"Beer in Colorado" is dedicated to that divine elixir born of the marriage of water, malt, hops, and yeast as interpreted
by those living in Colorado. Follow the author as he visits every brewery in the state, creates experimental homebrews,
attends beer festivals, tries interesting beers from around the world, and spreads the good word of beer. Prost!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Newlyweds in the Old World: Northern Ireland

To read about the first leg of our honeymoon, Dublin, click here.

Northern Ireland

Having drunk the Irish capital dry, we hopped a train at Connolly Station and headed to Northern Ireland which—as a tidbit of information to the geographically challenged—is a constituent country of the U.K. making it a distinctly different nation from normal Ireland (or, the Republic of Ireland if you prefer).

Giant's Causeway
Giant's Causeway
Giant's Causeway
Giant's Causeway
Our first stop in Northern Ireland was the village of Bushmills where we stayed at the Rest A While B&B.  I only mention the name because we had such a pleasant experience and I want to give them the recognition they deserve.  Rest A While is close to town, the proprietor is exceptionally friendly and helpful (she gladly stored in her fridge the bottles of beer I brought so I could enjoy them chilled), and the room was as comfy as the backs of the bleeting sheep outside our window.

Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge
Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge
Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge
Rest A While also provides a bike rental service which Nicole and I used to great effect, spending an entire day riding the rugged, Cliffs of Insanity-esque coastline of County Antrim (the actual filming location of the Cliffs of Insanity is in southwestern Ireland).  Meandering through the rolling pastures dotted with puffs of white—and the occasional black—woolen ruminants, we pedaled narrow, winding roads to Dunseverick Castle, the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, and the real-life Q*bert game board known as the Giant’s Causeway.  Indeed, while this particular portion of our journey featured very little beer, it was my favorite.  This rural soul of mine often needs a break from the stuffiness of the city.  Sitting atop a craggy sea cliff, one simultaneously feels akin to a Celtic warrior on watch for Viking marauders, a tweed-coated poet inspired by the brutal majesty of the rock-strewn shores, and an archaeologist/adventurer à la Indiana Jones exploring hidden caves and ancient ruins.

Dunseverick Castle
Take note: I said the day featured very little beer; I didn’t say it was devoid of booze, though.  The astute reader may be thinking to themselves, “They’re in Bushmills, eh?  I wonder if there’s any connection to that famous distillery.”  There is!  The world’s oldest licensed distillery, the Old Bushmills Distillery, sits at the edge of town.  We took the tour and, while my alcohol familiarity pertains mostly to beer, I felt I was at least half-knowledgeable on the inner workings of whiskey since, before distillation, it’s basically hop-less beer.  After the beer stage, though, it’s all Greek to me.  I suppose that’s why one takes the tour, though: to learn something new.  Heck, I didn’t even know whiskey’s clear before being put in barrels; that’s 101 stuff to a true aficionado, I'm sure.  But, hey, I just drink the stuff (occasionally).  We also learned that Bushmills bottles for Jameson, that all the barrels used by Bushmills previously held a different liquid (usually Bourbon or sherry), and that bungholes smell quite lovely when they're of the whiskey barrel variety.  After the tour, we received a dram of our choosing.  I had the spicy Bushmills Black Bush and Nicole tried the Distillery Reserve, a whiskey only available at the actual, physical distillery. 

Black Bush
After a very full day riding country roads, we left Bushmills for Belfast.  We were lucky to get out, too; we left on Sunday morning and, apparently, because the nearby town of Portrush is home to numerous nightclubs (and the home of two crappy roller coasters we rode despite their shoddiness), the taxi drivers are too pooped from chauffeuring drunk Saturday night revelers that they take Sunday off.  Thankfully, our host at Rest A While personally knew a driver and basically made him give us a ride.  So, once again I say, Rest A While’s a good place to stay when in Bushmills; they’ll go up to bat for ya.

We only had two half-days in Belfast so we didn’t fully immerse ourselves in the local scene.  We went to the weekend market at St. George’s and, most pertinent to the nature of this blog, The Crown Liquor Saloon, likely the most ornate pub one can hope to set foot in.

