"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!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

GABF 2014: The Awards

Great American Beer Festival (GABF) has once again blown through Denver and, once again, Nicole and I were on-hand to experience the wonder that is America’s premier beer festival.  How does one encapsulate the essence of GABF in a blog post?  Not easily; the festival is multi-faceted, nonlinear, and inconsistent to the narrative storytelling format.  Ergo, I shall recall my experiences via vignettes separated into broad categories: The Festival Itself, The Media Luncheon, and The Awards.

The Awards

·        Admittedly, I’ve already written an awards re-cap for Denver off the Wagon and much of the information in this post I’ve pulled from that previous article.  Nonetheless, I intend to add a few extra tidbits to make this version slightly more distinct.

·        Colorado was second in overall medals accrued.  Here’s a list of the top five:

1. California (46)
2. Colorado (39)
3. Oregon (22)
4. Texas (16)
5. Pennsylvania (12)

·        Colorado was also second in most gold medals.  This leads one to conclude that Colorado was the second best state at GABF.  I prefer first, of course, but that’s how 2014 shook out for Colorado:

            1. California (15)
            2. Colorado (10)
            3. Oregon (7)
            4. Texas: (6)
            5. Pennsylvania & Washington (5)

Good times at GABF

·        It doesn’t do much to sooth the emotional wounds of local football fans but, to the satisfaction of beer geeks, Colorado avenged its Super Bowl loss against Washington in the arena of craft beer.  The Seahawks may have pounded the Broncos 43-8 but Colorado nearly reversed the score in overall GABF medals: 39-9.  That’s a spread of 35 points in the Super Bowl and 30 points in GABF.

·        Colorado’s massive medal count is all the more impressive considering the total’s the sum of several diverse breweries working together from across the state.  34 different breweries representing 16 Colorado towns and cities snagged medals.  They included very, very big breweries (e.g. Coors, Rock Bottom, C.B. & Potts), exceeding small breweries (e.g. BRU, Diebolt, Former Future, Wit’s End), veterans of craft beer (e.g. Oskar Blues, Left Hand, Avery), newcomers (e.g. Platt Park, The Post, Station 26, Coda), mountain brewers (e.g. Dostal Alley, Telluride Brewing, Bonfire), and front range brewers (a lot of them).  Colorado’s not the land of one or two hotshot breweries, it boasts a team of breweries all doing their part to bolster the state’s prestigious brewing reputation.     

Spotted at GABF

·        Coors’ craft division, AC Golden Brewing Company, earned the award for Large Brewing Company and Large Brewing Company Brewer of the Year.  I sometimes wonder how event organizers determine a brewery’s size.  True, Coors is a large brewery.  Hell, it’s the largest single-site brewing facility in the whole damn world!  AC Golden, though, while owned by Coors, operates with near 100% autonomy, hardly ever answering to Coors’ big-wigs.  AC Golden’s equipment, likewise, is separate from Coor’s colossal, sequoia-wide kettles; the system on which AC Golden brews is actually on par with many mom-and-pop breweries around Denver.  Really, the only thing “large” about AC Golden is their wallet—Coors is footing their bills.  I suppose its financial magnitude puts it in the Large Brewing Company category. 

·        You like American-style brown ales?  Colorado’s the state for you!  We swept that category winning the bronze, silver, and gold!  From top to bottom, the victorious breweries were Upslope Brewing Company, Diebolt Brewing, and Telluride Brewing Co.  Unfortunately, Colorado’s category-sweeping achievement was overshadowed by California which dominated two categories: Barley-Wine Style Ale and Session Beer.

·        If you really want to get into some specific mathematics, according to the Brewers Association (BA):

“Top three states by ratio of medals to entries by state:
o    New Jersey: 19% with 16 entries and three medals
o    Alaska: 13% with 16 entries and two medals—tied with federal district Washington, D.C.: 13% with 8 entries and one medal
o   New Mexico: 10%  with 84 entries and eight medals”

You wouldn’t call these three states (four counting D.C.) the best of GABF due to their high percentage of wins but you might call them the most precise; instead of shot-gunning a bunch of entrants and hoping for a medal, instead of throwing the proverbial poo against the wall and seeing what sticks, these states streamlined the competition, sending only their most phenomenal beers.  They sent King Leonidas’ 300, they sent quality over quantity.  I give them kudos for cutting out the fluff.

Fat Head taps at GABF
·        Also according to the BA:

“Four breweries tied for most medals won, with three medals each:
o   Left Hand Brewing Co.”

