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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