Saturday, February 04, 2017

Rebels with Different Attitudes

When Sam Adams launched its Rebel IPA three years ago, it was met with an ovation from the general public but a bit more of a muted round of applause from beer connoisseurs. This was an IPA, after all, that had a very 1990s throwback feel of big malt that almost subsumed its hops, and it was somewhat hard to define its appeal in a world full of citrus, grass and experimental hop bombs.

So, proving that the oldest dog (nearly, at least) in the craft beer world still does want to learn some new tricks, Sam Adams scrapped that initial recipe this year and came out with an all-new version boasting of seven kinds of hops - including two experimentals - and describing itself as tropical and juicy, echoing the IPA buzzwords of today. But the beer still feels in some ways like a throwback - more mid-2000s than 20th Century this time - and while it's a quality beer, it pales in comparison to the more rebellious Rebel Juiced IPA that the brewery is promoting simultaneously.

First to Rebel. The reborn version ditched the caramel malt that over-bulked its body, leaving this new version cleaner and brighter. But the tropical flavors it promises are lacking, leaving a straightforward piny body that ramps up the bitterness and puts it more squarely into the camp of beers that IPA fanatics love more than a beer that will grab the attention of someone wanting to taste across all styles. In other words, it's a good beer, but not necessarily one that you'll consider at the 20-tap beer bar.

And now to Rebel Juiced IPA, which is both a blessing and a curse to be out at the same time as the reborn Rebel. The beer - a West Coast-style IPA made with mango puree - is a blessing because it's a phenomenal beer, the type of juicy, sweet and bitter, groundbreaking beer that others are sure to emulate for its combination of sturdy body and envelope-pushing additives. But it's a curse too because if you happen to drink this in the same setting as Rebel IPA, you may not even give the original rebel a second thought for the bounty of tropical flavors in Rebel Juiced.

The mixed blessing of releasing two new packaged beers almost at the same time is nothing new for America's largest craft brewery. It also put out two seasonals for early 2017  - a hoppy wheat by the name of Hopscape that is on sale in January and February and Fresh as Helles,, a classical helles brewed with orange blossom petals that just hit stores and will stick around through March. And while Fresh as Helles is a wonderful blend of a fantastic underlying sweet and malty beer with a pleasant but not overwhelming zing of citrus, Hopscape is a disappointingly bland, very light-bodied effort that absolutely disappears - at least in comparison to its fellow seasonal.

So, yes, the new Rebel IPA is an improvement on its predecessor, coming across as sharper and hoppier. But Rebel Juiced is the beer that really has a cause, breathing life into a sometimes stagnant IPA genre and showing just how fun the style can be again if you move past what IPA has been and re-imagine what it can be.

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Wednesday, February 01, 2017

A February Full of Beer-Event Personality

Craft beer fans and football fans share a mutual disdain for the month of February. For football fans, it's that desolate time in between the Super Bowl and the NFL Draft. For beer aficionados in Colorado, it's the lonely month between Big Beers Festival and Collaboration Fest.

Luckily, though, a few event organizers have heard the anguished cry of the craft-beer drinker and tried to do something to make this month more memorable. And over the next 28 days, a number of gatherings - including a pair of new or reborn events in particular - are going to fill calendars surprisingly quickly and make March seem it got here with no delay at all.

First there is Beer Fight Club, the brainchild of buddies Jeff Flood and Adam Schell that debuts on Saturday at Larimer Beer Hall. Less an all-out Tyler Durden-style brawl and more a civilized March Madness-style precursor, it pits eight River North neighborhood breweries against each other in head-to-head blind-taste tests until only one survives the bracket to be crowned Beer Fight Club champion.

Flood and Schell had wanted to get into the craft-beer promotion business, and so they talked with a number of breweries about what kind of event might draw out drinkers and get them through the doldrums of winter. What they came up with was a ticketed event in which the eight contestants bring a beer of their choosing and advance through the bracket based on the combined votes of audience members and a specially chosen panel of experts. Flood and Schell hope to host three more such events featuring different brewing neighborhoods in the coming months, and then have a "best-of''' bracket to determine the ultimate Beer Fight Club champion.

"Every weekend there's a different type of beer fest, so we asked how we do something different," Flood said of the event, scheduled from 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday at Larimer Beer Hall featuring breweries like Epic, Mockery and River North - all of which will have folks at the event. "We really want to connect the beer drinker to the brewers, so they can establish a little longer-term relationship."

A smaller event was also the theme around which Colin Bickford and Patrick Brown wanted to organize the Mile High Beer Festival, a collection of 25 Colorado breweries that will be pouring beer at the Exdo Center in RiNo on Feb. 11 for both an afternoon and an evening session. They wanted reasonable lines, breweries that came from a reasonable distance away and a crowd that got to taste a substantive number of beers on the Colorado scene.

Bickford earlier organized the Epic Beer Festival with 80-plus breweries in 2013 and the Country Beer Festival in Jefferson County in 2016, but he wanted a different event in the heart of Denver this year. So, he and Brown gathered an array of Colorado craft breweries - from heavyweights like Odell and Crooked Stave to up-and-comers like ,Resolute and Verboten - and will have them pouring in a fairly intimate setting of some 500 attendees that revives the first Mile High Beer Festival, which Brown organized several years ago.

"We found that people don't want bigger. They just want a nice experience," Bickford said.

Those are two of the highlights for the month. Here's a few more:
* Denver Beer Co. which is becoming the master of the food-and-beer-pairing events, will host a beer, bacon and coffee festival at its main brewery from 8:30 to 11 a.m. on Feb. 12.
* A number of breweries and bars are hosting Valentine's Day events. But for my money, you can't go wrong going down to Freshcraft that night, which will be tapping Southern Tier Creme Brulee.
* On Feb. 15, Yak & Yeti Brewery officially becomes Spice Trade Brewing Co., which will continue to operate within the Arvada restaurant but as a separate entity. It will tap a Szechuan Saison and a Mayan Chocolate Russian Imperial Stout, among other things.
* On Feb. 18, Bristol Brewing brings back its annual Firkin Rendezvous, in which 40 breweries will tap experimental versions of their beers. Tickets are $45.
* And, of course, all month is Stout Month at Mountain Sun and its affiliated brewery restaurants. Their offerings include the likes of a Mint Chocolate Girl Scout Stout, a Coconut Cream Stout and a Norwegian Wheat Stout. Oh, yes.

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