Across the street from Europa Hotel (which claims the notorious title of “most bombed hotel in Europe”), The Crown, a masterpiece of Victorian design, envelopes patrons in a cocoon of opulence.  Impervious to the passing of time, the palatial Crown is firmly stuck in the 1880’s with intricately tiled floors, stained glass windows, pressed tin ceiling, elaborate wood-carved lions, fish-scaled pillars, and bar dividers, and, a treat for those familiar with a certain bar on Denver’s Colfax Avenue, authentic Irish snugs.  Though we were but two people and the snugs large enough to comfortably seat the Nuggets’ starting line-up, Nicole and I snuck in and enjoyed the gilded cubicle for a few minutes.  We left the door open to signify our openness to company but I think it’s an unwritten rule that if the snug is occupied even by only two people, stay out.  Topping off the lavish atmosphere was true, traditional, CAMRA-approved cask ale—the first we’d seen on the trip and certainly not the last. 



General musings on Northern Ireland
·         If you decide to engage in any outdoor activities along the northern coast, beware the stinging nettle (urtica dioica).  It’s a prolific, tall, purple-stalked weed and, as the name suggests, it stings like a S.O.B. when brushed up against.  Seriously, for 15 minutes it feels like a swarm of disgruntled bees on the infected area and it bubbles the skin like a burn from a cast-iron stove.  After a quarter-hour it subsides but, until such time, it’s a world of pain.  I came in contact with it so many times I started to develop an immunity.

This plant sucks
·         On our bike ride worthy of a Kerouac novel, we stopped at the world famous Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge but, honestly, my favorite site was Dunseverick Castle.  It’s not the most impressive castle in the world (it’s not even the most impressive castle in the vicinity [See: DunluceCastle]).  In fact, it’s basically two rock walls.  It’s heap of rubble.  And that’s what I love about it. 

One feels a stronger connection to the ancient ones when visiting a structure that’s not been polished and refurbished by modern hands.  Also, since it’s not quite as awe-inspiring as other castles, most tourists forgo Dunseverick Castle, leaving alone people such as myself to peacefully sit by the lapping North Atlantic and contemplate human history, our place in the natural order, and the legacy we leave for future generations.  It’s kind of hard to engage in such meditative exercises when kids in popsicle-stained shirts, angsty teenagers, and suburban parents with clicking cameras are running around.  It’s for these reasons I also prefer Hovenweep slightly more than Mesa Verde.

Into the snug at The Crown
Aside from the castle itself, Dunseverick’s setting is a place of grandeur.  The castle sits atop a seaside, grassy mesa which, itself, is surrounded by a horseshoe of cliffs with a U-shaped valley in between.  At the ends of the valley there are secluded, rocky beaches sheltered by the soaring bluffs and it’s all absolutely magnificent.  And dangerous.  Being a fan of the Moab area, I’m used to being at cliff’s edge.  A dry cliff’s edge.  At Dunseverick Castle, the rim is covered with wet grass, mud, spongy soil, and sheep droppings—it just begs for the foot to slip.  Plus, those damn stinging nettles everywhere.
·         Probably the best burger in Europe can be found at one of the booths in St. George’s Market.  I don’t know how they make “pepper sauce” but it tastes like crushed black pepper in viscous liquid form.  Superb!

Musings on Northern Ireland’s beer scene
·         Northern Ireland’s Beer Scene?  Well, it exists, I’m sure.  We simply didn’t get to experience much of it during our short visit.  I drank a lot of Whitewater Brewery’s offerings while in Bushmills but we never actually went to the brewery as it was quite a bit out of our way.  They have a few breweries in Belfast, too, but most were not within our general area and one was only a Guinness outpost.  Truly, I cannot comment much on beer in Northern Ireland as we spent too little drinking time there.


Favorite beers from Northern Ireland
·         Colorado Red from Thornbridge Brewery.  This is actually an English beer and I bought it in Dublin.  But, I drank it in Northern Ireland so I’m counting it.  I bought it for the name which derives from the fact it was a collaboration with Odell Brewing Co.  Enjoyed at Rest A While.
·         Nicholson’s Pale Ale from St. Austell Brewery, our first cask ale of the honeymoon.  I liked this more for the environment I drank it in, The Crown Liquor Saloon.  This beer is also of English origins.

Stay tuned for the next leg of our honeymoon: Glasgow.

Prost!

Chris

Atop a seaside mountain overlooking Giant's Causeway
Most bombed hotel in Europe

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Newlyweds in the Old World: Dublin

After years of living in sin, Nicole and I made an honest man/woman of each other and tied the knot thus making our union official in the eyes of God and the tax collector.  Although I could gush on-and-on about my beautiful, vibrant wife, methinks it best to stay on point, forgo saccharine verbiage, and remain relevant to the raison d'être of this blog—beer.  While the ceremony and reception were boozy affairs indeed (click here for more info on that), I’ll focus on what happened afterwards, what happened when we set sail on an adventure in craft beer, cask ale, and small-batch whiskey.  Let me tell you about our honeymoon in Ireland and Scotland.

