Friday, May 29, 2015

Burning Can: A Different Kind of Beer Festival

The idea behind most beer festivals is simple. Get a whole bunch of breweries together. Maybe create a theme for their beers. Put them all together in a field or in a hall. And if you want to come up with some peripheral booths or contests, great. The idea usually works.

But on Saturday, the town of Lyons will host what is arguably the state's premier beer festival at which the beer (or a beer/food pairing) is not soaking up 95 percent of the attention. Yes, there will be more than 60 craft breweries pouring more than 200 types of canned beer at Oskar Blues' fourth annual Burning Can. But there will be so much more as well.

Held as part of the Lyons Outdoor Games, attendees will be able to watch kayaking and boater cross and can, if they want, round up a team to participate in a morning Beer Relay that will test participants' ability to run a team 5K run while receiving extra points for drinking a beer. There will be dirt-bike jumping, slackline acrobatics, a concert by New Orleans' The Revivalists and camping so that people can fully immerse themselves in the outdoor experience.

Oh, and did I mention beer? With 510 craft breweries now canning about 2,000 different beers nationwide, canning pioneers Oskar Blues get more inquiries about being a part of their event each year and have added about 12 breweries each annum to the lineup. Those include beer makers whose products aren't available otherwise in Colorado, such as Sun King Brewery of Indiana and La Cumbre Brewing of New Mexico. And it also includes breweries that may be canning just for this event on Oskar Blues' special "Crowler" system, ranging from City Star Brewing to Left Hand.

Oskar Blues marketing guru Chad Melis believes the event serves as a sort of big-tent revival to allow Colorado's second-largest craft brewery to preach about the advantages of cans, from their environmental benefits to the way they protect beer better from oxygen and light. But for a company that chose the location of its second brewery (in Brevard, North Carolina) based in large part on its proximity to killer mountain-biking, it also serves as a chance to proselytize on the seamless inclusion of craft beer in any outdoor lifestyle.

"There's a full top-to-bottom outdoor experience there," Melis said. "To be able to pack in a full day of outdoor activity, to be able to try beers from across the country that you can't get, and then to top it off with a full concert, I don't think there are a lot of events like that. We really want to make it a destination festival."

And while the $45 event won't lack for attendees, the 4 to 7 p.m. beer-tasting portion of the day also isn't sold out yet.

Burning Can may not be everyone's cup of tea. Not every beer drinker has to feel like they're sipping at the X Games to enhance their experience. But it's one of the more unique events on the beer circuit in Colorado and may, for that reason alone, be worth the trip this weekend.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Behold the Future of Rock-Star Craft Breweries

Walking through the new Avery Brewing facility in Boulder County, one feels like they are not in a manufacturing plant so much as in a museum.

That's not to say the $28 million facility is stuffy. Rather, everything from the 30-beer tap list to the casual-but-gourmet restaurant to the gift shop that is the size of the bar in Avery's previous brewing facility just shouts that you're in the presence of a legend instead of some ordinary beer maker.

But what may seem daring or even ostentatious to people who spent considerable time in the cramped back-alley Boulder location that housed Avery for two decades may not even be eye-popping for much longer. Next month, Breckenridge Brewery opens its new brewery on a 12-acre complex in Littleton that will include farm area and an event space. And next year, Great Divide will bust down the doors on a $38 million facility in Denver's River North neighborhood that will include fewer amenities than the aforementioned two locations but will have incredible creekside views and production space.

This trend, then, toward more expansive, customer-friendly brewing facilities seems less like a novelty than a near necessity for breweries that have reached the upper echelon of craft-beer stardom nationally, both in terms of production and critical praise. Call it the "Stoning" of the craft-beer industry — Stone Brewing, after all, kicked off this trend with a bistro and gardens area that is one of the most visited locations in San Diego County — but it really shows where the industry stands.

Breweries no longer are simple factories to produce the suds that salve the working class, as they were in their first hey-day in the late 19th century. They are now tourist magnets, drawing in both the day-trippers bouncing between a couple of beer purveyors and out-of-state visitors who are viewing Colorado as a place for a full-on beer-themed vacation and want to stop at the most famous of hop temples.

And under that notion, Avery — we were talking about that, weren't we? — is quite a special stopping ground. Four years in the planning, the 5.6-acre campus that opened in February includes a massive taproom, a pork-themed restaurant, space for tours through the brewery and enough patio area to make it the perfect stop for a spring day.

The tap list includes everything you can buy in the stores, as well as rare beers that are limited or completely unavailable outside the brewery. While there last month, I eschewed the Maharaja for gems like Bad Karma, their Belgian ale re-fermented with Brett and aged in neutral barrels, and Antonius' Carmen, an unbelievably smooth dark sour ale aged in Madeira barrels.

And if you get a chance to take the tour, it makes you appreciate the craftsmanship and nuances at hand even more. Guide Walter Becker (pictured above) analogized the amount of hops Avery uses in its IPAs to the band Rush ("You either love them or you hate them") and noted that the Germans who sold the brewery its hop-dosing vessels thought no brewery could need equipment that large.

If you haven't been up to the new Avery home yet, get up there when you can. But don't stop there. Pretty soon the state's best-known craft breweries all will have evolved from bars to experiences. And all of us will benefit.

Labels: , , ,

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?