Friday, March 30, 2018

10 Beers to Seek Out at Collaboration Fest

Collaboration Beer Fest is an event in which the wild ideas that make you shake your head when you first read about them actually turn out.  Yet, creations like the 2015 Basil Kriek Blonde — the Copper Kettle/Strange Craft Beer blend of Basil Blonde and Cherry Kriek — end up not only working but being some of the best beers you will drink all year.

With that said, here are 10 of the most fascinating experiments that will be on tap Saturday afternoon at the Hyatt Regency Denver at the Colorado Convention Center when the Colorado Brewers Guild and Two Parts bring us the fifth annual collaboration blowout event.

*  Comrade/Breakside Double-Dry-Hopped Beer Pressure 1.5 IPA
Last year, Comrade teamed up with Montana's Uberbrew to make a triple IPA that arguably was the best beer of the festival. This year they are teaming with another known hop auteur to produce a hazy IPA that can't be missed.

* Weldwerks/Casey Brewing and Blending Transmountain Diversion
If these two breweries made an Old Milwaukee clone, I'd still stand in line for it. The fact that they made a double IPA may make me push people out of my way for it.

 * New Belgium/Rare Barrel On the Shoulder of Giants 2017
This is a golden sour aged in oak barrels with peaches and jasmine pearl tea from two breweries that have earned their national reputations. Enough said.

* Guild Collaboration Cherry Coast to Coast
The Colorado Brewers Guild teamed up with the Brewers Association and nine other states' craft-brewing guilds to churn out a sour ale. And they made it with Crooked Stave. This really might be the absolute definition of craft brewing.

* Mockery/Baere Mocking Baered Episode 4: Intercontinental
The running collaboration from the pair of 4-year-old Denver breweries that fly too far under the radar may be the single best story among the back stories of beers at the festival. But even without it, this giant pastry stout would be hard to ignore.

* Lone Tree/Cannonball Creek Dry-Hopped Malt Liquor
Just let that sink in. And then realize that Cannonball Creek nearly stole the show with a pale ale last year. This should be the most spot-on and yet wildest malt liquor of all time.

* Funkwerks/New Image Arnie
Kettle sour is a very popular style this year. But when you see two brewers who have consistently surprised and taken styles to new levels working on this genre, the result will be worth trying.

 * Cerberus/Fossil/Goat Patch Deception IPA
Last month I took a weekend trip to Colorado Springs and discovered that the brewing scene is as evolved and complex as it's ever been. Denverites probably don't know these three very good breweries. This sour Belgian IPA should tell you all you need to know about the Springs.

 * Fate Brewing/Ladyface Ale Horchata de Garde
Boulder's most underrated brewery teams with one of America's most interesting brewpubs to make a biere de garde with an accent of Mexico? My 2-ounce cup runneth over.

* Caution/Moonlight Pizza & Brewpub What the Duck Five-Spice GoséIf there's a beer that seems to have an ingredient that doesn't belong in beer, but it happens to be made by Caution, run to it. This collab also may introduce the world to an underrated Salida brewery.

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Monday, March 26, 2018

Collaboration Fest: Where the Stories Behind the Beers Matter

Speaking about collaboration beers to Jordan Fink, co-owner and head brewer of Denver's Woods Boss Brewing, is a little like talking about throwing the greatest party you can imagine. It's not an act of obligation, of somehow working with your cohorts to find a shared vision, to him so much as it is an inspired task, one that can leave you giddy with the possibilities of what you can create.

"I can't speak for anyone else. But for me, I have so many friends in the industry. We get together and drink together and talk about what we'd like to do together," Fink shared Thursday night at an industry gathering to welcome Thirsty Monk brewery to town. "It's an official opportunity for us to mind-meld and do things that we'd never do alone ... I love being with other brewers."