Dublin

Our trek across the Old World began in the medieval capital of Ireland: Dublin.  With stone-walled buildings weeping wet, black sediment and narrow, cobblestoned alleyways, Dublin is everything your mind’s eye sees when reading James Joyce (except for the automobiles, contemporarily dressed citizens, and modern-day fast food restaurants).  The only discrepancy was the lack of melancholic gray haze oft associated with the city; in fact, Dublin was experiencing a near-unprecedented heat wave during our visit.  Hell, I got sunburned!  I imagine the fair-skinned natives must have shut their doors and windows, warned their children to stay out of the light lest they curl up and sizzle like a strip of bacon.


Soaking in the rare rays of sun, we enjoyed a stroll through the Dublin Zoo, a seaside hike along the craggy bluffs of nearby Howth, and hopped from pub-to-pub visiting such noted establishments as the quintessential Temple Bar and the Uber-Victorian Long Hall which, if it were built today, would be derided for its garishness: beveled mirrors, intricate woodworking, dangling chandeliers, and jubilant ruby-red color scheme.  However, since it’s historical, one is more forgiving in their judgment and magnanimous words such as “opulence” and “classical” are more apt descriptors. 



We also stopped at The Brew Dock, a craft beer bar operated by the Galway Bay Brewery that boasts traditional pub atmosphere with the improvement of Irish craft beer on tap.  Here’s my official endorsement: when in Dublin, do not miss The Brew Dock.  The staff is over-and-beyond friendly, willing to dole out free samples, and eager to engage in a beer geeky conversation.  It’s like chatting up your best beer buddy (if your buddy sports a thick brogue).  Bull & Castle, an upscale steakhouse with a craft beer bent, is also worth a visit if you have a little extra cash in your pocket.  I told the waiter to bring me a flight of random Irish-made beers and it turned out to be a smart tactic; I received some mighty tasty brews and got a handle on what Irish craft beer is all about.

The Brew Dock
As avid brewery travelers, Nicole and I made sure to drink Irish beer at the source by visiting two Dublin breweries—neither one Guinness.  Yes, yes, I’ve heard the old chestnut: “It tastes better over there!”  That’s true but it’s still just goddamn Guinness.  A fine beer it is but it’s nothing special.  I can drink the slightly-diminished version on U.S. soil (although I rarely do as there’s usually a better, Colorado-made stout pouring from the next tap over).  I have had Guinness in Ireland before—it didn’t astound me as much as people would have you believe.  So, no Guinness for us.  Instead, we visited J.W. Sweetman Craft Brewery and The Porterhouse Brewing Co.

Sorachi Ace Brown

Situated along the banks of the River Liffey, J.W. Sweetman looks like any other pub in the land of Éire save for the tiny, glass-enclosed room near the entrance where cramped brewing equipment huddles like a quad lift carrying a five-man ski team.  Nearly all buildings in the heart of Dublin are antiquated and, as such, feature many tight corners and narrow hallways (if Ireland had the same ADA laws as the U.S., they’d have to raze the whole country).  Ergo, it's necessary to shove all the brewing equipment in one corner; the elbow room isn’t exactly ample.  The flagship line-up was a list of the standards: porter, Irish red, pale ale…etc.  I chose from their specialty menu and ordered a classic brown ale hopped with Sorachi Ace.  The Japanese hop is said to possess a gamut of flavors ranging from lemon to dill to bubblegum to coriander and beyond and, while I’m not sure I was detecting much of that, I appreciate the innovative effort.

Oyster Stout
Porterhouse has several locations but the first one—the one we visited—sits squarely in the pub-crawling neighborhood of Temple Bar.  This multi-leveled brew pub is like an M.C. Escher drawing with its numerous stairways and hidden alcoves; leave a trail of breadcrumbs when you go to the bathroom.  I ordered their best-selling stout, Oyster Stout, which is the Dublin stout you should be drinking; it’s thicker, creamier, and packed full of more sweetness than its famous counterpart from St. James’s Gate

General musings on Dublin

·         Pedestrians beware!  The sidewalks in Dublin are about as wide as your shoulders, packed full of people, and run parallel to busy streets.  If you’re feeling crowded and flustered by the hordes, duck into a dark pub and recollect yourself over a pint as we did.
·         For a quick getaway from the urban hustle and bustle, hop a train to the fishing village of Howth.  It smells a bit funky and it’s infested with seagulls but the trail skirting atop the rims of the ocean-side cliffs is rugged and beautiful—a perfect outing for the avid Colorado hiker wishing to experience Ireland’s natural wonders.