That’s an unfair statement to Barley Brown’s and Devils Backbone, though, because they each netted four medals except each of their fourth medals came from a separate brewing facility.  Not all the medaling beers were born under the same roof but the same logo hung on each of the two buildings.  All were nurtured by the same company.  Ergo, two breweries tied for most medals won so congratulations to Barley Brown’s and Devils Backbone.  Colorado’s own Left Hand was right in the hunt with three silvers.

·        Longtime readers know I’m native to Indiana and, while the Hoosier State didn’t exactly mop the floor with the competition, Indianapolis-based Sun King Brewery won a silver and gold in the same category!  They do a Wood-and Barrel-Aged Strong Beer right!  One brewery claiming two-thirds of one category is seriously prodigious.  Did they load up on the category, hoping at least one of their beers would medal?  Was it a twist of fate they ended up with two awards?  I don’t know but Sun King earned their bragging rights with that one.

·        This year, I participated in PorchDrinking.com’s GABF Fantasy Draft.  Five points for gold, three for silver, and one for bronze plus an additional 20 points if any of our breweries were crowned in one of the seven “brewery or brewpub of the year” categories.  Take a look at my team in the chart below.  On paper, it looks like a can’t-lose line-up.  I lost anyway (technically, I tied for ninth out of 12 players).  It was rough.  I tried to be scientific with my picks, taking into account past wins for each brewery but, in the end, I would have done better on random mode because, as it turned out, there were a lot of out-of-nowhere winners at this year’s GABF—newcomers and breweries who haven’t won in ages decided to show up in 2014.  Regrettably, many of my fantasy draft competitors happened to have those longshots on their teams. 

I represented Denver off the Wagon for the draft 

·        Let’s all point and laugh at Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Mississippi, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and Rhode Island because they didn’t win anything at the 2014 GABF.



Friday, October 10, 2014

GABF 2014: The Media Luncheon

Great American Beer Festival (GABF) has once again blown through Denver and, once again, Nicole and I were on-hand to experience the wonder that is America’s premier beer festival.  How does one encapsulate the essence of GABF in a blog post?  Not easily; the festival is multi-faceted, nonlinear, and inconsistent to the narrative storytelling format.  Ergo, I shall recall my experiences via vignettes separated into broad categories: The Festival Itself, The Media Luncheon, and The Awards.

The Media Luncheon

·        This was the second time Nicole and I attended the media luncheon; first in 2012 then skipping 2013.  Held on the 38th floor of the downtown Denver Grand Hyatt, this summit of journalists, Brewers Association (BA) reps, and brewery personalities offered networking opportunities, exclusive facts and figures from the BA, and all while perched in a lofty tower, overlooking the city and mountains.  An awe-inspiring view, certainly, and I couldn’t help trying to spot my favorite breweries from that sky-scraping vantage point.  No luck; from that height, all the buildings blur together.

Drinking beers a mile high (plus 38 floors)
·        The reasons a beer writer should want to attend the GABF media luncheon are myriad but, for me, the food and the beer pairings are the strongest siren call.  As I write, I’m remembering our luxurious feast and making that Homer Simpson gurgling noise.  Check out the menu, keeping in mind each beer is also a past GABF medalist:

Smoked Trout Fuille de Brick, Grapefruit and Chervil Persillade
paired with:

Granny Smith Apple with Ginger and Grapefruit
paired with:
Napoleon Complex Berliner Weisse from the BA homebrewing team

Grilled Ribeye Filet, Roasted Shallot Demi, Salsify, Yukon Gold Potato and Horseradish Gelette, French Green Beans, Horseradish Chip
paired with:

Dusty Miller Semifreddo, Warm Toffee Sauce
paired with:

For those not schooled in culinary terminology, a more prosaic description of the food would be as such:

Yummy fish eggrolls
paired with:
A citrusy, tart beer and a dry-hopped saison

A thin slice of apple folded over ginger and grapefruit and then held in place with a toothpick
balanced on the rim of:
A shot glass of bready-more-than-sour Berliner weisse

One of the best pieces of steak you’ll ever put in your mouth sitting atop a hash brown
paired with:
Two very decadent porters

A weird sphere of chocolate mousse encased in a hard, chocolate shell
paired with:
A robust altbier and a gut-filling stout

Fit for the snooty, rich antagonist of a 1980’s “slobs vs. snobs” comedy, the meal was several sumptuous notches above the stereotypical beer geek fare of dripping hamburgers, pizza, and pretzel necklaces.  

