"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!

Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011: The Year of the Beer

Confetti?  Check.  Annoying noise-maker? Check?  Cellar-aged beers to share with friends?  Check. A bomb shelter filled with canned foods, freshwater, and nudie magazines in preparation for a blizzard/Russian bombing/Rapture/12-year-late Y2K/one-year early Mayan doomsday prophecy?  Check.

Yep, I think I’m prepared for New Year’s Eve.  Oh, wait, just one more thing; I need to do one of those slapped-together retrospective re-caps of 2011.  So, what happened this year in beer?
  • Beer in Colorado is conceived, gestated, and birthed.  A result of boredom and a passion for the Centennial State’s brews, this blog, once only read by the author’s mother, has grown so that now the author’s mother’s friends are also entranced by its prose.

  • I let the blog evolve a bit.  I’ve started embedding links instead of just pasting them to the end of each post, I un-italicized Nicole’s comments, I received a snazzy logo courtesy of Jeff Lada, and I (hopefully) have had fewer and fewer typos and spelling errors (seriously, if you see a little mistake, let me know; dows tings drive me crazt).  Also, Beer in Colorado now has a Facebook page and a Twitter account.

That’s pretty much everything that happened this year.  Here’s hoping 2012 is as beer-soaked as 2011.



A beer in review 2011

Looking back at the blog posts from this year is like looking at a scrapbook of my life. I have been meaning to sit down and actually make an actual scrapbook of the breweries that we have visited and, so far, I have about three pages done. I have promised Chris that I will get to work on that right after I finish knitting the blanket I started, reading the current book on my nightstand, grading the stack of papers I brought home, etc.

A few things about this year:
  • I started drinking outside the box. My "go-to" beer is no longer the wheat beer on tap. In fact, I don't even think I like wheat beers any more. I am willing to try any beer that Chris sends my way, even an IPA.

  • Unique beers keep the people wanting more. Last January, Chris and I visited Tommyknocker Brewery in Idaho Springs after a day of skiing. I had the Tundrabeary and Chris had the Bocknog. Both were great seasonal beers. So good that when we drove through Idaho Springs a few days ago we stopped in to see if they had the Bocknog again this year. Sadly, they did not. What a bummer! It is a big let down when you find a great beer and they aren't going to make it this year. Here's to hoping they make it next year.

  • Beer is a great way to catch-up with friends. Whether it was going to a beer event or just tasting a new beer in our living room, we had some great times this year with friends and brews.  We dressed up like rock stars for Chris and Robin's birthdays which garnered many stares from the people at Hops and Pie. After Geek Bowl, we watched as one of Chris' homebrews rivaled Old Faithful in the middle of our friends' kitchen. I ran into someone I knew from elementary school at Amato's Trick or Beer and a friend from college at the Parade of Darks. Plus, we met a lot of great beer geeks along the way.

  • When the weather doesn't want to cooperate when you're traveling, finding the closest pub/brewery is the best way to pass time. Our trips to California and Australia were rainy but breweries saved the day. During Spring Break, Chris and I had planned to ride as many California rollercoasters as time would allow but, when we drove up to Six Flags Magic Mountain it was pouring rain so we had to make a plan B. That plan involved visiting The Bruery and going to a Lakers game. This summer, we had planned on visiting the sites in Sydney and Melbourne but it was winter in Australia and we couldn't walk across the street without being completely soaked. So, we stopped into several breweries and pubs to check out the local culture and warm up before moving on to the next stop. Basicially, we saw a lot of churches, breweries/pubs, and bookstores.

I look forward to the new beer adventures in 2012. We already have some plans in the works to visit some of the Colorado mountain breweries this summer. Hopefully, we can bring you at least one international post and a few "Beer not in Colorado" posts as well. And maybe 2012 will be the year I get a few more pages done in the scrapbook.  


Monday, December 19, 2011

LTB: Making Denver Suburbs Relevant Through Craft Beer

“Hey, kids!  Who wants to go to Lone Tree, Colorado?”

Until recently, the answer to that question would have been a resounding “Nobody!”  It’s a too-far-away Denver suburb the path to which takes one through some of the most congested traffic zones in the metro-area and, once you get there, there’s not a thing to do.  Why would anybody in their right minds go to frickin’ Lone Tree?  Well, if you’re a fan of Colorado craft beer then there’s been, for a little over a week, at least one reason to visit: Lone Tree Brewing Company (LTB).

Nicole and I would have sucked it up and made the trip to LTB eventually but since I was already in the area for work-related reasons and because nearby ‘burb Centennial is now home to a Steak n’ Shake (which I adore; I grew up in the Midwest where they were commonplace and now I’m psyched that Colorado has one, too), we decided that adding a new brewery to the list would be a great way to cap off the night.   

Opened last Thursday, December 8th, LTB is, like many of its suburban craft brethren, located in one of those faceless, office space strip buildings (see also: Dry Dock Brewing Company, Elk Mountain Brewing, Upslope Brewing Company, et al).  But, at the risk of sounding like an after school special, it doesn’t matter what you look like on the outside, it’s what’s inside that counts. 