Hiking around Howth
Howth from the start of the trail
Musings on Dublin’s beer scene

·         I had been to Dublin five years prior to this trip and, in the span of a half-decade, I noticed a lot more pubs advertising craft beer, a testament to the far-reaching power of the craft beer movement.  I, of course, stuck to Irish-made craft beer but Colorado’s own Odell Brewing Co. was a popular offering; if a pub had American craft beer, they had Odell.
·         To compare the Colorado craft beer scene to Ireland’s (it seems fairer to make a state-to-country comparison than a country-to-country one since Colorado alone is already three times as large as Ireland; to compare the entire U.S. to Ireland is much too lop-sided.  Colorado and Ireland also have similar populations), I’d say Ireland is a fledgling.  The beer’s great, of course, but Irish brewers haven’t, as far as I noticed, yet entered into unknown territory (unless you count the Sorachi Ace brown ale I mentioned earlier).  The tap lists were inundated with porters, stouts, red ales, IPAs, pale ales and other such entry-level beers but Belgian-style beers were few and far between.  Imperial anythings seemed unheard of.  Finding a sour beer was like finding a seven-leaf clover in the lapel of a 5'11" leprechaun. 


Ireland already has the Irish dry stout and the Irish red to its name but, other than that, there’s nothing distinctly Irish on the market.  Here in the states we’ve eked out unique niches.  We’ve Americanized and/or imperialized the IPA, the pale ale, the stout, and many other styles.  We’ve created the Cascadian dark ale, the chili beer, the cream ale, the steam beer, and the divisive pumpkin beer.  We have styles that were conceived, born, raised, and loved right here in our own country.  Currently, Ireland’s still coasting on the dry stout and Irish red.  I’m excited for Irish beer’s future, I’m curious if brewers over there will catch the creative bug.  Might we one day see an Irish-style barleywine?  An Irish-style saison?  Or perhaps something completely new and tasting distinctly of the Emerald Isle?  Time will tell.

Dublin Zoo
Favorite beers from Dublin

·         The aforementioned Oyster Stout from Porterhouse.
·         Buried at Sea, a decadent chocolate milk stout from Galway Bay Brewery.  On par with Odell’s Lugene.  Enjoyed at The Brew Dock.
·         Sunburnt Irish Red from Eight Degrees Brewing.  A darker Irish red with hints of molasses.  Enjoyed at Bull & Castle.
·         Irish Red from O’hara’s.  Complexly malty with notes of vanilla, wood, and molasses.  Enjoyed at Bull & Castle.

Stay tuned for the next leg of our honeymoon: Northern Ireland.

Prost!


Chris

Dubh Linn Gardens
Dublin Castle
Dublin Zoo
St. Patrick's Cathedral

Thursday, May 15, 2014

New Brew Fest showcases Colorado's greenhorn breweries

Brewery oversaturation: a played-out idea.  It’s not real (at least not for another few decades).  There are a thousand reasons why the notion of brewery oversaturation is a crock but I’ll leave you to your own devices on that one; search the internet and find the mythbusting facts for yourself (you can start here).

Since that little alarmist’s cry has been stifled, people have been conjuring up new ways to rain on craft beer’s parade.  Now, it’s not about how many new breweries are opening, it’s about how many new breweries are good.  It’s become a quality issue and, if you talk to Chicken Little, a few bad beers are poised to take down the entire industry.  Again I say, get on Google and search the topic yourself.  There’s no shortage of doomsayer articles.

I’m not writing a treatise on why the quality debate should, like the oversaturation debate, be dropped but I can’t help but make a few points.  First, commercial Darwinism is real.  The strong breweries will survive while the weak wither and die.  I hate to see any craft brewery close but that’s the cold, harsh reality of capitalism.  Paying customers will weed out subpar breweries before they do any real damage to craft beer’s overall public image. 
Whistle Stop Park

Secondly, the definition of “bad beer” is very, very subjective.  Official BJCP style guidelines exist but, in the end, customers drink whatever they want to drink regardless of whether or not it fits a certain parameter.  In Denver, there are breweries most “experts” deem as in need of improvement yet walk by any given weekend and the place is crammed with thirsty patrons.  You can rationalize it, say those patrons are idiots for supporting such a lacking establishment, but it doesn’t change the fact that the brewery is doing good business and people are enjoying their experience.  All due respect to the late Paul Walker but, if it were in my hands, I’d scrub the earth clean of every copy of every Fast and Furious movie because it’s an undeniably insipid film franchise.  But, it’s also a successful franchise and hasn’t done anything to diminish the erudite reputation of Cannes’ arthouse films.  This reality is paralleled in craft beer.  



