Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Best Beers of Summer 2015

Breweries continue to up their games when it comes to refreshing summer beers. It's not that they are raising the hops or the ABV counts like the general trends of three to four years would seem to dictate. But they are upping the flavor while keeping the bodies relatively light and manageable and the alcohol at a largely acceptable post-hiking or -lawnmowing level.

That said, with summer now more than two-thirds gone, here are the beers that truly stood out in the outdoor season of 2015.

Ska Estival Cream Stout
This is a dark and frothy beer that genuinely shocks you on your first taste. Instead of huge malt, you get a stout akin to a creamsicle, brewed with orange blossom honey and aged on sweet orange peels. The citrus fruit notes are loud and sweet, and the cream adds a beautiful underlying texture. You'll go to the brewery or beer bar thinking you'll have one, and you'll end up drinking it all night.

Ratio Beerworks New Wave
Berliner weisses are hip now. But by adding a strawberry taste, Ratio amped up both the uniqueness and the refreshing quality of the style, balancing tartness with a sweetness that makes you want more. And it comes in at less than 4% ABV, making it almost dangerously perfect for hot weather.

Mountain Sun Jah Mon Ginger
Those who don't like the taste of ginger in their beer are advised to stay away. But for those who do, this wheat beer brings out a freshness and fullness in the spice that is hard to find in any Colorado beer not made by Left Hand Brewing. It jolts your taste buds but handles them smoothly.

Strange Watermelon Hefe

Few fruit beers are as fruit forward as this one. But there is also a natural quality that seemed to increase this year in Strange Craft Beer's seasonal that made it feel more like a natural recipe about which few people had thought rather than some far-fetched experiment. And, as you see at the top, it's a beer good enough for babies to stare it down, which may be the ultimate compliment in the craft beer world.

Upslope Thai Style White IPA
IPAs are good anytime. But what makes this one so appropriate for the summer is the sharp but strangely cooling Thai spices that take your attention away from the reasonably sized body to the flavors within. Destined to become a summer classic.

Flying Dog Dead Rise Old Bay Summer Ale
The oddest combination of the summer - and one you only can get in the mid-Atlantic, unfortunately - takes the classic Maryland crab spice and churns its flavor into an appealing cinnamon-like addition to a light-bodied beer. Brilliant, and a reminder of growing up to all of us who moved west.

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Saturday, August 22, 2015

A New Draw in the South Suburbs

Dave Miera, a carpenter and framer by trade, built the bars at Caution Brewing, Kokopelli Beer Co. and Stapleton Tap House. And then he decided to build his own brewery.

Boggy Draw Brewery opened last month in Sheridan, adding to the growing number of craft breweries dotting the south metro area. And early returns indicate that it's going to be a welcome addition to the Denver scene, with one beer seeming ready to shine as a unique standout.

That beer is Gangsta of Love, the brewery's cream ale aged in gin barrels. Pairing the sharp juniper taste with the lightly hopped and medium-bodied beer manages to create a flavor of its own, as notes of vanilla and caramel jump forward and combine with pin-pricks of gin taste to rev the beer up without making it overwhelming.

Boggy Draw - named after Miera's favorite hunting spot and festooned with deer heads and cow hides - has a couple of other gems ups its camouflaged sleeve as well. The Ese Bueno ESB is an Americanized and especially hoppy version of the style. The Lemondrop Pale Ale, a smash beer, is sharp with a citrus burst. And the Hefeweizen offers immediate hints of banana and bubble gum and is kicky and hopped enough to leave an impression.

Some of the offerings, like the Elk Mane Dark Wheat and the Boggy Bastard Southern Brown, are refreshing and pleasing, if not complex. A few - particularly the American Wheat and Belgian Pale - are quite light-bodied for their styles, coming and going without offending you but without creating anything to remember either.

It's amazing to think that, just four years ago, Denver's south suburbs largely were without breweries that were not connected to national brewpub chains. Now just about every suburb, including the blink-and-you'll-miss-it town of Sheridan, has their own. Some, like Lone Tree Brewing, are doing amazing things, while others are slower to catch up to the general quality level of the Front Range.

Boggy Draw begins its existence with a complement of quality beers and a few you'd want to drink over and over. And it really does give one more incentive for the Denver beer drinker to take a field trip to see what is happening to the south.

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Sunday, August 02, 2015

4 Things I Learned from Sesh Fest 2015

The prematurely tapped kegs and long lines that marred last year's otherwise noble first-time celebration of lower-alcohol beers were gone at Saturday's sequel event, as were a couple of the experimental brewers who created both good and bad buzz for their vanishing beers.

But a number of other breweries stepped up their games and brought creations that many people at the sold-out event were discussing. In fact, it was interesting to talk to a people throughout the day and hear many of them recommending the same handful of hop artists over and over.

That said, here are some of the biggest takeaways from Sesh Fest 2015, as brought to the beer world by Imbibe and the Colorado Brewers Guild

1) Baere Brewing is Killing It
Had the year-old Denver brewery brought only its Raspberry Table Sour, it would be remembered for creating a perfectly pitched and tart offering that was the beer of the festival. But it also offered up several versions of its Baere-Liner Weisse - including a Cascade-dry-hopped offshoot that was very sharp and well-defined by its subtle but effective hops - that left you wanting to head straight from Sculpture Park to its tasting room to see what more it's doing.

2) Two New Kids are Very Worth Watching
Neither Spangalang Brewery nor Call to Arms Brewing were operational when the first day of Spring rolled around. By the time Fall kicks off, they are likely to be on everyone's minds - and their offerings at Sesh Fest showed why.

Spangalang served up a dry-hopped Brett saison alive with grape taste, as well as a Citra-dry-hopped lemon wheat beer that just popped on your taste buds. Meanwhile, Call to Arms showed off its Clintonian Pale Ale that may have been the only full-bodied hoppy beer on display Saturday (more on that trend in just a bit).

3) Low-ABV Sour Beers are Here to Stay ...
Last year, they were one of the trends of the festival, as brewers dabbled in naturally sessionable goses and Berliner weisses. This year, attendees saw even more classical Belgian- and American-style sours just made more lightly in booze, and everyone seemed to put them near the tops of their must-drink lists.

Odd 13 Brewing, for example, served a Vincent Van Couch American-style sour that weighed in only at 4.6% ABV but burst with lemon and melon flavors. And New Belgium offered a Hop Tart hopped-up sour that felt a little like a poor man's version of its bigger-bodied, bold La Terroir but still jumped out on this day. Beer lovers should probably expect more of these experiments.

4) ... But it's time to end the "Session IPA" fad
More and more breweries seem to be tapping their own offerings of this style. But it was clear at Sesh Fest that these watered-down versions of what normally are intriguingly-hopped beers were the least interesting iteration of the session movement.

The Brew on Broadway, for example, offered up what it called a dry-hopped blonde that was distinctly lacking in hops. And Sanitas Brewing, which normally serves head-turners, poured a "session pale ale" that was nothing more than a malt-heavy, hop-deficient amber ale trying to jump on the bandwagon.

American craft brewers have done incredible things with hops over the past decade that no other brewing culture has managed. Note all the ways they are bringing life to other styles above by dry-hopping them, for example.

Of anyone, then, they should be the first ones to recognize that beers relying on hops for their primary flavoring should not be half-assed and should be backed with an ample malt backbone that is going to drive up ABVs. And they should find other ways to bring creativity and taste to session beers, as some Colorado brewers are showing that they can.

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