The tasting room is minimalistic yet inviting.  There’s a bar that wraps around a corner and the table seating is open with no partitions separating fellow beer geeks.  In the back of the seating area is a waist-high parapet designating the brewing area.  I’ve mentioned it many a time and I’ll probably mention it again but I like it when a brewery puts there brewing equipment on full display; no walls, no windows, no separate building, it’s all just there to take in.  It shows that a brewery a) has nothing to hide, b) is catering to those who are really interested in beer and beer creation, and c) isn’t so highfalutin that they can’t let a bit of the industrial side of beer shine through in the taproom. 

We had ourselves a squat at one of the tables and ordered tasters of everything they had to offer: Hausfrau Hefeweizen (4.2% ABV), Ariadne’s Blonde (5.7% ABV), Puddle Jumper Pale Ale (5.7% ABV), Mountain Mama Helles (5.3% ABV), Hoptree IPA (8% ABV), and Toot’s Full-Bodied Oatmeal Stout (5.2% ABV).

Hausfrau is a very light yellow color even to the point that it almost looks white.  It is cloudy and topped with a white head.  The aroma is quit faint and possesses a banana/clove/bubblegum essence.  The flavor, too, has a bit of bubblegum-like quality but, overall, Hausfrau tastes a lot like the average witbier.  The mouthfeel is crisp, clean, and dry.

Ariadne’s looks a lot like Hausfrau except that it is slightly darker in color and perhaps a bit less cloudy (although it is still pretty cloudy).  The aroma of Ariadne’s is more reminiscent of a hefeweizen than even Hausfrau and the abundance of coriander makes it taste more like a hefeweizen, too.  As far as my palate is concerned, LTB has two hefeweizen beers.

Puddle Jumper looks like Ariadne’s except more orange.  It smells like a genetically spliced orange tree/conifer tree and this citrusy/piney quality comes through in the flavor as well.  Perhaps it is because I’ve blasted my taste buds with too many an ultra-bitter beer back in my day but I say that Puddle Jumper has no real bitterness to it.  The lack of bitter is great for those who want an easy-drinking beer but hopheads aren’t going to dig it. 

There seems to be a trend with the beers at LTB; they’re all cloudy.  Not that there’s anything wrong with a little haze in the glass, it just seems like they’d want a clear beer to mix things up.  At any rate, the miso soup-lookin’ Mountain Mama Helles doesn’t deviate from the normal LTB appearance.  It has a light aroma that reminds the drinker of bread or pretzels.  The flavor is exceptionally yeasty and it finishes very dry.

Hoptree presents an enigma that is interesting only to the most die-hard beer geeks.  See, the website calls Hoptree an IPA but I’m quite certain that, at the brewery, it was referred to as a double IPA.  Who cares? you might ask.  Well, nobody, really, I’m just trying to keep my facts straight.  Regardless, Hoptree has the same appearance of Puddle Jumper and the aroma is, likewise, the same save for the fact that Hoptree’s pine essence is much more pronounced.  The hops leave somewhat lasting bitterness and the drinking experience is akin to pine needle tea or a weaker version of Odell’s Myrcenary.

Toot’s, aside from having a decidedly unmanly name, was, along with Hoptree, my favorite of the night.  It is black with brown highlights and a beige head.   The nose is roasty, chocolate-y, and coffee-like while the mouthfeel is thick and velvety.  It tastes like a smooth coffee drink with chocolate syrup swirled in.  There is no black coffee-like bitterness like one might find in other stouts.
Left to Right: Hoptree, Puddle Jumper, Toot's, Mountain Mama, Ariadne's, and Hausfrau 

We finished our drinks and quizzed each other using the provided Trivial Pursuit cards when it struck me that, almost one year ago, Nicole and I were doing the exact same thing at Elk Mountain in preparation for Geeks Who Drink’s annual Geek Bowl.  Unfortunately, the folks at Geeks have, for the first time, moved the event from Denver to Austin, TX, so we aren’t going this time.  Well, here’s hoping it fails miserably so they bring it back to Colorado where it belongs.

We left LTB and started our way back home.  My final thoughts on LTB are that it is a solid brewery; nothing’s god-awful, everything’s drinkable.  My one piece of advice, LTB, is to brew outside the box.  Everything on the menu, while good, is so pedestrian; they’re styles that are served at every brewery.  Make something more singular like a sour beer or a cream ale or make some cool hybrid style that’s completely new.  Colorado is on the forefront of the American craft beer scene and it is our duty--the beer geeks and beer brewers of the state--to invent the region’s style; copying and pasting what everybody else is doing is no way to go about doing that.

So, once again, “Who wants to go to Lone Tree, Colorado?”

The answer now is still “Nobody!” but with the addendum, “but, if we have to, let’s definitely go to the Lone Tree Brewing Company and make the trip worthwhile.”



I heard from friends that Lone Tree Brewing Company was opening soon. While LTB is closer to home than the breweries of Boulder and Fort Collins, the thought of driving to Lone Tree in Friday rush hour traffic was not appealing. But, I figured if Chris was already in that area I might as well make the trip, too. So, I suggested that we meet up at Steak n’ Shake for dinner and then make our way to the brewery. There is nothing like a steak burger, shoestring fries, and a shake to kick off winter break. As Chris mentioned, Steak n’ Shake is a Midwest staple. Since so many Midwesterners now live in Colorado, naturally, they’re all very excited. When I pulled into the parking lot I was shocked to see the drive-thru line wrapping around the building. The line for inside dining was almost as long but the wait was worth it. The menu had some new additions including holiday shakes that sounded very tempting but I wanted to save room for beer.