Lastly, who’s to say good beer isn’t destroying the craft beer industry?  Pliny the Younger and Heady Topper are the Citizen Kane of craft beers, widely considered the top of the heap.  However, would Fast and Furious fans accrue any pleasure from viewing Orson Welles’ masterpiece?  No.  They’ll say it’s boring and then bring up Netflix to order Transformers: Dark of the Moon.  Why should anything different be expected when the man who’s only drank Bud Light his entire life sips an imperial IPA?  Undoubtedly, he’ll hate it and assume all craft beer is as awful and bitter, henceforth eschewing independent breweries.  As a matter of fact, this man should be given a terrible craft beer because it’d be more in line with his usual fare.  Once he’s introduced to the world of craft beer, he can explore further and grow and develop into a more sophisticated drinker.  Bad craft beer is, in essence, a gateway beer to bigger and better things.        

I’m dubious as to how detrimental new brewery quality really is to the industry as a whole.  I’m especially dubious after having attended the New Brew Fest in Niwot this past weekend—a beer fest for breweries five years or younger—where almost everything on tap tasted fabulous!



Sponsored by Colorado Beer Trail and Bootstrap Brewing, the inaugural New Brew Fest was held at Whistle Stop Park, a small, railroad-themed patch of grass on the edge of Niwot parallel to Diagonal Highway and the same freight train tracks running by Sanitas Brewing Co.  Having a locomotive roar past, ten feet from the beer tents, added an extra element of excitement to New Brew Fest; it mixed in a sense of danger and connected back to Colorado’s industrious past.  It’s such a simple thing, a careening train, but it added much to the event’s ambiance.  Click here to see just how close the train got to the festival.

Some stand-out moments from New Brew Fest:

·         Every first-time event has a few hiccups.  At New Brew Fest, the most obvious concern was the insufficient number of port-o-potties.  Indeed, a beer fest could rent every port-o-potty in the world and it’d still be insufficient because every beer festival attendant is a potential Niagara Falls.  Nonetheless, there was certainly room for more stalls and they could have cut the wait time by at least a few minutes. 

Okay, there was one other hiccup. This seems legit enough until...
...I think there's something missing here
·         When a beer fest features live music, to me it’s either white noise or intrusively loud.  However, I have to give it up to the first band at New Brew Fest who performed a bluegrass-yet-rock-n-roll rendition of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.”  My inner “Weird Al” Yankovic fan appreciated the humor of it all.  That wasn't their only great cover, either; Nicole couldn't help but find herself singing along with and swaying to their music.
·         Nicole and I made a concerted effort to visit the breweries we’ve yet to see in person and, because the breweries at New Brew Fest are so new (or because Nicole and I just haven’t gotten around to them), we had a lot to visit.  They included 300 Suns Brewing, 4 Noses Brewing Co., Powder Keg Brewing Co., 12 Degree Brewing Co., Very Nice Brewing Co., and Wonderland Brewing Co.     
·         Some memorable beers from New Brew Fest: the sour and spritz-y Mimosa, a sour ale aged in Champagne barrels with Satsuma oranges, from Powder Keg (their hibiscus saison was also stellar), the fruit-tastic and summery Passion Fruit Wheat from Industrial Revolution Brewing Co., the green-tea infused Lu Yu Golden Ale from The Post Brewing Co., and the New Zealand-hopped Legal Nelson from 12 Degree Brewing Co. 

New Brew Fest wants you to play it safe and ride your bike.
Hold your head high, new breweries; although the current trend is to drag your good name through the dirt, insinuate your poor-quality beer will eventually destroy the craft beer niche that more senior breweries worked so hard to hew out, the truth is it’s all just generational bickering.  The Baby Boomers disparaged the Gen Xers and the Gen Xers thumb their noses at the Millenials just as older breweries put down new breweries.  That’s fine; today’s new breweries will surely continue the tradition of crapping on the new guys when next decade’s breweries roll out.  In the meantime, though, know that new breweries pose no serious threat to the industry as a whole—New Brew Fest made that abundantly clear.

Prost!

Chris    

P.S. The gourmet waffle food truck was to die for.  We ordered the caramel apple waffle and it was a glorious pile of whipped cream, sugar, caramel, and everything else that is terrible for the body.