The intermezzo
·        Quick!  Picture a beer geek.  What do you see in your mind’s eye?  A beard?  A flannel shirt?  An epidermis hailing from the Caucasus region?  Basically, a white dude who’s doing well financially, right?  That demographic is the majority at any beer festival but, according to the BA, there’s a cultural shift happening in the world of craft beer.  A rising number of women, Hispanics, and people in lower SES brackets are joining the party.  Women age 21-34 account for 15% of craft volume, the lower 60% in terms of income account for 40%, and Hispanic craft drinkers are quickly becoming a target audience.  On one hand, this is awesome news; diversity benefits the industry as a whole.  A wider customer base equates to more money generated.  The world tends to be a more pleasant, tolerant place when people of different backgrounds share a common interest, too.  On the other hand, the statistics remain paltry; it’s still a European-descended male’s world.  The BA’s figures seem “token,” like Photoshopping a minority student into a BYU newsletter.  Perhaps I’m just cynical.  Perhaps craft beer is truly experiencing the onset of a major demographic change.  I don’t know if that’s true but I hope it is; beer is for the people—all the people.  I do know, however, my wife, who boasts Hispanic roots, didn’t like beer until she met me.  You can thank me for bumping the BA’s percentages up by a decimal or two.

Get in my mouth!

·        75% of Americans age 21 and up live within ten miles of a brewery.  There’s no excuse why you shouldn’t be drinking local.

·        Beer is a $100 billion market, the subset of craft beer is $14.3 billion, while wine is at $36 billion.  Meanwhile, craft is steadily eating away at the mega-brands’ share—craft, like Pepé Le Pew pursuing his object of affection, is slowly but surely overtaking the remaining $85.7 billion.  My point: I’m not sure.  But it’s an interesting bit of data.

·        Throughout the luncheon, brewers expounded on their stories of origin, successes, failures, and future plans.  Kevin DeLange of Dry Dock Brewing Co., for example, told an anecdote of when he won his first GABF medal.  When they announced his beer as the winner, the first thought that ran through DeLange’s mind was “who stole my name?”  Of course, Dry Dock’s used to hearing their names called now; they have 20 career medals, after all.  Additionally, the folks from Piney River explained their unique situation: they’re way out in the boondocks of the Missouri Ozarks.  If you survive the snaggle-toothed opossums and similarly dentally challenged backwoodsmen, you’re rewarded with award-winning beer!  Fun side note: Piney River, since 2011, is the only brewery in the Missouri Ozarks that cans their beer.  However, it’s such a localized operation that they have no liquor store presence in the state’s two major metros, St. Louis and Kansas City.

DeLange et al speaking to the crowd
·        The website for your next favorite brewery may not end in .com, .net, or any other dot whatever to which you’re accustomed.  Rather, it may well conclude with .beer.  I’m not much of a techie (as you may assume from this blog’s primitiveness) but this new format seems like a natural progression befitting the dramatic rise of craft beer’s popularity.



Tuesday, October 7, 2014

GABF 2014: The Festival Itself

Great American Beer Festival (GABF) has once again blown through Denver and, once again, Nicole and I were on-hand to experience the wonder that is America’s premier beer festival.  How does one encapsulate the essence of GABF in a blog post?  Not easily; the festival is multi-faceted, nonlinear, and inconsistent to the narrative storytelling format.  Ergo, I shall recall my experiences via vignettes separated into broad categories: The Festival Itself, The Media Luncheon, and The Awards.

My beer was so manly, my glass sprouted a 'stache
The Festival Itself

·         Do long lines at a booth indicate a particularly good brewery?  Perhaps.  It’s equally likely the meandering queue is the result of hype.  I’m not saying Three Floyds Brewing Co. doesn’t brew stupendous beer (although, if you read one of my recent posts, the attitude of their taproom employees leaves something to be desired) but I am saying Sun King Brewery, only a booth or two down from Three Floyds, is, in my humblest opinion, a superior brewery and featured no line.  On the other hand, the folks in front of Three Floyds might as well have been waiting for a roller coaster at Six Flags.  I get it: Zombie Dust is highly-regarded and people covet the bragging rights that go along with having tasted it.  But, would you rather have a great and famous beer or a great and unknown beer?  Is the thought of a “celebrity” beer really that alluring?  Personally, I prefer to be a trendsetter, not a trend follower so, on that note, might I recommend Sun King’s Kung Pao Brett?  Perhaps their 2014 GABF medalists Lonesome Dove or Barrel Aged 666: Sympathy for the Devil

·         Platt Park Brewing Company, formerly Denver Pearl, poured next to Denver Beer Co. at GABF, Denver Beer being the brewery that recently threatened Platt Park with a trademark infringement lawsuit.  That was probably awkward for both parties but don’t blame the festival organizers; it makes alphabetical sense considering Platt Park registered for GABF under the name “Denver Pearl.”  It was only recently the change of name occurred, after all.  Platt Park probably forgot about their little litigious spat, though, when they took home the silver in the Vienna-Style Lager category.  