When we got to the brewery, I read over the beer list trying to figure out what I was in the mood for. The bartender asked us what we wanted to which Chris and I gave her the “I have no idea” look. Lucky for us, they offer sampler flights so we could try everything. I think more breweries should approach customers like this; oftentimes we go to a brewery and order a pint to find out later that we could have sampled everything. By sampling every beer, you get to try new things that you might not have if forced to order a whole pint. I probably wouldn’t have ordered the stout but it turned out to be my favorite. The next time I plan a trip to Lone Tree, I want to see if they have any seasonal offerings. They had two winter seasonals that were going to be released this week but we were a few days too early. Hopefully, they will have some spring or summer seasonals so we have an excuse to visit both the brewery and Steak n’ Shake again in the warmer months.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

VIP Treatment at AC Golden Brewing Company

Venture outside the state lines and ask a craft beer enthusiast what comes to mind when they think "beer in Colorado."  More often than not, the reply will be New Belgium or perhaps Great Divide or Breckenridge Brewery.  Now, venture outside the state lines and ask a person with little to no craft beer knowledge what they think when they hear "beer in Colorado."  I bet 100% of the time Coors will be your answer.  That’s the nature of the situation; we are a state filled with countless small to medium craft breweries all living in the shadow of a beer juggernaut.

To say that Coors is a giant is an understatement.  It’s an international brand, its name is plastered on an MLB stadium, and you can’t drive five minutes in the Denver-metro area without seeing a Coors advertisement.  It is so big, in fact, that AC Golden Brewing Company, the Coors craft beer division, is housed inside the flagship brewery in Golden, CO.  That’s right, there’s a brewery within a brewery—it’s like Inception but with beer.  Somebody should start homebrewing inside of AC Golden and really blow people’s minds.
Depending on how steadfast your principles are, the existence of AC Golden can be viewed positively or negatively.  You can look on the bright side and believe that Colorado is so beer-centric that even the big boys want to serve their best possible product.  Coors doesn’t have to serve craft beer; they do just fine with the fizzy, yellow stuff but they want to supply the craft beer-loving public with the quality brew we demand.  Or, you can turn to dark thoughts and believe that AC Golden is an insidious rouse to get uninformed consumers to buy into a corporation; it doesn’t say “Coors” anywhere on an AC Brewing bottle and those not in the know might think they’re buying from a “mom and pop” brewery.  Thus, real microbreweries lose revenue every time a well-meaning, "buy local" touting consumer chooses AC Golden.  I’m not going to tell you which to believe because, really, I don’t think either notion is completely right.

A few days ago, Aimee Valdez, an AC Golden rep, e-mailed me out of the blue and asked if I would like to have a private tour of the brewing facility and meet some of the people that run the business.  The brewery isn’t open to the public so this was a special invitation.  She didn’t tell me why she was offering and she didn’t tell me  how she knew me (I write for this blog, Denver off the Wagon, and Examiner but I didn’t know which one she read) but I really didn’t care because I love special treatment.  I may flip-flop on my opinion of AC Golden but I’d take a tour of the Hannah Montana Museum if they treated me like a VIP so I scooped up Nicole and my sister, travelled to Golden, and met Aimee for the beginning of our tour.

Coors is in the festive mood

We followed Aimee to the AC Golden HQ housed inside the “big brewery”—as the main Coors brewing facility is called—and donned hard-toed, rubber slippers and Colorado Native Lager baseball caps/hardhats.  We met Glenn “Knip” Knippenberg, the president of AC Golden, our tour guide and headbrewer, Jeff Cornell, and were off on our voyage to explore the bowels of the operation.
We started the tour talking about Colorado Native and where the hops and malts—all Coloradoan—come from (some from the northern Front Range, some from the San Luis Valley, some from the Grand Junction area).  Then, we entered a vast room housing a forest of beer tanks where saw the mash press which is a contraption too complicated to describe; just know that it is the mechanism that extracts the sugars from the grains. 

We descended a level, had some Colorado Native straight from the tank, and that’s where I started piecing things together.  Earlier, I casually asked Aimee where it was that she heard my name and she said it was from Examiner.com.  I thought back, tried to remember if I had ever written a review for an AC Golden beer.  I had: for Colorado Native.  I gave it a mediocre rating.  Then, Jeff made a remark about how good Colorado Native is when it's fresh and that I probably had a past-prime can when I wrote my review.  That pretty much cleared up any confusion; I wrote a so-so review and that’s why they brought me to the brewery—to kill me out of retribution.  Well, if I’m going out I’m going out drunk so I tasted my beer.  Damn.  Colorado Native is pretty good when it’s fresh.  It's citrusy and has a slight hop aroma but no hop burn.  Even better, they decided not to kill me.  Happy day!

The mash press.  Figure out how it works and you get a cookie.

Colorado Native straight from the tank

Next, we saw the kegging station and the bottling and packaging station (often manned by School of Mines students).  While in the bottling/packaging room, Knip told us about the special little icon on Colorado Native that will, if you take a picture of it with your smartphone, give you a $1 coupon to send to friend who can then buy a $1 Colorado Native at a participating bar.  Even better, you can send the coupon to yourself and get a $2 Colorado Native!  Get those phones out and start clicking.