Thursday, May 1, 2014

Lagers in Englewood: What CAMRA's Missing Out On

The United States is the premier beer nation.  That’s not ego talking, that’s the truth.  We’ve influenced yeast-forward Belgian brewers to dabble in American hops, we’ve convinced German brewers to revive their trade by giving Americanized craft beers a shot, and we’ve inspired breweries like Scotland’s Brew Dog to forgo tradition and brew big, bold, genre-defying beers.  We’re leading the pack in innovation.     

Admittedly, that’s not always been the case.  In fact, as recently as 15-20 years ago, America was the laughingstock of the brewing world and had been for decades prior.  “How’re American beer and sex in a canoe similar?  They’re both F’ing close to water!” went the joke.  Nowadays—thanks to patriotic beer drinkers eschewing the wares of domestic mega-brands—craft beer is steadily growing, macrobeers are steadily declining, and the U.S. beer industry is the envy of the world.

To what can one attribute America’s rapid rise to the top?  It’d be insincere to ignore the old school brewers of the Old World; without a healthy European brewing tradition, the American craft beer scene would be nonexistent.  Where would New Belgium be without the lessons of old Belgium?  Where would the most popular craft beer style, the American IPA, be if England didn’t invent its predecessor?  Never forget your roots, America.

St. Patrick's Brewing Company
What differentiates American brewers from those across the Atlantic, however, is our spirit of adventure, our straying from the norm.  You can’t knock a solid, traditionally-made beer; they’ve stood the test of time and they’re deserving of our admiration.  For posterity’s sake, I hope the classic beer styles never wither and die.  Nonetheless, brewers need to look towards the future, too.  There’s room at the bar for both new and old.  If attention is focused on the latter, the culture of beer becomes stale, outdated.

The entity shouldering the most guilt in preventing beer’s forward motion is the U.K.-based advocacy group Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA).  I hesitate to compare CAMRA to the America-based Brewers Association (BA) because they’re different in sundry respects but they’re similar in that they both promote (their definition of) great beer. 

Don’t misunderstand me; I believe CAMRA to be a well-intentioned organization.  They’ve done much to pave the way for the current craft beer craze but it’s time to re-write the books and bring CAMRA into the 21st Century.  What’s so obsolete about CAMRA?  Brew Dog wrote an exceptional blog post highlighting the archaic guidelines that define the group (Click here to read the article) but, for this post, I’d like to concentrate on the most obvious limitation: the name is CAMRA, not CAMRAL—they totally discount lagers!

Inside St. Patrick's
The U.K. doesn’t really “do” lagers; I can’t, off the top of my head, call to mind a classic lager style born in that region—none that have survived into the present day, anyway.  CAMRA is, at its core, a nationalistic organization invested in the beers of its own land.  That’s all well and good but—guess what?—lagers still exist.  And they comprise nearly half of all the world’s beer styles.  And they’re just as good as ales.  And there are U.K. craft brewers today making lagers.  And it’s B.S. lagers don’t fall under CAMRA’s umbrella of endorsement because all well-crafted beers should be celebrated. 

Here in America, the BA supports ales and lagers, classic styles and new innovations.  That’s why we’re at the top of the heap.  We never limit ourselves.  After visiting St. Patrick’s Brewing Company, an all-lager brewery in Englewood, I count my sudsy blessings I live in a country where all beer is welcome.

First, allow me to air one, single gripe about St. Patrick’s: that is one awful name for a craft brewery.  It comes packed with negative connotations; it sounds like a tourist pub in Boston or Dublin, not a pioneering nanobrewery in a south Denver suburb.  A place called St. Patrick’s serves green beer on March 17th, not stellar lagers year-round.  I’ll go to a bar named St. Patrick’s to have intoxicated frat bros vomit on my shoe, not to meet people with an affinity for the art and science of craft beer.

Plus, despite the uber-Irish appellation and logo, the specialty at St. Patrick’s isn’t beer from the Emerald Isle.  They brew Pilsners in the Czech, German, American, and Japanese style.  They brew bocks and schwarzbiers.  They brew Austrian and California lagers and lagered versions of saisons, dubbels, barleywines, and wits.  Hell, it seems they brew beer from every country except Ireland (there’re one or two exceptions).  This brewery suffers from an identity crisis. 

Midnight Mocha Lager
What’s in a name, though?  Not much because, even though I’m irked by the poor branding, the beer speaks for itself.  It speaks volumes, in fact.  This is world-class beer, folks; seriously, it’s a no-brainer to put St. Patrick’s on the top 10 list of best Colorado breweries and it’s not inconceivable it might break top five, either. 

