Thursday, March 26, 2015

A Short History of Discovering the Yeti

Great Divide's latest iteration of Espresso Oak Aged Yeti is on liquor-store shelves again for a limited time. Spoiler alert: It's fantastic. It exudes a huge java flavor enveloped in a medium body that allows you to savor the coffee without feeling like you have to cut it with a knife.

People may forget, though, that the now 12-year-old imperial stout series from the Denver brewery began under a different name and with an uncertain future in an industry that was just starting to figure out how much Americans liked huge hops and huge roasted malt combined in one beer. Since then, it's evolved into arguably the finest of its genre that is made in Colorado and has broken down old barriers associated with the style by coming out in the forms of different variations and selling even through the hot months when many people go searching instead for a wheat beer.

"Back in the day, I never thought that we could sell so much imperial stout in the middle of the summer," Great Divide founder Brian Dunn joked earlier this year when discussing his signature beer at a Vail Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines seminar.

It's worth delving into the creative history of the Yeti series to understand both where it has been and where it is going. For as Great Divide has introduced new versions of the creature — first oak-aged, then espresso, then chocolate — it's not only captivated beer geeks but it has helped to launch new trends and further exploration by other craft brewers into their own takes on the imperial stout.

Yeti actually began life in 2003 as Maverick Imperial Stout. "You don't recognize the name because I screwed up a trademark search," Dunn explained in Vail. But the recipe — a burly 9.5 percent ABV offering hopped with Centennial and Simcoe and featuring seven kinds of malt — stuck and took home Great American Beer Festival medals in 2005, 2008 and 2009.

The Yeti series is notable for being so alcoholic without having any taste of alcohol that is found in lesser imperial stouts. And each successive variation of the beer stands on different merits.

Oak-Aged Yeti has a big taste of wood without a big taste of whiskey because it uses oak chips rather than barrels. Chocolate has just a slight heat to offset its sweetness because ground cayenne pepper is part of the recipe. Oatmeal is the thickest beer around and perfect for the cold nights when you get just one beer. And Espresso is the perfect blend of multiple flavors into a complex product.

Hell, I even enjoyed Belgian Yeti, with its uniquely roasty body blending with Belgian esters, before Great Divide discontinued it. Asked about its disappearance while in Vail, Dunn said simply: "We give beers about a two-year run, and they're either going to make it or they're not. Beers get the hook once in a while."

The good news is Yeti as a series hasn't gotten the hook. And before Colorado's schizophrenic weather turns from winter into spring for good, it's worth grabbing another bottle of the Espresso Oak-Aged Yeti while waiting for the next beast to appear.

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