Hopefully, these booths were run by objective and unbiased volunteers the whole night.

·         Wish to avoid a Platt Park/Denver Beer Co.-type situation?  Name your brewery something ridiculous so no other brewery could (or would want to) imitate it.  GABF was ripe with absurd brewery and beer names and among my favorites were Belching Beaver Brewery, British Ugly from Four Fathers Brewing, and the suggestively named (to perverted minds e.g. my own) Golden Avalanche Brewing Company.  Technically named for a local college mascot, “Golden Avalanche” sounds more like an intense golden shower (again, I admit it may take a warped individual to make that leap).  Having been in business since 1999, Golden Avalanche has been around too long to operate under a new name.  However, it would be wise to update the logo.  The imagery of cascading, yellow liquid is supposed to be beer, I guess, but looks like, well, let's just say it looks like something else. 

I can't be the only one whose mind went to the gutter, can I?
·         Most people pay the brewers guild booths little mind but that’s a mistake; the booths are staffed by passionate beer geeks with tons of information on their state’s brewing scene and, sometimes, there are fun little activities like the Colorado Brewers Guild’s head-to-head competition between Colorado’s Senate and House of Representatives.  Both governmental entities brewed with local companies—the former with Dry Dock Brewing Co., the latter with Denver Beer Co.—and, when Nicole and I visited, the votes were in a near-tie with the Senate’s Upper Chamber Fresh Hop (originally titled “Burning Down the House” before being deemed a touch too violent) raking in 51% of the constituency and the House’s Representative Saison with 49%.  A family divided, I voted for one and Nicole the other.  UPDATE: the final count had the House winning with 51.9%

The House ended up winning
·         The award for best-dressed brewery reps goes to Short’s Brewing Company.  Donned in snappy, vintage garb, the green-vested, corsage’d pourers matched the brewery’s extravagantly old-fashioned end-cap skinned in distressed wood and worn tin tiles.  With such an eccentric booth, the beer needs to be similarly snazzy and Short’s delivered earning a gold medal for their experimental beer, Key Lime Pie.  That certainly wasn’t their only off-kilter brew.  See also: Bourbon Carrot Cake, Strawberry Short’s Cake, and Schnozzleberry Griffin.

Lookin' sharp, Short's.
·         The one brewery I made absolutely sure to visit was Scratch Brewing Co., the Illinois brewery known for their foraged beers made with items picked from the surrounding woodlands.  This year, Scratch featured an all-gruitlineup—all five of their beers were without hops and instead bittered with the natural flora of the Midwest.  I was not disappointed when I tasted Scratch’s beers.  Craft beer runs a gamut of flavors—bitter, sweet, sour, salty, roasted, toasted, fruity, spicy,…etc.—but I was nonetheless surprised as I quaffed Scratch’s wares—I’ve literally never tasted another beer anything like the ones at Scratch.  Each beer was a whirlwind of flavors but, at times, I noticed essences of tea, mint, and general woodsy qualities.  They tasted like the forest floor and I mean that as a high compliment.

Yes, there's such a thing as too many pretzels
·         Beer geeks are generally a likeable bunch.  However, not everybody at GABF is a beer geek.  Some attendees are plain, old jackasses merely looking to get blotto.  This is especially true of the Saturday night session.  On the night in question, Nicole and I, along with usual cohorts Robin and Justin, were weaving through the throngs of revelers, looking for a space to recollect and plan our next move.  To give my diminutive wife a beacon as we navigated the crowd (and because I was feeling silly from the beer), I pressed through with an empty tasting glass held firmly to the crown of my head.  Unbeknownst to me, an over-served young lady made several attempts to dislodge said tasting glass from my noggin.  Mind you, this person was a perfect stranger, not a rambunctious friend of mine.  I’m glad her nefarious plan went unnoticed by me for there might have been an exchange of unkind words.  Robin did notice, though, and uttered a few words of admonishment as she passed the ne’er-do-well.  Friends got to stick up for each other.