Patrons driving up to St. Patrick’s taproom—on the backside of an office park so bland it’s almost flamboyant—might think they’ve arrived at a dentist’s office.  The interior does nothing to dissuade the oral hygiene vibe; the tiny taproom is decorated in the style of a waiting room and the “bar” is nothing more than a square hole in the wall where, in another incarnation of the space, a receptionist would check in patients.  The focus here is solely on the beer, not on feng shui. 

Everything St. Patrick’s makes is either a perfect replication of a classic lager or an insane, creative twist the likes of which most beer geeks have never drank.  St. Patrick’s does it all and they do it with expertise.  I ordered Midnight Mocha Lager (5.7% ABV) and HellEdel Helles (5.2% ABV).      

As the name suggests, Midnight Mocha is midnight-black in color and features a mocha-hued head.  Chocolate aromas permeate but they’re not overly powerful.  Relatively light in body, this beer is, in a nutshell, like cold, mildly-flavored cocoa.

HelleEdel and a taster of Luminosity Oak Reserve
HellEdel Helles, slightly hazy with a sunset orange color and white, fluffy head, sends off wafts of orange blossom honey.  Until I started writing this review and double-checking stats on the St. Patrick’s website, I had no idea there was actually orange blossom honey literally in the beer; an expert beer assessor I am not but I’m pretty proud when I’m able to rummage around with my nose, sniff out specific ingredients.  HellEdel is somewhat thick and creamy and tastes of the aforementioned honey along with light, malty sweetness. 

The beauty of St. Patrick’s—they provide free samplers.  Believe me, you’ll want to take advantage of the offer.  The beer is much too enticing to call it quits after only two.  Get a sip of them all because there’s not a stinker in the bunch.  The other beers I sampled include Red Lager (6.1% ABV), Luminosity Lager (5.8% ABV), Luminosity Oak Reserve (5.8% ABV), Saison Apple Lager (7% ABV), and Chocolate Peppermint Lager (7.3% ABV).  When at St. Patrick’s, let your palate explore; it will discover wondrous things!  

Right now, St. Patrick’s is relatively obscure but they deserve to be a part of the Colorado beer conversation and, indeed, the national conversation.  Please, check them out and give them your money.  I want them to expand and make their beer more accessible; Englewood is too far a drive to get my lager fix.

If you buy glassware at St. Patrick's, they give you this little snake thingy, too
The dreamer in me hopes St. Patrick’s future success will somehow, in some small way, influence CAMRA’s stance on lager beers.  St. Patrick’s is one in a legion of great lager-makers but perhaps, as a whole, the lagers of the world can convince the passé organization to see the error of its way.  Do I honestly believe CAMRA will ever make that major paradigm shift?  No, not really.  Their raison d'etre from the very beginning was to revive the old styles of Great Britain, shun modern advancements (whether said advancements are detriments or improvements), and basically ignore the practices of foreign brewers.  That’s fine; CAMRA will be CAMRA.  Thankfully, their influence is localized; their opinions don’t affect American brewers.

So, to those beers spurned by CAMRA, I welcome them to our shores saying:

Give me your lager, your beer, 
Your huddled masses yearning to drink free.
The wretched refuse, the object of CAMRA’s leer.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.
I lift my glass beside the brewery door!
      
Prost!

Chris


P.S.  After St. Patrick’s, I went to CAUTION: West where I received my “Extraordinary” badge on Untappd; that’s 1,000 unique beers!  

Look at this stud (and ignore the quality of the photograph)!


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Pick a Theme, Stick to the Theme: Kokopelli and Lowdown

Born c. 750-850 AD, the fertility god of the Hopi, Zuni, and other southwestern tribes shook off the desert dust, packed up his flute, traveled to the Colorado front range, and set up shop in a Westminster strip mall.  Welcome to Kokopelli Beer Company.


A far cry from the ancient cliff dwellings whence he came, the shopping center setting of Kokopelli’s namesake brewery fills an important niche in a fairly large Denver suburb; with Westminster Brewing Co.—only a few months old—as the only other brewery in town, Westminster is the opposite of a beer oasis.  It’s a patch of barren sand surrounded by oases, a sandbox in Eden.  As the municipalities around Westminster undergo their own brewery renaissances, Westminster itself seems immune to progress.  The people running Kokopelli were wise to open in this ‘burb; there was an obvious demand needing to be supplied.

Inside Kokopelli
When driving up to Kokopelli, be watchful for brewery signs.  The outside appearance is anything but descript, nothing save for the words “Beer Company” indicate there’s a brewery inside this shopping center.  No open garage door revealing happy revelers.  No grain silo sitting outside.  No hop vines crawling up the façade.  Indeed, everyday, non-drinking patrons at the shopping center probably drive by assuming it’s another massage parlor or Chinese restaurant.  Only beer geeks know what truly lies inside.