Next, we went into the room where the next new AC Golden beers were being created.  I can’t say much because they’d like to keep their “in development” beers hush-hush but I will say this: be on the look-out for a sour beer and—not an IPA—an IPL.  The sour beer wasn’t ready to be tasted but the IPL was and it’s quite tasty.  You'll just have to wait and find out, though.

The kegging station

Jeff pouring an IPL from the tank
The IPL and some sort of idiot in the background

Before we left, Knip gave us the rundown on the benefits of “liking” Colorado Native on Facebook.  The long and short of it is that they have a lot of prizes to give out and they specialize their prizes so that only people who are interested in certain hobbies are notified e.g. a skier would not know about the AC Golden snowboard giveaway.  Also, it is on Facebook that the brewery announces their special releases so, when that sour beer and IPL are released, those on Facebook will know first.

We thanked the AC Golden crew for hanging out with us and giving us the VIP tour and headed home.  What’s to be learned from this experience?  For one, beer geeks should understand that good beer can come from a big brewery.  I wouldn’t suggest forgoing the microbrewed beers altogether but there’s nothing wrong with picking up a little AC Golden on occasion.  Second, if you’re looking to make contacts in any given industry, start a blog or an Examiner.com page and write like hell; eventually, a higher-up will be in contact with you (if you write as well as me, that is).  Lastly, I learned that I will be rewarded by the breweries for which I have written mediocre reviews.  I guess I need to start writing outright terrible reviews so more companies will invite me to the premises to prove me wrong.  Or, to beat the crap out of me.

Thanks again, AC Golden crew; it was a fun experience.



P.S.  Remember in that last post where I told you that Beer in Colorado is now on Twitter and Facebook?  Well, that’s still true so check us out!

An antique mash press

It was fun weaving through the inner workings of a brewery. I have been on a few brewery tours but this was by far the best. Why? Because I got to wear a hard hat, spiffy shoes, and earplugs. Plus, we got to see parts of the brewery that you usually don't get to see on a tour. AC Golden is composed of several puzzle pieces that have been scattered throughout the Coors Brewery and, luckily, we were able to put the whole puzzle together because, unlike a jigsaw puzzle, the family dog didn't eat any pieces. As we talked about upcoming beers, I told Jeff that I they should consider making a pumpkin beer; I am always looking for a new favorite. We seemed to be on the same page in thinking that a good pumpkin beer should taste like a creamy slice of pumpkin pie ready to top off with a swirl of whip cream (perhaps that could be a nice beer cocktail: pumpkin beer and whipped cream vodka. Sure it would be sweet, but it would be like dessert in a glass).

Another things we learned about on the tour was their hop growing program. Chris and I will definitely sign up for this in the spring. We started growing hops last spring in hopes of brewing with fresh hops rather than pellets. The result was a caramel apple beer that I have yet to try (it is still bottle conditioning). When you grow hops for AC Golden, they give you a Colorado Native Hop Grower patch plus the satisfaction of telling all your friends that you contributed ingredients in the effort to get the beer closer to 100% native to Colorado. If you want to try the batch that was brewed from the hop-growing program it should be on liquor store shelves soon with the batch number Mar2012.


Monday, December 5, 2011

Wynkoop: Fighting the Fight Against Beer Racism

The path people take in becoming a full-fledged beer geek is fraught with milestones.  First, they get to the point where they actually try a craft beer for the first time:  Oh, what’s this?  A Ranger IPA?  I’ve heard of that.  Hey, that’s not too bad.  Then, they enter the “loyalist stage” wherein one of two things can happen: a) they drink a lot of craft beer but only from a certain brewery: Polestar Pilsner?  No thanks, I only drink New Belgium beers [drinks a Blue Paddle] or b) they only drink a certain style of beer: You got any Modus Hoperandi?  How about an Odell IPATitan?  Eh, I only drink IPAs but thanks anyway.  The beer-geek-in-the-making can get stuck in the loyalist stage for a long time but, eventually, curiosity and the ingrained spirit of adventure that lives in all brew enthusiasts—greenhorn and veteran alike—gets the better of them; they try new styles, they try new breweries and, lo and behold, they have crossed the threshold and achieved the status of Level 1 Beer Geek.

After Level 1, one can flaunt, with all honesty, the fact that they belong to the sacred society of beer geeks.  However, they are novices when compared to higher-leveled geeks.  They are infants battling Bruce Lee, go-karts racing Jeff Gordon, the Amish in a slut-off against Ke$ha.  They haven’t yet mastered the skill.  They still need to hurdle a few more obstacles and conquer their beer fears.  Unlike the preliminary steps, the advanced steps vary from one person’s unique disposition to another.  Some people have a hard time when it comes to extremely hoppy beers.  Others shy away from barrel-aged beers (especially when said barrel used to store bourbon or wine).  I, for one, took a long time to get over my fear of barleywines and sour beers but, after many concerted efforts to acclimate myself to those styles, I now snatch those beers off store shelves without even thinking.  More often than not, though, a person cannot take that final step because they suffer from what I like to call “beer racism.”  It matters not to the beer racist what it tastes like for they believe that, if a beer is dark in color, they won’t like it.  Hey, this is America, baby!  The great melting pot!  If you can’t accept a beer just because it looks different then take your fascist ideals back to Nazi Germany, you intolerant pig!
Still, there is hope for rehabilitation.  I recommend a full-immersion program; I recommend Wynkoop Brewing Company’s 3rd Annual Parade of Darks—a tasting event focused on all beers amber-colored or darker.  Held last Saturday, December 3rd, Parade of Darks featured breweries from Colorado, the U.S., and Belgium serving over 50 different dark-colored beers.  All proceeds from the event’s ticket sales went to Metro CareRing.  A silent auction also helped raise money for the charity.