Your friendly neighborhood Beer Geek
·         Speaking of Robin, she and Nicole reached milestone Untappd check-ins at GABF; Robin got her 500th beer, Nicole her 1,000thWicked Weed Brewing had the honor of lifting Robin to “Legendary” status but the brewery that gave Nicole her millennial brew shall remain nameless because, to commemorate the occasion, they did something nice but also something against festival rules—they filled Nicole’s taster cup all the way to the top.  Cheers to you, John Doe Brewing!

·         In 2014, GABF fully implemented the Beer Geek squad: roaming craft enthusiasts educating volunteers and assisting attendees in finding beers to match their tastes.  It’s a fantastic program, I think.  Granted, I’m in my element at GABF, I don’t need any assistance, but, just for fun, I’d chat up a Beer Geek and ask him or her for a recommendation or, to give them a challenge, ask for the weirdest beer they’ve had all night.  They certainly delivered on that last question; Brunch Money from Armadillo Ale Works—tasting like liquefied pancakes and syrup—was definitely weird.

·         I saw Charlie Papazian hanging out by the guilds and bothered him for a picture.  That was pretty cool.

Robin, Papazian, and I
·         Memorable beers I haven’t already mentioned: TheHook Up from Tow Yard Brewing Co., a radler/shandy hybrid blended with locally-made (Indianapolis-area) citrus soda.   WAKE ME UP BEFORE YOU GOSE from Strangeways BrewingSmoked Austoner Weisse from Namaste Brewing, a rauchbier-like Berliner weisse.  Rhubarb Lahey from Deep River Brewing Co., a refreshingly tart and fruity sour beer.  Rosa Gose from Wrecking Bar BrewpubNightbeer Before Christmas from Alameda Brewing Co., a strong, spiced brown ale which, according to the pourer, nobody could properly pronounce (I suppose everybody wanted to call it by the famous movie title from which the beer’s name is inspired; people saw the beer’s name on the sign but they didn’t read it).  Forbidden Root from the brewery of the same name, a root beer flavored beer.  Here Gose Nothin from DESTIHL  Anything and everything at The Rare BarrelThe Earl from CAUTION: Brewing Co., an English mild ale infused with Earl Grey tea. 

Stay tuned for the next GABF 2014 post: The Media Luncheon



Nicole likes this beer name because it reminds her of the TV series Weeds

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Great Lake, Great Beer: Pt. 4

To read Part 3 of our Lake Michigan beer adventure, click here.

With a carload of people, Nicole and I, along with my parents, siblings, and siblings’ significant others, headed inland to “Beer City USA” AKA Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Grand Rapids calls itself “Beer City USA” because twice it won Charlie Papazian’s famous (now defunct) internet poll.  I’m not sure if winning a web-based popularity contest warrants a metro-wide rebranding, even if Grand Rapids did claim the top spot more than once.  Don’t misunderstand, I think very highly of the beers made in Michigan’s second largest city; it’s just that I also think the “Beer City USA” poll is an inexact crock and should be given little credence.  I can hardly blame the municipal government for latching onto the moniker, though.  “Beer City USA” sure as hell beats Grand Rapids’ official nickname—“Furniture City.”

Iffy though Grand Rapids’ beer accolades might be, I applaud their branding efforts.  Disregarding the “Beer City USA” poll, it remains a fine town for ale and lager.  Why shouldn’t Grand Rapids advertise that fact?  Why shouldn’t there be billboards erected hours outside city limits informing drivers of the beer destination that lies ahead?  Why shouldn’t they be proud of their brewing culture? 

Do you know who doesn’t laud their breweries with such enthusiasm?  The more obvious beer hotspots like San Diego and Denver.  I’ve seen a few brew signs go up around the Mile High City during Great American Beer Festival season but, besides that, Denver’s beer culture is implied, hardly ever stated plainly.  Why is the situation as such?  Is it because the tourism boards of San Diego and Denver focus on the more evident draws (e.g. the beaches of San Diego, the mountains of Denver) and beer just isn’t on the radar?  Are they protecting their civic reputation by downplaying the cities’ affinity for mind-altering substances?  Are they keeping beer culture hush-hush, underground, trying not to oversell it so as to retain the “cool factor” of the brewing industry?  I simply don’t know.  All I know is, driving the eastern plains towards Denver, I’ve never seen a billboard extolling my city’s strong craft community (although it does seem change is on the horizon). 

