Wednesday, March 29, 2017

6 Things I Learned at Collab Fest 2017

It turns out that Collab Fest didn't need the beautiful setting of the luxury deck at Mile High to stand out as a festival. Moved this year to the National Western Complex, the celebration of breweries making beers together - roughly 180 auteurs combining on some 100 beers - was just as unique and relevant without the glitz factor of being able to look down upon the Broncos' field.

What's more, the types of beers that leaped off the page this year were different than in past years, moving beyond the sour and imperial barrel-aged combinations to a surprising number of very tasty concoctions that used unexpected ingredients. Attending the event left you excited about the creative flavors that remain largely untapped still in the sector.

Here, then, are a few things that stood out:

1) Comrade killed it.
In a festival marked by immense creativity, the best beer of the day - and best by a long stretch, for that matter - was Comrade Brewing's collaboration with Montana-based Uberbrew on Uberpower Triple IPA (pictured at right). Flowery and grassy, huge without a big alcohol taste, this dangerously smooth and flavorful beer was one of the greatest hop assaults that even a tried-and-true hophead has ever had in their mouth.

2) Simple pale ales stood out as well.
In some sense it's hard for a classic, lower-alcohol taste to find a niche among so much blustery boldness. But the Dog vs. Quail Pale Ale from Cannonball Creek Brewing and  Hogshead Brewery (pictured at top) was fresh and bright with a lingering piny hop that accented its British, German and American ingredients. And the decision by the Colorado Brewers Guild board to offer a light, grassy pale ale with the moniker of Board's in Session was a surprisingly good and memorable one for the 11 collaborating breweries.

3) Some gimmick beers are worth drinking over and over again.
Lady Fingers, the tiramisu brown ale from Boulder Beer and New Holland Brewing was as sweet as you'd expect but also very approachable, and it seemed no odder on the palate than Boulder's best beer, its Shake Chocolate Porter. Meanwhile, the Corner Store imperial malt lager from Gravity Brewing and Kettlehouse Brewing was a high-quality hoppy beer, with big malts offering a proper base for the slightly boozy but more aggressively flowery hop bite.

4) Others were worth one taste.
The most passionate conversation I had on the floor was with Ryan Hannigan of Focus on the Beer, who insisted that the Mr. Kelly's Coconut Curry Hefeweizen - the Boulder/Ska collaboration that was exactly what it sounds like - was the most unique and best beer on the floor. While I conceded the first part of the statement to him, the bold combination came off a bit like a thick soup full of spices more than a beer, and I was quite happy to have about an ounce of it.

5)  Bread beer - the next great trend
Rye pretzels and German malts were the stand-out ingredients in Don't Kvass the Streams, a kvass-inspired German ale from Wit's End and Prost Brewing. And the sour rye taste was an astoundingly good complement to the beer base, rendering the creation both bready and slightly tart. In a market drenched with New England IPAs, I might run more quickly to efforts like this that produce new and exciting flavors.

6) Then again, sours aren't done yet.
TRVE cranked up the flavor profile with Slow Death, its whiskey-barrel-aged dark mixed-culture ale with cinnamon and lemon peel that it produced with Burial Beer Co. of Asheville. Complex and still drinkable, it reminded festival goers of how much room there remains in the sour sector that might seem saturated to some.

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Thursday, March 23, 2017

10 Beers To Try at Collaboration Fest

Saturday marks the fourth Collaboration Fest, and the beers that will be served there only continue to get more nuanced and more adventurous. But since there are 180 breweries combining on roughly 100 beers at the event, it can be a bit overwhelming to decide even which direction you want to head when entering the National Western Complex for the show.

Consider this, then, a high-level sneak peak at the strangest, wildest, most wonderful combinations that will be poured at the Two Parts/Colorado Brewers Guild event. And if you haven't gotten your tickets for the mid-afternoon adventure of the palate yet, consider this your chance to decide if you want to buy them - or, frankly, if you can afford not to attend.

1) Ladyfingers - Boulder Beer and New Holland Brewing
Maybe you feel like you've tried a lot of desert-style beers in recent years, but there's a good chance you haven't drunk a tiramisu brown ale before, especially one made with New Holland's house vanilla extract. After Boulder's creation of Shake Chocolate Porter in 2013, one is wise not to turn away sweet beers that America's oldest craft brewery may offer.

2) Uberpower Triple IPA - Comrade Brewing and Uberbrew
The idea of drinking a triple IPA from Comrade Brewing is enticing enough on its own, given how the east Denver brewery is pushing the boundaries of hoppy beers. But combining its talents with the talents of the 2016 Small Brewery of the Year winner out of Montana bumps this up to irresistible.

3) Japance Off - Denver Beer and Altitude Chophouse and Brewery
Altitude's absence at the Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines festival this year was a sad one, but one of the most clever small breweries in the Rocky Mountain West found another reason to come back to Colorado - and partner with a Denver beer maker that continues to up its game. This is a hybrid Japanese and French saison made with sake yeast and floral French hops. No word yet on whether it's a traditional Japanese saison or a new-age version ....

4) Corner Store - Gravity Brewing and KettleHouse Brewing
The Louisville and Montana breweries are offering up a dry hopped imperial malt liquor. Just let that description sink in. And then try to imagine the reaction of an OE 800 fan trying one.

5) Spiciest Memelord - Odd 13 Brewing and Kane Brewing
One might worry that a kettle sour could be lost on the taste buds with all of the double IPAs and imperial stouts that breweries will be rolling out. Then you realize that this is made with habanero and raspberry. Oh, and that it's Odd 13 working with a respected New Jersey brewer.

6) Chocolate Orange Belgian Tripel - Ratio Beerworks and WeldWerks Brewing
If these two breweries made an American-style light lager, it would be worth trying. But this collaboration is as ambitious as it sounds. And it's hard to imagine it being anything short of startling.

7) Oaked Rye Dunkelweizen - Upslope Brewing and Resolute Brewing
Dunkelweizen is one of the most underutilized styles in America, and the appealing combination of this style aged on medium toast French oak cubes with some Colorado rye in there means a lot of good experimentation.

8) Brettxit - Bonfire Brewing and Casey Brewing
Casey can do sours. But an ESB fermented in wine barrels with four different Brett strains, made with an under-the-radar Eagle brewery? This is the kind of beer that defines a festival if it works out well.

9) Enemy of the People IPA - Great Divide Brewing and beer bloggers
Last year's Fourth Estate Belgian Chocolate Stout, made by bloggers and Lost Highway, was one of the real hits of the event. As an added bonus this year, I had to miss the group brew with Great Divide at the last minute even though my name is still on the beer - and that can only help its flavor profile.

10) Calvin and Hops - Something Brewery and New Boswell Brewing
I'm a guy who believes really well named beers deserve a taste. And this kumquat double IPA that is a product of a relatively new Brighton Brewery (Something) and an Indiana brewery you've probably never tried before boasts the coolest name of the festival.

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