Kokopelli’s interior design is less cookie-cutter than the exterior but it’s still rather Plain Jane—a few pieces of art on the drywall, a chalkboard sign behind the bar.  The space isn’t bare but it isn’t flashy, either.

Nicole and I ordered a flight of three: Hopenstein Cascadian Dark (6.9% ABV), Pale Face Ale (5.5% ABV), and O.T.O.G.O.B. Irish Dry Stout (4.3% ABV).


Left to right: Hopenstein, Pale Face, & O.T.O.G.O.B.
A deep, dark, mahogany red, Hopenstein has a mocha-colored head and a milk chocolate nose.  Pine and citrus hops make an appearance but they’re quite mild.  There’s a touch of lingering bitterness but it seems less like the bitterness from a hop and more like that of a cocoa nib.

Pale Face is a cloudy, darkish yellow with lacey, white foam.  It features an aroma of clementine and that orange citrus taste follows through in the flavor followed by a bread-y aftertaste.  It’s more fruity than bitter but I wouldn’t call it a “fruit beer” per se.

Word on the street is only a select few people know what O.T.O.G.O.B. means.  I don’t know that acronym but I know this beer looks like a darker version of Hopenstein and it smells and tastes like dark chocolate with a light roast.  The flavor, too, is akin to Hopenstein except higher on roasted flavors, lower on bitterness.  As the style “Irish dry stout” suggests, O.T.O.G.O.B. finishes dry. 

Can't argue with that
Overall impression of Kokopelli: it’s pretty good.  Like I said earlier, Westminster is in dire need of local beer-slingers and Kokopelli fits the bill.  I don’t, however, like the theme.

Westminster is not the Southwest.  Granted, parts of Colorado are considered the Southwest but not Westminster.  Westminster is on the plains.  To put a brewery on the prairie and call it “Kokopelli” is a cultural misplacement.  One might say breweries like Prost Brewing and Hogshead Brewery are also juxtapositions to their surroundings (Colorado isn’t in Germany or the U.K., of course) but the difference there is that those two breweries continue their themes beyond the name; Hogshead brews traditional English ales and Prost brews traditional German beers.  They become islands of Europe in Denver, a quick, passport-less vacation abroad.


The ancient, native god of back rubs
Kokopelli, however, is like an egg in a carton: the carton is Westminster, the shell is American Southwest, but the inside of the egg goes right back to Westminster.  It’s a very thin theme at Kokopelli.  It’s too late to change the name but it’s not too late to commit to the name.  Give the interior a Southwest make-over.  Let’s see some red rock accents and Ancestral Puebloan artifacts. 

Even changing the names of the beer could help.  The name of the Cascadian dark ale is a pun on the title of a Gothic novel and nobody but two or three people knows what the hell the name of the Irish dry stout is supposed to mean--they just don’t fit the theme.  Give the beers appellations that evoke the grandeur of Chaco Canyon, Mesa Verde, or Canyon de Chelly.  If the brewers at Kokopelli are really clever, they’ll figure out how to make their beers taste like the theme, too.  Brew with cactus or other desert flora, perhaps.  Maybe a steinbier made with actual rocks gathered from the Southwest?  Let the imagination run wild!

After Kokopelli, Nicole and I grabbed lunch at LowDown Brewery + Kitchen which is as urban as Kokopelli is suburban: sleek concrete floors, brick, warehouse-style walls, exposed, vaulted, wood ceilings, and giant HVAC ducts coiling overhead.  If it weren’t a brewery, this space would be a hipster’s art gallery.  It’s a piece of Santa Fe Art District on Lincoln.  I also dig the words written on the floor—different ways to make a toast from around the world.

I ordered a Cuban sandwich and Sinister (8.5% ABV), a French saison brewed with wildflower honey and Szechuan peppers.  This cloudy orange concoction smells mostly of honey with some Belgian yeast spice swirling about.  The flavor is akin to ginger with perhaps an aftertaste of the Szechuan pepper.  I would have preferred more pepper as it was that odd-ball ingredient that first lured me into ordering Sinister.  Still, it was a pretty good beer with a tasty sandwich in a neat space.  The food will definitely bring me back and, when that happens, I look forward to trying more of their beer.

Sinister
Inside LowDown

As it says on the floor at LowDown:


Chris

Tanks at LowDown
Inside LowDown
The floors of LowDown
The floors of LowDown