Wednesday, November 11, 2015

4 Things I Learned from Denver Bacon and Beer Festival

Denver Bacon and Beer Festival got a new location and a bit of a new vibe this year. But it was good once again for discovering a few things about taste pairings.

The 4th annual gathering moved from the more crowded confines of a downtown hotel to the Glitter Dome, an old warehouse space in the River North area. The transition allowed for a lot more room to roam around, chat with fellow pork samplers and not get crammed into lines. There also was a little less direct pairing of the bacon dishes with specific beers, but that only meant you had to try a little more of everything to find the best match.

That said, here are some things that became apparent over the course of the festival, thrown once again by Imbibe Denver.

1) If you drink just one barrel-aged barleywine this year, make it Old Ruffian.
Great Divide's hefty creation can be overlooked in discussions of the best barleywines in Colorado, but it certainly should not be. Aged in bourbon and whiskey barrels, it offered both balance and a burst of flavor that rivaled any salted or candied bacon served at the gathering.

2) Maple is a better beer ingredient than bacon
Brewers got into their experimental grooves for the gathering. But while adding the sweet, hearty taste of syrup to beer proved alluring - City Star Brewing especially broke out a Maple Brown that showed off the best attributes of the flavor - several beer makers who tried tossing bacon into their brew created gimmicks lacking in both meaty flavor and heft.

3) Brats and IPA is a pairing made in heaven
There was a lot to savor in the food category, from bacon donuts to a spicy bacon spam from Lena that was much better than those words could describe. But the best suggestion of the afternoon came from the chef at Kitchen Next Door, whose half-bacon brat with a slightly acidic mustard paired as well as he said it would with an IPA - specifically Oskar Blues' new version of the style. A little bite of the beer with a little bite of the pork should be a rule to remember.

4) The kettle sour is on the rise.
Yes, I realize that a bacon and beer festival can be an odd place to realize this. But after breweries such as River North have kicked down the door of the style and made it both appealing and accessible, the fact that Elevation Beer Co. served up its take on the genre (Acide) and made it a talker at a festival where people could have drifted naturally to chunky porters shows how much the kettle sour can stand out - and pair with goodies like a bacon and egg custard.

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