Sunday, March 22, 2015

Five Things I Learned from Collaboration Fest

It was impossible to drink all 75 beers poured Saturday at the second annual Collaboration Fest, but not just because no liver could handle that load. Much of the event was taken up with stopping and chatting about what you found, what others had tried and how breweries working together were pushing the envelope in ways they may not have on their own.

But between the talking and tasting, it was pretty easy to come away with some distinct impressions about beers done both boldly and expertly.

1) Cherry and basil: two great tastes that taste great together
The stand-out of the show was the Cherry Kriek/Basil Blonde Ale combination created by Strange Craft Beer and Copper Kettle Brewing. No, it doesn't sound like it should work. But the collision of the big and pleasant spice with the big and non-tart fruit taste ended up bringing to mind a beautifully crafted Italian food with a soothing sweetness. Comparisons to both margherita pizza and caprese salad were apt.

2) We have yet to max out the flavor variety of the IPA
There were some fascinating efforts on tap, from the complex Cigar City/Station 26 Imperial White IPA to the deeply bitter Elevation/Black Bottle Double Black IPA. But nothing opened eyes quite like the Fate/Cannonball Creek German IPA that was crisp and easy of body and finished with a melon aftertaste. Here's hoping more of the breweries are inspired to do these on their own.

3) River North is entering "can do no wrong" territory
River North burst out of the seas of sours and big IPAs with a Barrel-Fermented Brown Ale it made in collaboration with Red Leg Brewing that offered the best flavorful malting of the resurgent brown ale style with a funk strain of rye whiskey barrels that made it pop even more to life. I'm not discounting the role of Red Leg here, especially after the Colorado Springs brewery took home a medal at the 2014 GABF. But having this just a few weeks after River North pulled the near-impossible by making a 17-percent-ABV saison that was hugely flavorful without being overly alcoholic seems to confirm that these guys are becoming one of Denver's best breweries.

4) Pumpkin peach ales might not be the next big thing
The most hyped beer of the show was the nine-brewery Peach Fuss Ale collaboration that represented a giant middle finger toward Budweiser. But while the beer was pleasant and creamy - the pumpkin served more as an oatmeal-like texture provider than a spicy heavy flavor addition - it certainly didn't steal the show in terms of its taste profile. It was, however, a hell of a lot better than anything made by the brewery that made fun of the style.

5) Imbibe and the Colorado Brewers Guild have learned some things
I was critical of the festival organizers after beers ran out at alarming speeds during their Sesh Fest last summer. But Imbibe's PJ Hoberman said months later that he had changed the way he requested how much beer must be brought, and on Saturday few things bit the dust before the final hour of the event, with most still available at last call. Combine that with the variety of beers, strong presence of pouring brewers and the great scene site when attendees arrived to pick up their glasses (pictured above), and this was a very well-run event that bodes well for more gutsy efforts in the future.

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