Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Five Things I Learned from Burning Can and the Great Divide 21st Birthday

Two of Colorado's finest breweries, Oskar Blues and Great Divide, held big parties over the past three weeks. In addition to the obvious resounding message - loads of craft beer + spring day = good time - there was much to be gleaned from the celebration of canned craft beer as well as the celebration of Great Divide turning old enough to legally imbibe its own products.

1) It's time for "dark sour" to become a more common beer description
Great Divide busted out a host of one-offs and experiments for its anniversary party, but none stood out like its Prince of Tartness, a black sour ale brewed with 25 malts that offered a spectacular complexity of dark body and a real puckery kick. A number of other breweries have broken out the style on special occasions recently, most notably Former Future Brewing. Someone - such as Great Divide - needs to make this a full-time part of its repertoire.

2) The American IPA may be getting cleaner and better
About five years ago, when every brewery toyed with a double IPA and a few too many tried to push the hop palate with triples, there was concern that "mouth-blistering" might become the de facto description of American pale beers. But a number of breweries who celebrated the hop at Burning Can showed that toning down the IBUs has ramped up the quality of the style.

Austin Beerworks' Fire Eagle IPA, for example, presented a big grassy taste without being overly bitter. City Star Brewing of Berthoud offered up an All-American IPA dry-hopped with citra that added a bit of mustiness to its crisp taste. And La Cumbre of New Mexico brought a sharp and fully bitter IPA that isn't for the feint of palate but shows off great attributes of the style.

3) The hoppy wheat ale is here to stay. Deal with it.
Great Divide used its celebration to showcase, among other beers, its Whitewater Hoppy Wheat Ale, a version of the burgeoning style that kicks up the hop level to new heights. At first the idea of smooth summer drinking and an assertive hop bite seemed to be a conflict of interest. But beers like this show it can be pulled off expertly, even if people looking for a straight-up wheat might feel a little blindsided by the taste.

4) It's time for Oskar Blues to can Death by Coconut
For being one of America's largest craft breweries, Oskar Blues' year-round offering of six beers, plus two seasonals, is smaller than many competitors' varieties. It first came up with its collaboration coconut porter, made with Shamrock Brewing of Pueblo, in 2014, and the smooth, sweet and big taste has generated a lot of talk at most festivals where it's been on display, including Burning Can. This would be a great lineup to its portfolio.

5) There are different ways to deal with big crowds.
The lines at Burning Can were shockingly small, likely because festival goers had so many different things to do. In addition to all of the outdoor sports on display in Lyons (admittedly not a feature of most space-starved festivals), there was a great tasting booth (above) in the middle of the field that allowed attendees to duck away, sample beers and decide the festival's honorees blindly.

Great Divide's lines (below) were quite long, and even owner Brian Dunn acknowledged he had to do something about them when I ran into him. But pourers did something very smart - they doled up 8- to 10-oz. samples of even their rarer offerings, so that drinkers could have a full pour to enjoy while they settled down for what then didn't seem like such a long wait. Other festivals with crowd issues would be wise to consider such impromptu measures in the future.

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