricerahops Double IPA brings more of the same brings with two notable differences. The alcohol is a bit more noticeable in this 8% ABV offering, and the taste has a less nuanced sharpness and more of a straightforward, challenging bitterness.

Even traditionally non-hoppy styles take on a whole new characteristic under Ninkasi's tutelage. Vanilla Oatis - a dark-as-night oatmeal stout with vanilla beans - has a velvety creaminess that appears in mid-sip. But it finishes with such a rush of roasted malt and surprising earthy hops that you're not at all shocked to see it reach 50 IBUs.

In fact, if there is one drawback to Ninkasi's beer, it is that you're left wondering what it would be like if they pulled back the bitterness just a little bit. And what happens when you find that out is that you discover what may be the brewery's best offering.

Sleigh'r, the winter seasonal, is a dark double alt ale that doesn't shy away from ramping up the IBUs. But the slightly high-alcohol body is complex, changing from a more classic German dark beer to one that brings forward an initially hidden taste of chocolate to one that sheds even a little touch of licorice and roasted sweetness as it flows down your throat.

Ninkasi is not for the light of taste bud. But, then again, in this state that just means it should fit in and become a more permanent fixture in many beer bars.

"I think there's a lot of similarities between the lifestyles people choose in Colorado and Oregon," Floyd said. "Culturally we have a lot in common. And I can take that to the next level with beer."

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