If Fink gets you excited about the idea of what can come from brewery collaborations, you're not alone. On Saturday afternoon, 200 breweries will unveil more than 100 beers that are the products of their unions at the fifth annual Collaboration Fest at the Hyatt Regency Denver. The gathering, put on by Two Parts and the Colorado Brewers Guild, is one of the best in the state at showing off the daring and creativity that sometimes only comes when two or more friends masquerading as pseudo-competitors poke each other enough, saying, "Is that all you've got?"

The beers that will be on display are worth mentioning and will be dissected in a column later this week. But the spirit of the festival is more than the liquid that is poured into your taster glass. It's the "why" behind the beers that are going into that glass.

So, after streaming through countless emails and sharing a few beers recently with some of the participants in the event, here are five of the best stories of how collaborations came together.

1) Escaping from a Desert Island
Denverites Baere and Mockery Brewing originally decided to brew together because they opened just a few months apart, but their experiment has turned into a four-year odyssey of beers that tell the story of someone being stranded on a desert island and then working to escape. Following efforts like a smoked pineapple saison, this year's edition, Intercontinental When I Eat French Toast, is a huge pastry stout imagining the story's hero fleeing from the island on rum barrels and floating all the way to France, co-owner Kevin Greer shared.

2) Beer-Crowd-Sourcing 
For its collaboration with organizer Two Parts, Little Machine Beer wanted to let ticket holders to the festival have a say. So, after deciding the style would be a saison, it's been having attendees vote on most of the rest of the ingredients for months, and the result (shown in production above) will be the aptly named People's Beer.

3) Getting the Band Back Together 
Fink began his brewing journey at Tommyknocker Brewery, and to celebrate his heritage, he invited as many former fellow beer makers from the Idaho Springs icon back to craft a collaboration. The resulting baltic porter, 10K Alumni, involved eight breweries and was the 10,000th batch made on Tommyknocker's system.

4) A Cross-Border Experiment
Upslope Brewing of Boulder and Santa Fe Brewing (shown at right) wanted to craft a beverage that showed off the
best of each of their states. Thigh Five, a "southwest common" includes huitlacoche, a plant fungus that grows on the ears of corn and has a slightly smoky flavor. Bet you didn't see that coming.

5) Let the Music Play
Any shared set of interests, from a common neighborhood to a common distributor, can bring about a reason to craft a collaboration beer. But when you are the two breweries in Colorado most closely associated with love of music — the former-punk-rock-promoters-turned-impromptu-concert-hosts at Ratio Beerworks and the guys from Ska Brewing whose name reflects the tunes blaring over their speakers when they began to brew — the Magnetic North Norwegian white IPA can only be a melodious product (as shown in the photo at top).

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Saturday, March 24, 2018

Thirsty Monk Is Not What You're Expecting

A part of me didn't want to like Thirsty Monk. It is, after all, an out-of-state brewery that took over an (albeit closing) local beer maker and brought its North Carolina wares to a town whose brewing scene is beginning to feel oversaturated.

But my outlook - and the likely attitude of any other hard-care Colorado craft-beer folk - changed not long after seeing the welcome mat that Denver's newest brewery threw down this week for others in the industry at its Uptown space that used to belong to Deep Draft Brewing. Like most of us who call the area home, Thirsty Monk may not have been Colorado-born, but it's trying to become a part of the community as quickly as possible.

That starts with the approach of owner Barry Bialik (pictured at right), who operated as a craft-beer bar when Thirsty Monk opened its first location in Asheville 11 years ago and tried to bring in beers not just from around his state but from throughout the country. He keeps a list of everything he's ever tapped there, and a quick look at the 30 offerings he's put up from Great Divide Brewing alone shows that Barry has likely tried and promoted some rarities that even most Denver beer aficionados haven't sipped.

When he moved into making beer, he decided that he wanted to concentrate on selling across the bar, even though he has limited distribution. So, despite opening Thirsty Monk in Denver officially on Monday and in Portland very soon, he will make enough beer at the three locations just to be sold at the three locations - literally shipping N.C-made beers to Denver and vice versa so that drinkers in other places will be able to try the tastes of different regions.