Nicole and I arrived early so we plopped down at the bar and waited for the Wynkoop staff to catch up to our craving for beer.  While waiting, we struck up a conversation with Brew2ers Co, a couple who, like Nicole and I, are trying to hit every brewery in Colorado.  Normally, my competitive nature would prevent me from saying anything positive about somebody on the same mission as me but these people were pleasant to talk to so I’ll support them by linking to their website.  Also, Nicole and I have a couple dozen breweries on them so I don’t feel too threatened.

The gates finally opened and we poured into Wynkoop’s billiard room.  The beer stations lined every available foot of the room’s perimeter and I immediately suffered decision paralysis.  Where do I go first?  What do I have when I get there?  What comes after that?  Thankfully, I snapped out of it and put my brain on auto-pilot; I’d just go where my feet and subconscious took me.  They took me to Firestone Walker Brewing Company, a California brewery that has been getting major buzz due to some substantial wins at this year’s Great American Beer Festival.  I’d never had any of their beers before so, after the hype, I had to give Velvet Merlin Oatmeal Stout a go.  The verdict?  Yes, it’s good.  Actually, it’s great!  The name is not misleading; it has a smooth, velvety mouthfeel.  However, like most things in life, it doesn’t live up to the hype: it is the Tim Tebow of beer.  I assumed, after hearing the rave reviews, this beer was going to blow me away with intense flavor, make my eyes roll back in my head in unbridled pleasure, and cure cancer.  Sure, I’m totally going to steal a bottle from you if you bring it to a party but I’m not ready to join the Firestone cult just yet.

Firestone Walker lives up to 77% of the hype.  So, yeah, still pretty good.

After Firestone we just pinballed around the room, tasting anything that came our way.  Renegade Brewing Company’s Radiator had a unique taste due in part to the addition of cinnamon.  It almost tasted like Big Red gum but in a way that is much more pleasing than how I just made it sound.  I’ve had a lot of vanilla porters in my day and that includes the one from Dry Dock Brewing Company.  Still, sometimes I forget just how good we Front Range beer drinkers have it; Dry Dock’s version is definitely the best because it doesn’t wimp out on the vanilla.  It’s like being slapped in the face with an ice cream cone.  I like strong flavors in my beer and Dry Dock delivers.  Christmas Ale from Bristol Brewing Company is not a pumpkin beer but it smells and tastes like they put every pumpkin pie ingredient (except pumpkin) into the batch.  Again, it is a beer with strong flavor so I enjoyed it quite a bit. 

Looking down a line of serving tables

While being served at the Golden City Brewery, I overheard some gel-haired, polo-wearing, Jersey Shore: Colorado Edition toolbag complaining to the brewery rep that he was served a flat beer—Black Hops was the name of it.  First of all, there’s no need to bitch about it; it’s an all-you-can-drink event so it’s not going to cost you anymore to come back for a refill.  Secondly, if you must bitch, bitch quietly so that nobody but the rep can hear you—no need to announce it to the world.  Thirdly, go screw yourself.  Now, I love Golden City (I need to get back there soon) and I hate toolbags so I interrupted the tirade by telling the rep how much I loved Golden City and how good the beer was and, not long after I was through, I realized I wasn’t just saying that to be nice—Black Hops is actually a damn fine beer.  It is a black IPA that retains a lot of piney aroma and flavor even when brewed with dark malts.  Check it out next time you’re in Golden’s second biggest brewery.

While sipping on some Judgment Day from Lost Abbey, I noticed a Westword photographer taking a picture of my Beer in Colorado shirt.  He told me he thought it was cool because it looked well-worn and retro.  Actually, I got that shirt just a few months ago; it just looks old and faded because I didn’t want to spend the extra money on quality at Zazzle.com.  Nonetheless, I’m glad you liked it, dude!  I hope it gets put up on the Westword website or, better yet, in the print edition. 

Between beers, Nicole and I would cruise by the silent auction table and scope out the goodies.  They had a pretty impressive spread: neon beer signs, brewery shirts and t-shirts, bombers of beer, jewelry, artwork, and miscellaneous other stuff.  I put a bid down on some Great Divide Brewing Co. hats until I got frustrated with the idiot that kept outbidding me by a penny.  I also got in a bidding war with some guy over a bottle of Anniversary Ale and a pint glass from Firestone Walker but I soon realized that $35 was already too much for a single bomber (although I’m sure the beer was exceptionally good) and a pint glass—of which I already have too many—so I bowed out.  Simply because nobody had put a bid in yet, I put down the minimum amount on some Dry Dock shirts and immediately regretted it because a) they weren’t my size and b) they didn’t even look that cool.  Luckily, somebody put a higher amount down so I dodged that bullet.  Having lost out on those three items, I concentrated my efforts on the three bombers from Dry Dock: Double India Pale Ale, Hefeweizen, and Vanilla Porter.  For the longest time I thought I would win with the minimum bid of $15 but, with five minutes left, somebody outbid me by a few bucks.  Okay, no big deal; I can take the hit so I wrote down a few dollars more.  Then, with about one minute left, some other dude swoops in and jacks the price up by $15!  Bastard!  Well, I’m too competitive for my own good so I put down one dollar more and won the three bombers for $36 which is, eh, not the best deal but Dry Dock makes great beer and, what the hell, the money goes to charity.  But, if I ever find out that Mr. Fifteen-Dollars More works for the brewery and that he was just baiting me to get more money for his product then I’m driving down to Aurora and breaking all three bombers over his head.