Inside Founders
Our first brewery was the biggest and most famous in the area, Founders Brewing Co.  What can be said about Founders that beer geeks don’t already know?  They’re a juggernaut of the craft beer world, they’ve got a contender in Beer Advocate’s top 10 highest-rated beers list, and it was the most recommended brewery when I asked where in Grand Rapids I should visit.  Chances are you’ve had Founders even if you don’t live in a state where they distribute (e.g. Colorado). 

My M.O. when it comes to drinking at well-known breweries like Founders is never ordering from the year-round menu.  What’s the point?  Why talk about All Day IPA when every other beer geek’s probably already had it?  I want to bring something new to the conversation.  Go small and go rare whenever you can; be a beer adventurer, take the ale less traveled by.  For me, that meant Barrel Aged Spite—a beer far removed from the flagships.

Barrel Aged Spite
I drank Barrel Aged Spite in the Founders taproom with its handsome, curved bar constructed of rustic wood.  A chili beer, Barrel Aged Spite lost much of its peppery bite from its rest in the barrel, the flavor is heavier on oak and bourbon, but it’s still an interesting, creative beer with at least a little spiciness left to tingle the tongue. 

Our next Grand Rapids brewery, while boasting far less fame than Founders, is becoming a larger part of the collective craft beer consciousness.  Collaboration with New Belgium Brewing, achievements in LEED certification, a devotion to French and Belgian ales, and a taproom built in a refurbished funeral chapel with stained glass windows, vaulted cross-beamed ceilings, and a bar shaped in a Gothic pointed arch will get any brewery some recognition and Brewery Vivant deserves every ounce of acknowledgment they accrue.

Taking our seats at a long, wooden table—one of many that outline the edges of the bar area—our group settled in with an order of frites, a charcuterie platter, and several footed glasses of fine Franco/Belgo ale.  Most notably, the sour-tinged Farm Hand saison, the aptly named Sgt. Peppercorn Rye (the titular ingredient is not to be ignored), the powerful and lavish Whisky Rooster aged in Jack Daniels barrels, and The Cheetah, a merciless Belgian strong dark ale that, with 14.2% ABV, can drop a beer geek quicker than its namesake drops a Thomson’s gazelle.  Brewery Vivant’s beers are so good they seem inspired from on high.  They don’t simply serve the beer in a holy space, the recipes are equally divine. 

Inside Vivant
Keeping the brew tour train chugging along, we finished our beers at Brewery Vivant and skedaddled to Harmony Brewing Company, a neighborhood pub-style watering hole with an interior accented with worn timber and a pleasant roadside patio with vibrantly colored picnic tables on which we staked our claim.

There was one aspect about Harmony I particularly appreciated.  Berliner Weissbiers have slowly climbed the ladder of obscurity and to the near-forefront of advanced-palate craft beers; the sour beer trend is in full swing and the revival of Berliner Weisse is partially to thank.  However, even though American brewers have resurrected the German native’s career, Berliner Weisse in the United States typically misses a key component: the syrup.  In Berlin, people traditionally order the demonymic drink with Himbeere (raspberry syrup) or Waldmeister (woodruff syrup) to sweeten and tone down the beer’s acidic sharpness.  In America, we drink Berliner Weisse straight-up, no syrup.  Syrup’s usually not even an option; brewers make the beer and omit the condiments.  Thus, when I saw a selection of homemade syrups accompanying Harmony’s Grand Jollification Berliner Weisse—juniper, strawberry, cherry, black rose tea, and probably a few more—I jumped at the chance to drink like a true German.  I went with the juniper syrup and, overall, I don’t regret my decision.  Nicole, however, has the nose of a bloodhound (in ability, not appearance) and thought the syrup/beer combination smelled like old cheese and fungal feet.  Now, I usually defer to Nicole's olfactory prowess but, in this case, I have to disagree.  I thought the juniper syrup added a refreshing coniferous flavor.  In the end, I still favor my Berliner Weissbiers “American-style.”  The syrup adds too much sugar for my liking.  What I relish in Berliner Weisse is its tartness; I’m not looking to ruin that with counteracting saccharinity.
Grand Jollification with juniper syrup
Our last brewery in Grand Rapids was Schmohz Brewing Company, situated in a drab, gray building trimmed in maroon awning.  It’s a dark, dive bar atmosphere and unrefined with its cafeteria chairs, drop tiled ceiling, concrete floors, and pinball machine in the corner.  It emits a vibe more akin to a biker bar or factory worker's pub than a craft brewery. 