Oh, and he'll ship other kegs from Denver back to North Carolina as well - namely those of the breweries that don't now distribute out of state. In doing so, he'll give his Asheville patrons a chance to sample Denver in a way that most of the country can't - and give local breweries with small budgets the chance to expose national drinkers to their products.

And the beer? Well, Thirsty Monk's Belgian-style and Belgian-inspired offerings are spot on.

The Farmhouse IPA, which uses its yeast to give it just a hint of bubble gum on the front of the palate and its hops to give it a dry but not bitter finish on the back, is a fascinating combination of the old world and the new world. Brother Noah (pictured at left), a Belgian stout named after Barry's son and made with the chocolate made by the family of his son's best friend, is sooty and full of cocoa without being overly sweet. And the Saint Asheville 10th Anniversary Honey Citrus Tripel — which manages to be brimming with honey but not so much that it covers up an herby, complex body, shows what the brewery can do when it really reaches for something more.

Thirsty Monk quickly will become part of the Denver brewing community, and it will be a welcome addition, given how few brewers within the city have a Belgian concentration. And with its 16 original taps, two guest taps and "snack" program pairing its beers with meats and cheeses from local shops, it understands the spirit of the city pretty well for being a transplant.

"I love the camaraderie here. I love this," Bialik said, noting the dozens of breweries who came to an industry reception and slapped stickers from their breweries on the back of his bar to welcome Thirsty Monk to the community. "I love that we threw a party with all the brewers, invited them on short notice and this many came."

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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

A Brewery Closing That Should Worry Craft Beer Lovers

For years now beer aficionados have watched 45 to 60 breweries a year open in Colorado and said goodbye to a half-dozen to a dozen per year. But rarely has a closing been as worrisome as that of the soon-to-disappear Beryl's Beer in Denver.

Among the breweries that shuttered in recent years, many were, to be blunt, not good. And if they were impressive, then you could generally divide their departures into two categories - unsupportive, profit-mongering investors (Del Norte Brewing) or breweries in hot areas whose landlords literally sold their building out from under them (Pateros Creek Brewing).

But Beryl's, the barrel-aging specialists tucked into an unassuming space in the RiNo neighborhood, did not fall into either of those categories. This was a brewery that churned out increasingly impressive complex beers, particularly in regard to its sour offerings, and had a landlord that backed it. It went after its own niche and succeeded. And yet, there wasn't enough business to keep it going.

That landlord noted in a Friday article by the always-on-the-ball Jonathan Shikes of Westword that competition was rising and that constant road work and nearby construction kept traffic away. The second factor is particularly understandable as a reason for business failing to meet expectations, but there are other breweries in RiNo that continue to operate under these less-than-optimal conditions.

What's toughest about the fate that will befall Beryl's by the end of next month is what it says about the possibility we are hitting the saturation point for breweries in some parts of the metro area - a point that has seemed for a long time to be many years down the road. Maybe this isn't the absolute sign that we're there, but if the Denver craft-beer community can't support a place like Beryl's, it sure as hell seems to be close to it.

Opened in 2014, the brewery had a knack for producing a lot of beers that made you shake your head in agreement, and a few that blew your taste buds. Trent's Plums, a mesmerizing sour brown ale aged two years in red wine barrels with Italian plums, expertly straddled the line between being tart and too tart, challenging you as it satisfied you. The Mila Petite Rouge elevated the art of fruit infusing its taste even in a sour body. And beer like its Logan's Barrel Reserve Baltic porter and its Vila Wald dampfbier demonstrated how much the right barrel can add to an already well-crafted base beer.

Yet a brewery like this couldn't find enough support to keep going in Denver. That says something.

Maybe we are spreading ourselves too thin, at too many festivals, too many beer bars, too many taprooms. It's a good problem to have, given the lack of options the Mile High City had just eight years ago. And it's not that any of these watering holes or events should go away, as the variety of spots to drink great beer is part of what makes Denver such an intriguing place.