The silent auction table

Parade of Darks ended so I stumbled out into the cold and crawled into the passenger seat of Nicole’s car.  I’ve been to a lot of beer events and they’re all great for different reasons: Telluride Blues & Brews is great because of the scenic locale and the live music, Brew at the Zoo is great because of the animals, and Great American Beer Festival is great because of its vastness.  Parade of Darks, however, has something else entirely: exclusivity.  That doesn’t refer to people, of course; the world of craft beer is about bringing people together, not shunning the outsiders.  No, I mean exclusivity of beer—only dark beers were allowed.  This means that participating breweries had to re-think the usual line-up in order to conform to the event’s rules.  It can be disappointing when you go to a lot of beer events and never get anything new because the breweries always bring their standard beers but a “dark beers only” rule shakes up the norm and ensures that event-goers will get to try a few new beers.

See you at the 4th Annual Parade of Darks!



P.S.  Did you know that Beer in Colorado now has a Twitter account and a Facebook page?  Check us out and get mini-updates between posts.

A few years ago, I was probably on the negative side of beer geekiness. If I was to order a beer (and that would have been very rare) it would have been a Blue Moon or an Easy Street Wheat. When I took Chris to Odell Brewing Company two years ago I am sure that I ordered an Easy Street. As it turned out, that trip was the maiden voyage of our Beer in Colorado journey. I didn't really know what other types of beers were out there so, at the first few breweries we visited, I just ordered whatever wheat they had. Chris eventually convinced me to try other beers but even then they were usually on the lighter side. The Parade of Darks would probably not have been something that appealed to me back then; I would have walked around trying to find something that didn't scare me. Luckily, I have overcome those fears.

I found some great beers at the Parade of Darks but many are, sadly, only available in the winter. A few of my favorites were the Barrel-Aged Munich Dunkel from Pug Ryan's, Chocolate Bock by Samuel Adams (yeah, I know it is a beer giant and not local but it was still pretty good), the Christmas Ale from Bristol Brewing, and the Vanilla Porter from both Dry Dock Brewing and Breckenridge Brewery. Dry Dock's Vanilla Porter has a rich vanilla flavor that would taste great in ice cream. Good thing I own an ice cream machine and good thing Chris won a bottle in the silent auction. (Note: I should suggest this to Sweet Action for their next marriage between beer and ice cream because Sweet Action rocks!) 

One of the other fun things about this event was chatting with the reps from the breweries. I talked to the folks from Grimm Brothers Brewhouse about the art work for their beers and I was excited to see a couple of their shirts at the silent auction (which I bid on and won.  I will use them in a Beer in Colorado t-shirt quilt when my shirts are no longer wearable). They told me about their new beer that is going to be available in February or March. I can't remember what type of beer or the name but I do remember that the art work is purple. Perfect! It will fit nicely into my wardrobe.

I do have one tiny complaint about the food. The food selection was chocolate cake, chocolate mousse, cheesecakes, and other rich desserts. You may never meet someone with a bigger sweet tooth than me; I love desserts. But, some cheese, meats and crackers, or pretzels might have been more suitable for a beer event. After all, they do cleanse the palate and fill you up. Just food for thought.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Upslope's Anniversary and the Quest for Pumpkin Beer

They say that the third anniversary is the “leather year.”  I may be falling into a Freudian trap by saying this but, if you ask me, that sounds kind of kinky.  All I can think of is whips, masks, gags, harnesses, gimp suits, and a bunch of other things I’ll refrain from mentioning lest I appear to be the expert on the subject.  Look, it’s completely natural to want to strap your wife down to a chair and flog her with a cat -o’-nine-tails after three years of marital bliss but might I offer a more practical alternative?  Forgo your deviant lifestyle and instead make like Upslope Brewing Company on their third anniversary and serve up some Colorado craft beer.  

Upslope turned three this past Saturday and, to celebrate, they held a party in their tasting room which has, since Nicole and I’s last visit, at least doubled in size.  The additional space was most beneficial since, to celebrate the occasion, Upslope was pouring a lot more than just the usual four i.e. Pale Ale, India Pale Ale, Brown Ale, and Craft Lager.  For an anniversary party, the canned and distributed stuff—good though it may be—aint gonna cut it.  You need the hard-to-find beers if you’re going to make the night special and Upslope met the challenge.  They had a Belgian pale ale, a Baltic porter, a foreign stout, some other stuff I can’t remember and, most importantly, their Great American Beer Festival gold medal-winning Pumpkin Ale.  There was so much to try but I only had two tickets to redeem so I went for the Baltic porter and the Belgian pale ale.

