Wednesday, July 25, 2018

From Idaho, With Love - But Also With Mixed Results

There aren't a whole lot of beers from Idaho that one can find in Colorado. Grand Teton Brewing, for one, invaded the state more than a decade ago and has left some tasty marks on liquor-store shelves, even if it's retired too many of its best beers. (Come back, Howling Wolf Weizenbock.)

Now, Payette Brewing - the seven-year-old Boise brewery that was the first in the Gem State to can its craft offerings, has entered the Denver market with a handful of its year-round beers. And while there are things to recommend it, this brewery may have a harder time finding its legs in a state that already is on the verge of being saturated with its own products.

First, the positive: Payette brings a quality lager to a market that is accused of being overflowing with hoppy and challenging beers but lacking in easy summertime drinkers (with some notable exceptions, such as these). A sharp beer, North Fork Lager uses its Bravo and Crystal hops to accentuate its flavor, both on the front end and in the pleasant aftertaste. It's tinged with both sweetness and crispness and is the kind of beer you can drink over and over in a season like this.

Its Aura: Guava & Hibiscus Sour Ale is not the most full-bodied or
most pucker-worthy sour you've ever tasted, and its lightness leaves the flavor less impactful than it should be. But the pleasant fruitiness of the guava is spot on, and the flavor grows on you, becoming slightly pricklier and more notable as it warms.

When it comes to its hoppy offerings, though, Payette will have a hard time standing up to Colorado's homegrown offerings.

Its Recoil India Pale Ale (pictured at top) features more bitterness on its back end than up front, leaving you too much time to ponder an unusually malty base that has a strange tinge of sweetness to it, as well as a surprising bite of alcohol for a 6.5% ABV beer. The body may be smooth, but the effect is one of leaving you confused as to exactly what kind of flavor this beer is looking to impart.

And Payette's Rodeo Citra Pale Ale simply feels lacking in hop bite. You accept that you are getting a sessionable beer (4% ABV) that's not going to rip your tongue apart. But the normally tropical flavor of Citra is lacking here, replaced by a late-breaking piny bitterness that is light even for its description and style.

Payette's website lists a much larger range of beers than the brewery is spotlighting for its entrance to this market, leaving you with the impression that these folks, who expanded into a 60-barrel brewing system in 2016, have a following and a desire to mix things up. But its first offerings in Colorado, which come at a time when several notable breweries are closing and others are struggling, don't feature the kind of originality or ingenuity that is likely to avert in-state drinkers' eyes away from the deluge of options already available to them.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2018

The Continuing Evolution of Beer and Food Pairing in Denver

Seemingly every burger joint that comes in from another state to open in Denver these days claims it is the new place to drink beer and enjoy good food in the Mile High City. So, it's nice to see Hopdoddy attempting to do something to earn that reputation.

The Austin-based sit-down burger joint, which opened several years ago next to Denver Union Station, introduced its new Brew Series in May.  The series features a local brewery that not only gets a couple of beers onto the monthly menu but gets one of its creations featured as an ingredient in a designated new burger for the month.

I got the chance to check out the promotion about a month ago, when it was in the bridge period between May and June. So, I got to try the Renegade Brewing beers that were part of the initial May pairing, along with the Big Kahuna Burger that was a June feature. But I learned enough during that visit to draw some key conclusions about the program, which is now in its third month.

First, while few beer connoisseurs would have complained had bigger-name breweries like Odell or Avery been featured, Hopdoddy has gone out of its way to focus on more local artisans - first Renegade, then Telluride Brewing in June and now Ratio Beerworks in July. That is a way of digging into your community, even if you're an out-of-state chain.

Second, the use of the beer within the recipes is clever, even if it doesn't redefine the art of cooking with beer. Hopdoddy mixed Telluride's Whacked Out Wheat into the teriyaki sauce of its Big Kahuna Burger; while the wheat isn't readily apparent, the sauce is less sticky than many of its ilk and more bursting out of the bun like a flavor waterfall. The July offering of a BBQ pulled pork sandwich made with a sauce incorporating Ratio's Dear You saison also sounds intriguing.

Lastly, while some eateries match up food and beer for the sake of saying they can do it, Hopdoddy makes food that just goes with beer. Yes, sandwiches like the Big Kahuna — a chicken patty topped with beer teriyaki sauce, pineapple, avocado and cilantro mayo — slide into a pairing with a lighter beer or even a citrus-forward pale ale so easily, it's almost unthinkable not to do it. But the Brew Series also features the introduction of a number of new sides too, and those include the buffalo fries made with blue cheese and buffalo sauce - a tasty creation that called out for an IPA pairing among the nine draft beers and additional nine bottled/canned beers on the menu.

One could probably pick out a number of restaurants in the Denver area doing pairings like these, and it's worth noting that any restaurant that is discussing such beer-and-food deals and doing it with a specific beer in mind or new beer-infused menu items is worth cheering for its efforts.

But Hopdoddy particularly is worth spotlighting because it's a chain from a town that isn't lacking in its own beer resume that is fully embracing Denver culture and finding a way to work with local breweries. And that is a sign of a continually maturing craft  beer market that only will lead to more of these ideas — until finding a craft-beer-and-food pairing is less difficult than finding a restaurant that isn't trying something of that sort.

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