Monday, October 03, 2016

At 22, Great Divide is Still Learning New Tricks

Sitting on the small patio of Great Divide's original brewery on Arapahoe Street with Brian Dunn is like a trip back in time. Twelve years ago, this is where the Great American Beer Festival really began every year - with a media party at noon on Thursday, just five hours before the festival opened its own doors.

Fast forward to 2016, and it seems like GABF celebrations began this past weekend, as breweries started to welcome out-of-town writers and connoisseurs. But there was Dunn, the founder of the 22-year-old iconic Denver brewery, still kicking off the unofficial festivities for the week by tapping the newest in the Yeti series and musing on how it symbolizes the way things have changed.

Velvet Yeti, you see, is the session Yeti of the family. A 5% ABV nitro stout, it tastes more like a meatier, creamier Guinness than it does like the taste-bud-pelting hops-and-alcohol combination shown off by the likes of Espresso Yeti, Oak-Aged Yeti or the dearly departed Belgian Yeti.

In fact, it feels almost out of place in some ways as a beer debuting during the week that enthusiasts across America descend on Denver to find the latest in wild-fermented ales, barrel-aged beers and triple IPAs. But there was Dunn, who explained in an interview that he believes this is the Yeti that will get even the skeptics to believe, to draw in the people who haven't previously gone looking for the mythical beer that helped put his brewery on the national map.

"Yeti is such a fun beer, but at 9-1/2 percent, it has its limitations as far as how many you can have," acknowledged Dunn, now a father of three and a man who looks for beers that can be enjoyed without fear of an imminent hangover. "This is approachable but still roasty to me. It's a different Yeti. There's going to be some people who want 9.5 percent. But I think more people will try this."

The new Yeti will a year-round beer - joining the original Yeti as the only ones in the largely seasonal series to fit that description - but will be draft-only. Dunn hopes it will get people talking this week.

If you are one of those who think of Great Divide as a big-beer brewery, its other releases this week will fit more easily into your expectations. The Smoothness - an 8-percent-plus black lager aged in Jameson Whiskey barrels that smacks with a heavy alcoholic nose but surprises with subdued, roast-heavy peat overtones - is arguably the star of the group. Its official release comes Friday.

But there's something fulfilling in knowing that as much as the GABF has grown, and as much as Great Divide has added a second production facility and tasting room on a 5-acre campus along Brighton Boulevard, some things are constant. There is Brian Dunn, welcoming the world to Denver, with one more taste profile that you weren't expecting but that just might make you think differently about the brewery before the week is over.

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