The Baltic porter was brewed specifically to celebrate three years of operation thus its moniker “3rd Anniversary.”  Since 3rd Anniversary breaks the Upslope trend of simply naming the beer after the style in which it was brewed, I had to ask what it was before I ordered.  I had thought that the bartender said Belgian porter so, for the first half of the beer, I was looking for the fruity esters and flavors that are commonly associated with Belgian-style ales.  The funny thing is, after awhile, I actually started to detect those qualities!  The placebo effect is alive and well.  However, after I overheard that it was actually a Baltic porter, I immediately lost any sense of fruity characteristics, slapped myself for slipping up in my beer assessment, and began the tasting notes anew. 
Baltic Porter

3rd Anniversary has a black core that fades to brown that fades to red at the edge of the glass.  It is topped with a tan head.  The aroma smells faintly of chocolate and the taste is that of a fine roasted coffee.  The flavor is smooth, inoffensive.  It is like drinking a gourmet cup of chilled coffee with chocolate syrup swirled in.  There is a buildup of bitterness in the back of the mouth.  Towards the end of my glass, I heard another patron comment that it is like a black IPA which, while technically incorrect (at least as incorrect as my Belgian porter assessment), holds some truth; it is, by all means, dark in color and possessing a somewhat bitter flavor.  So I guess that guy was kind of right.  Kind of.

I also ordered a glass of the Belgian pale ale (yes, I’m sure that this one was indeed a Belgian; I saw it written on the tap handle).  This beer is mostly clear—a light cloud hovers in it—and is the color of that tacky, gold metal trimming old people accent their bathrooms with.  Nicole told me the technical term is “Harvest Gold.”  The aroma is bready, yeasty, and reminiscent of a wit beer.  The scent of coriander is apparent.  Likewise, coriander makes a big appearance in the flavor thus making it taste like a hoppy hefeweizen or, perhaps more accurately due to the additional orange-like flavor, a hoppy Blue Moon.  The spices in this beer warm the back of the tongue and it finishes dry with some spurts of salivation following. 
Belgian Pale Ale

Unfortunately, even though Upslope had established two additional albeit temporary serving stations for the event, there still wasn’t enough room to tap all of the beers at the same time; they had to kick a few kegs before they added more.  For that reason, we missed out on Pumpkin Ale.  We had it at Upslope’s tap takeover at Hops & Pie and we were looking forward to having it again but we were also unwilling to wait around for the rest of the party to empty a keg.  So, I grabbed my handsome and exclusive souvenir glass and we set sail for Denver where we visited two breweries that could sate our unnatural lust for Pumpkin-flavored beers.

We pulled up to Denver Beer Co. where, by happenchance, we ran into my neighbor Jeff who is a graphic designer responsible for the “Beer in Colorado” logo you see at the top of this page (visit his website if you like what you see).  We had a squat with him and ordered the Pumpkin Porter and the Great American Beer Festival bronze-medaling Graham Cracker Porter.
Pumpkin on left, Graham Cracker on right

The Pumpkin Porter is sumptuous.  The drinking experience is pure hedonism.  The pumpkin pie spices come out in full force and the porter aspect imparts a chocolate accent.  It is so decadent that I hardly took the time to take notes and it was so pleasurable that I think it partially erased my memory.  I’m sorry I can’t describe it in more detail but, trust me, it is one of the best pumpkin-flavored beers out there. 

The Graham Cracker Porter is also quite good but, since it is the award-winner, I expected it to be even better than Pumpkin Porter.  That wasn’t the case.  It smells and tastes simultaneously of graham cracker and vanilla with vanilla being the more dominate.  Again, a very good beer but it doesn’t touch Pumpkin Porter. 

We ended the night at Strange Brewing Company where I had yet another pumpkin-flavored porter.  This one was also quite tasty although it emphasized pumpkin flavor rather than pumpkin pie flavor.  Still, a taste of nutmeg was more obvious in this rendition.
Strange's Pumpkin Porter

Visiting three young but potentially long-lasting breweries in one day made me realize how lucky I am to be living in this wonderfully beer-friendly environment.  In a lot of places, upstart businesses—be they brewery or not—open and close within a few months.  Although that still happens in Colorado (case in point: Los Oasis Latin Grill & Cerveceria which, according to Boulder’s Daily Camera, opened and closed within about three months.  I wish Nicole and I knew that before we wasted about 20 minutes looking for a parking spot for a place that doesn't exist prior to attending the anniversary party), every brewery, new and established, has every opportunity to succeed due to the unwavering support of the craft beer community.  For that, I give a hearty Prost!


I never realized, while attempting to visit Los Oasis, that parking near Pearl Street Mall in Boulder could be such a stressful and confusing task. The streets were lined with cars, the parking garage was completely full, and the neighborhoods had signs about “permit parking excepted” which made absolutely no sense to me. After driving up and down the parking garage, finding out there were no empty spots, negotiating the tight turns in my SUV, and trying to avoid other cars, I gave up. I have no patience when it comes to driving. Naturally, this put me in a bad mood.

When we showed up at Upslope, I was excited to see what they had to offer. We went to a chili cook-off there a couple of years ago and they had live music, food (of course, it was a chili cook-off), and it was an all-around fun atmosphere. When we arrived, we jumped in line to find out that the entrance fee was $15 which included a glass and two beers. The price seemed a bit steep but we paid and found a table inside. As we listened to the man behind the bar list off the beers on tap I noticed he said that the pumpkin beer wouldn’t be tapped until later. What? The GABF award winning beer isn’t on tap yet? They had their usual beers and a couple of “special” beers available but not the pumpkin! That beer was the reason I was there! Since it was an anniversary party I thought they would have a whole line-up of seasonal and limited release brews but I was wrong. I guess I was thinking back to Strange Brewing’s first anniversary party which included several of specialty beers (they even brewed root beer for the under 21 crowd) and free pizza. So, I took back my glass and beer tickets and got my money back. This was a major disappointment. I helped Chris assess his beers and made plans to stop at Denver Beer Co. on the way home.