But when we start losing good breweries - the kind you could take an out-of-town beer geek friend to and wow them, as I once did at Beryl's - the warning flags should go up. Maybe we have more room to grow, thinning out just the places that haven't made an impact on the local scene. But maybe, just maybe, we've gotten to the point where even the breweries that make up parts of the fabric of this city's scene aren't safe unless they find the right marketing and distribution mojo to match their beer-making abilities.

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Friday, March 09, 2018

It's a Coffee Beer World

In the chicken-or-egg scenario, the answer is clear: Craft breweries began to grow exponentially before craft coffee roasters did. But now that the local business segments are on similar trajectories, there may not be a better partnership in the alcohol industry.

What's more, coffee beers have become one of the most studied and talked-about trends among the many booming styles in craft beerdom. From a panel discussion at January's Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywines Festival to Saturday's upcoming Cool Beans Beer & Coffee Festival at Ratio Beerworks in Denver, the offerings are being pored over as much as they are being poured — and beer drinkers are the beneficiaries.

Once a pairing that seemed only to be made straight up with stouts and porters, coffee is appearing now in everything from lighter ales to sours. And brewers are adding lactose, dextrose and spices to make your coffee beer feel like it too is served with sugar and cream, or with the appropriate ingredients to label it Mexican Coffee.

The idea of adding coffee to beer is not a new one, noted John Holl, editor of Craft Beer & Brewing magazine at the panel he led at Big Beers in Breckenridge. But the way it's being used now make shock the sensibilities of those brewers who first experimented it with it in the early days of what then was called the microbrewing movement.

One needs look only at Carton Brewing of New Jersey, where owner Augie Carton makes offerings of 12 percent and higher meant to simulate the common ways locals take their java — "regular coffee" with cream and two sugars and Italian-style with a dash of amaretto. The resulting beers — Regular Coffee Imperial Cream Ale and Caffe Caretto — use lactose, dextrose, anise and licorice to mimic those tastes, and they taste more like strong Belgian ales than a classic porter with roast in it.

More locally, Epic Brewing, long known for the coffee it blends perfectly into its Big Bad Baptist barrel-aged imperial stout with cocoa nibs, has diversified its offerings with its Son of a Baptist and its Coffee Cream Ale, not to mention offshoots like its ridiculous Triple Barrel Big Bad Baptist. And while the brewery's earned its reputation by going for the extreme, there may be no beer in Colorado in which the coffee owns the flavor quite so much as the deceptively smooth and drinkable Son of a Baptist imperial stout.

Oskar Blues also has brought alcoholic life to the party with is Java Barrel-Aged Ten Fidy, which uses the barreling and the coffee to mellow the beer in a slight but necessary way and give it a sweet, surprisingly easy body for a 12.9% ABV beer.

And then there are the wide range of beers that are adding coffee to their spicy Mexican stouts, creating an even more complex version of a beer that tastes already like a distinctly foreign drink. Crazy Mountain's Rum Barrel Aged Spanish Coffee Stout is a prime example of this.

Not everything blends seamlessly with coffee, to be sure. Jordan Schupbach, Epic director of brewing operations, noted during the Big Beers panel (pictured above) that he tried to brew a coffee beer with a lager yeast and it didn't turn out. Left Hand brewhouse manager added that he used a light-roasted coffee with a more light-bodied amber ale and "it just turned out to be not a good beer."

And brewers continue to push the taste barriers still, finding offerings that pair with coffee in newer and more intriguing ways.

Ratio's festival, running from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, will feature a coffee session IPA, a coffee chocolate rye scotch ale and a whiskey-barrel-aged Irish coffee American strong ale. The event, which aims to show off how many ways coffee can blend with beers to create new tastes, is as much education as it is imbibing.

Sure, the now-old-fashioned trick of blending dark coffee taste with a beer that also is as dark as night still works too. One need only try the Spaghetti Western Imperial Chocolate Coffee Stout, a collaboration between Prairie Artisan Ales and Italian beer maker Brewfist, to sense that.

But coffee beers are growing and diversifying, just as the coffee-roasting industry is. And that's a dark area worthy of having light shone onto it.

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