Thursday, May 25, 2017

Needed: More small festivals,  beer competitions

Summer is coming and with it the packed beer calendar of the season. There will be the Boulder Sour Fest, the Colorado Brewers Rendezvous in Salida and numerous weekend-long anniversary parties, all attracting scores of beer drinkers converging on one location and tasting freely.

But while these large gatherings most certainly have their place in Colorado, a couple of recent events have pointed out the subtle joy of smaller, sometimes calmer and more focused gatherings as well. And it's well worth not only praising them but asking industry folks if they wouldn't consider doing some more similar things in the future.

First, I have to give lauds to Strange Craft Beer's seventh anniversary party this past weekend — a "backyard BBQ" in the space right behind the Denver brewery featuring 10 breweries pouring their wares and ubiquitous Strange owner Tim Myers carving up a pig and serving it to guests. There wasn't a bevy of experimental beers, save for the Wit's End whiskey-barrel-aged coffee stout, but there was a contained area where folks could mingle, brewers could talk to people without rushing their pours and patrons could try something from every brewery and still drive home.

Festivals often try to cram as many breweries as they can into a tight space, creating numerous options for drinkers but sometimes long lines and cantankerous crowds jostling to fine each other or their favorite beers. A smaller festival like this was great for its simplicity, the general good feel that it helped to create and the ease with which families could enjoy things and let their kids play without fearing they'd get lost in the crowd.

On a very different note, I had the opportunity a few months ago to be a judge at Beer Fight Club, one of the more clever ideas to come down the event pie in a while locally. The idea is simple: Invite eight breweries to bring a beer of their choosing, sell tickets to a crowd that can sample them all and vote in a head-to-head-bracket-style format on which they like best and crown a winner. It's so simple, in fact, that it's almost shocking that no one thought of the idea before organizers Jeff Flood and Adam Schell did.

What makes this flow so well is the idea of asking attendees to think about their beers and really consider what they like and don't like. It spurs conversation between people who formerly were complete strangers, and it spurs brewers to bring their best stuff to an event rather than a barrel of what they have sitting around the brewery. The third version of Beer Fight Club just happened last weekend, and another is slated for the coming months.

Denver's beer scene has grown and diversified so much that its beer-event scene should too. And kudos go to those folks who are offering just a little something different to keep beer drinkers of all stripes looking forward to what they have to offer.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Southern IPA Comes to Colorado

If hazy, fruit-forward India pale ales now represent the taste of New England much the way that bitter, piny IPAs are the calling card of the Northwest, it seems only fair that there should be a beer indicative of the rising craft-beer scene in the South. And Lazy Magnolia Brewing just may have hit that regional style on the head.

Mississippi's first craft brewery began distribution in March to Colorado through Bub's Beverage, making it the 19th state to carry beers like its Southern Hospitality IPA, Southern Pecan nut brown ale and Jeff Stout, a sweet-potato cream stout. And while none of these offerings will bowl you over with their tastes, they do stand as a great example of the kind of beer that is being made in a place where relaxing on the porch after a hot day demands a thirst quencher more than something that will challenge your palate with complexity.

Southern Hospitality is the poster child for this neophyte style. Coming in at just 60 IBUs, it presents you with a medium body and one taste: lighter pine hops that offer a mouth-wide feel but little bitterness. It is mellow, unobtrusive and surprisingly easy to drink. You probably couldn't pick it out of a crowd of 10 IPAs, but you're also not likely to want to put it down.

Jeff Stout has similar character, despite a list of additives that makes it sound like something that sprang from a fermenter at Dogfish Head. The sweet potato isn't readily apparent, and in some ways the cream fades into the background as well. What you're left with is a lightly but well-roasted feel to a lighter body that makes this stout smooth, smooth, smooth. Again, you may not seek it out, but you won't push it away.

Southern Pecan is the beer that grabbed national attention for Lazy Magnolia when it first appeared at the Great American Beer Festival more than a decade ago. At just 16 IBUs, this is a decidedly English-style brown ale rather than a hoppy American version of the genre, and the pecan pack a sweet tone that lightens the body somewhat but doesn't make you think you're siphoning a pie. It's an almost minimalist addition but one that soothes and pleases.

Having lived in Arkansas and South Carolina from 1995 through 2000, I remember a time when the beer options in the South involved an array of light beers and maybe a pale ale if you could find a bold retailer to bring it into the state. The culture will never be one of fierce hops or pucker-inducing open-fermentation creations. As such, Lazy Magnolia may seem almost a bit light for the Colorado drinker. But on a hot day when ease of a beer trumps the newest and boldest flavors, these beers may be just what you want for a change.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

8 Events for the 2nd Half of American Craft Beer Week

Beer events really can sneak up on you these days. Like American Craft Beer Week. Yes, the week that began Monday and runs through Sunday.

Some of you may be up to date on this celebration and may already have begun scratching events off your check list. But for those of you who, hypothetically, may be recovering from covering the brutal final month of the Colorado Legislature, haven't written a blog since early April and are just now waking up to the idea that you need to get out and enjoy the flurry of activities this week, here's a small checklist of things to do.

• There are lots of beer-food pairings going on this week. But Joyride Brewing's 7 p.m. tasting with MouCo Cheese not only puts good beer with a great cheese company; at $15 a head, it's also one of the most affordable cheese pairings you will find.
• Cigar City ends its four-day celebration of launching in Colorado with an appropriate party at Star Bar, which has been slinging the Florida beer for years during the Great American Beer Festival. It's worth a stop between 8 and 10 p.m.

Avery Brewing releases Reel Peel IPA, a tangerine IPA, at its Boulder County brewery starting at 11 a.m. before canning it in six-packs. I've largely resisted fruit-flavored IPAs as a fad that should go away soon. But if anyone is going to do this well, it's Avery.
Strange Craft Beer releases its newest annual version of Dr. Strangelove Barleywine, one of the smoothest of its kind, at noon at the brewery.

• Durango's sextet of breweries have combined to produce a double IPA to mark the first-ever celebration of Colorado Public Lands Day. This seems a good reason to stop by any of the six breweries and try it out.
• At noon, Strange ends not just its ACBW celebrations but its 7th-anniversary celebration with a 10-brewery Backyard BBQ celebration at the brewery. For $35 at the door, this could be the bargain of the week.
• Also at noon,  Westfax Brewing of Lakewood taps its Cilantro Lime Ale. I don't know that cilantro is a viable ingredient to add to beer. But then, I said the same thing about rosemary, habaneros and a whole lot of other ingredients and been proven wrong on that.
• At 1 p.m., Upslope Brewing is having a music festival complete with new beers at its Flatiron Park Brewery. That sounds Boulder-tastic.

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