Inside Schmohz
That’s not a condemnation, mind you, merely an observation.  In fact, I’d prefer if more breweries plopped their operations into dingier settings, got back to the roots of the craft beer revolution.  The industry as a whole has become too polite; it’s very nearly lost its edge.  However, when the taproom looks like the headquarters for Hell’s Angels or an illegal gambling den, it re-instills the sense of adventure once prevalent at all small brewing operations.  I admire Schmohz for retaining craft beer’s anarchistic spirit.  Not everyone must follow suit, a chic brewery here and there is fine, but I appreciate that the down-to-earth aura of craft hasn’t completely evaporated.  Also, Schmohz’s John T. Pilsner was pretty good; nothing too fancy, it’s straightforward and it gets the job done just like the building in which it was birthed. 

John T. Pilsner
That sums up Nicole and I’s Lake Michigan beercation.  We drove back west, stopped in cooler-than-you’d-think downtown Omaha to enjoy the rooftop patio at Upstream Brewing Company, and finally arrived back in Denver.  We had ourselves a rollicking good time skirting along the shoreline, visiting great Midwestern cities, and partaking in local beer but, no matter where we go, we’re happy to hang our hats in Colorado.  It’s our home.  It’s where our favorite beers are made.  It’s where we want to end up at the end of any journey.  I credit the Lake Michigan area for its undeniably vivacious beer scene but nothing can tear me away from my Rocky Mountain brews.  


Upstream in Omaha
Schmohz lacks a bit in subtlety
Case in point

Monday, September 8, 2014

Great Lake, Great Beer: Pt. 3

To read Part 2 of our Lake Michigan beer adventure, click here.

With a view like that, who cares about the house itself?
Having crossed the sixth state line of our beercation, Nicole and I finally arrived in Grand Haven, Michigan, where we’d spend a week celebrating my parents’ 40th anniversary with sun, surf, and suds.

We—including my parents, my two sisters and their boyfriends, my brother and his wife and kids, and my two maternal aunts—stayed at a rental property located in the cul-de-sac of a long, snaky road that wound through the dunes and past impressive beach homes all with commanding views of Lake Michigan.  Like so many of the houses on that secluded stretch, our domicile was massive; built atop a hill, surrounded by woodlands, shoreline adjacent (via a steep, sandy downhill), and featuring a pool, our place was a palace—a very tacky palace. 

Enjoying the beach
Everybody agreed the size and location of the house was primo.  The décor, however, left much to be desired.  The black, white, and red color scheme, akin to a cold and emotionless modern art gallery, was anything but homey.  The cavernous main floor with nary a soft surface echoed like a high school gymnasium; each toe dragged across the concrete floor screeched like a Chihuahua at the vet’s office.  Privacy was clearly not a priority during construction, either, as bath tubs sat before large, curtain-less windows, balconies and toilets were separated by nothing but clear panes (again, curtain-less), and most of the bedrooms had glass doors with curtains—sheer, see-through curtains.  It was an exhibitionist’s playground and a family vacationer’s hell.  Overall, the place exuded the ambiance of somebody with a lot of money and no taste; it looked like a house in which the snooty neighbors in Christmas Vacation might live.

Odd Side's taproom
We overlooked those obvious deficiencies, though, when we overlooked something else: the vastness of the lake from our soaring perch among the trees.  The beer made us all more forgiving, too.  Most of the time, the family and I imbibed poolside or lakeside because that’s what the trip was all about—relaxing, lounging by water, and drinking copiously.  But, Grand Haven and nearby Spring Lake are both homes to craft breweries and, being so conveniently located, their siren call was enough to coax us from our private retreat and into their public taprooms.
A touch insensitive (but funny)

Odd Side Ales sits across the street from the Grand River channel and is located in an old piano factory that’s since been turned into a multi-tenant shopping and dining center.  Its taproom uses light sparingly; with worn-wood floors and timbered pillars and ceilings, even the beaming summer sun had a hard time penetrating this dark alcove.  It’s a decidedly rustic, non-modern, and convivial space.  Juxtaposing Odd Side’s traditional charms were vivid beer posters advertising tongue-in-cheek, pop-culture-referencing, and mildly-offensive labels: Morningwood Stout, Oh, Me So Hoppy to Wheat You (billed as “A derisious wheat ale with a hoppy finish that lingers long time!”), Bean Flicker Blonde…etc.  If you don’t understand why these are funny/uncouth, look them up on Urban Dictionary—I already had to explain them to members of my family and I’d rather not relive the experience.  Do your own research.  

Like, a whole bunch of Odd Side beers
Many, many flights were downed at our table so it’s hard to remember details on any particular beer.  I recollect Wheatermelon, a spritzy and refreshing watermelon wheat beer, Mayan Mocha Stout, a thick and luxurious dark beer, and the Pineapple IPA.  Even if the specifics evade me, I don’t remember being disappointed by anything at Odd Side.  

Old Boys’ Brewhouse, the other brewery in the area, resides on the tip of a peninsula jutting out into the braided, meandering Grand River.  Only 1.8 miles from Odd Side, Old Boys’ was actually the closest brewery to our rental property even though it’s technically in a different town.

Approaching Old Boys’, I felt both over and underwhelmed.  The stilted grain silo and cavernous three-story vestibule kept my eyes turned upwards as if I were entering a cathedral.  On the other hand, I couldn’t shake a feeling of mundaneness; yes, it’s a big entrance but it’s basically a blank brick wall with a few windows.  Immense though Old Boys’ might be, it’s featurelessly immense.  Plus, I realized after spotting the bone-shaped logo, Old Boys’ is another dog-themed brewery.  Can we please, as the collective brewing community, stop doing that?  I love dogs but naming your brewery for the family pet has been done to death.  It’s passé.  It’s trite.  It’s not original and it ensures you’ll blend in with the herd rather than stick out.  Just quit it.  When The Onion has enough fodder to satirize craft brewers for uncreative canine appellations then that’s a pretty good indication the trend is over.  Old Boys’ was founded in 1997, before the practice became rampant, so I’m actually going to give them a pass on this one; it might have been a novel idea in the late 90’s when they first opened.  All you new breweries, though?  Keep Fido out of it.

Old Boys' patio
Nicole and I sat on Old Boys’ back patio and my opinion of the place became increasingly more positive.  The patio’s laid out near an expanse of lawn terminating at the river’s edge.  A boardwalk skirts the banks and leisure boats putt-putt through the narrow strait, headed for the docks on either side of our little protuberance of land.  The overall atmosphere is not unlike that found at a mid-level country club.  I felt I ought to be wearing a knitted white vest, tennis shoes, and a visor.  Can we get a croquet set over here?   

My interest was further piqued as I perused the beer menu.  Wow!  I wasn’t expecting such advanced beers; from the ho-hum exterior, I’d assume Old Boys’ merely brewed the standards—IPA, amber, a non-confrontational stout or porter, and a lighter offering—usually a wheat.  Basically, I predicted gateway craft beers, nothing unconventional.  Surely, these brewers don’t cater to radical palates and yet, there they were in front of me: Irascible, an American wild ale aged in Bourbon barrels with Michigan-picked cherry juice added, The Flapjacker, a maple syrup-infused brown ale, Magnum Breakfast Stout, a hefty beer showcasing Sumatran and South American coffee and Ugandan vanilla beans, and several more Nicole and I didn’t have the alcohol-tolerance to order (we had to drive home, after all). 

Left to right: Irascible, The Flapjacker, & Magnum Breakfast Stout

Old Boys’ is truly old at 17 years—a geezer by craft beer standards—but it can be taught new tricks; there’s nothing weary about Old Boys’, their beer is fresh, experimental, and young at heart.  To them I say, “Good boy!  Stay (in business)!” 

Old school dune buggy
As I mentioned earlier, the majority of the week centered on drinking at home, floating in the pool and lake.  We even visited the city beach but the wind was ferocious and nobody wanted to stay very long (here’s a tip for drinking at the beach where alcohol is technically not allowed: bring craft cans because the high school kids who enforce the beach laws are only accustomed to big domestic brands; they won’t immediately comprehend the design of, say, Sun King Brewery’s Sunlight Cream Ale unless they get a really close look at it).  We took a few other excursions to ride the dunes at Silver Lake and to boost Nicole’s roller coaster count up and over the 100 mark at Michigan’s Adventure where a perennial favorite, Shivering Timbers, has been thrilling guests since 1998.  It was on our final day when we really got into the craft beer groove.  Driving an hour east to the state’s premier craft beer city, we arrived in Grand Rapids and visited four of their esteemed breweries.

But we’ll get to that in a later post.



Odd Side's wall of beer posters