While looking at Denver Beer Co’s (DBC) facebook page, I was informed that they recently tapped another batch of the Graham Cracker Porter. On our other visits to DBC, Graham Cracker Porter was not on the chalkboard so, when I knew that it was ready, I wanted to check it out. When we go there and realized that they had a Pumpkin Porter on tap I was absolutely giddy. The aroma of the Pumpkin Porter had hints of cinnamon and pumpkin and the flavor was divine. The essence of pumpkin pie was obvious and well-crafted. After the disappointment early in the day this quickly lifted my mood. Not only did I get to try another pumpkin beer but also I finally got to taste the Graham Cracker Porter. Although the graham cracker taste wasn’t very strong, the vanilla flavor was a nice pairing with the roasty flavors of the porter. This style of beer was perfect for the weather which was dark, gray, and cloudy with chilling winds and a threat of snow.

To top off a great visit to Denver Beer Co. I ordered some food from Chile Billy. Chile Billy is one of Denver’s amazing food trucks (carts) that can be found every Saturday at DBC. They offer a chicken pot pie that is topped with a jalapeño cornbread rather than the traditional pie crust. My taste buds were dancing. The cornbread and chicken had just the right amount of spiciness and the filling was “melt in your mouth” good. Sometimes pot pie can seem like a heart attack in a pastry pouch but Chile Billy didn’t use a thick, gooey gravy. Their pot pie was more like a tortilla soup with the traditional pot pie veggies. I am not doing this pot pie justice with this description. Seriously, find them soon and devour it! Trust me, your belly and taste buds will thank you.  


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Halloween Hangover at Amato's

“Trick or treat!” I said with extended arms and open candy sack.

“My, my, my,” said the old lady at the door, “look at all the scary monsters out today.  And what are you supposed to be, little boy?”

“Frankenstein!” blurted Timmy.

“I’m Buzz Lightyear!” said Cody.

“Harry Potter!” said Jeremy.

“And, uh, who are you, dad?” asked the old lady as she looked up at me.

“First of all, I aint these kids’ daddy, lady; I’m here for the candy so cough it up.  Secondly, can’t you tell from the blood around my mouth, the half empty bottle of Jack, and my three foot beehive hairdo that I’m Zombie Amy Winehouse?  Now, chop chop with the goodies.”

“How old are you, sir?”

“25, what’s it to ya?”

“Young man, aren’t you a little old to be trick or treating?”

“Aren’t you a little old to be alive?”

“I think you’d better leave now.”

“I think you’d better make good with the ‘treats’ before I ‘trick’ your ass all over town.”

“I’m calling the cops.”

“Fine!  I’ll go.  I’ll go to a place where people like me can go to enjoy Halloween without fascists like you discriminating people based on age.  We’re taking Halloween back, we are!  The college students!  The young professionals!  The hipsters!  The middle-aged parents!  This holiday is for everybody and we’re not going to stand by as you trample on our fun anymore.  You’ll see, you’ll all see!”

“I don’t care.  Just go.”

And go I did—along with Nicole—to Ale House at Amato’s for their Trick or Beer tasting event on Halloween night from 5pm to 9pm.

For a $5 ticket, participants received a sampler glass, six sample-sized tastings, and choice of one full pint from one of the three participating breweries: Grimm Brothers Brewhouse, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, and Breckenridge Brewery.  It was a small event especially after having visited Great American Beer Festival and Brew at the Zoo but, as I told my high school girlfriend, size isn’t everything.  Sure, three breweries seems paltry but one must also take into account what is being served and not just how much is being served.  At Trick or Beer, beer geeks were treated to a handful of unique brews—brews you probably wouldn’t find at the average BBQ, frat party, or sporting event.  Plus, the event was held atop Amato’s rooftop patio wherein lit up urban vistas were on the menu for the visual feast.

Trick or Beer featured great views

The first brewery Nicole and I hit was Grimm Brothers, a small brewery in Loveland that we had been to once before.  They were serving up Master Thief, a German-style porter, and Little Red Cap, an altbier.  Master Thief looks pitch black but, since this was an outdoor and nighttime/dusk event, it could have been a very deep, rich brown.  It has a tan head, a chocolate and roasted malt aroma and flavor, and the mouthfeel is quite thick.  It is, in short, everything a porter should be: nothing more, nothing less.  It’s a simple, solid drink and among the best porters I’ve ever had.  I ordered Master Thief for my full pint.  Little Red Cap is a cloudy red-brown and it has a tart, green apple-like aroma.  It’s not a dominating scent but it is certainly present.  Red cap is thin bodied and it possesses a mild bitter bite.
Master Thief on left, Red Cap on right

Then came the craft beer darling of America: Dogfish Head.  With a near-endless resume’ of experimental beers, a start-your-own business book authored by headbrewer Sam Caligione, and a short lived TV series, only Sam Adams can compete with Dogfish Head for the title of “most overexposed craft brewery.”  Okay, so I like Dogfish beer, I read the book, and I watched the show but my inner-hippie still gets perturbed when funky little breweries transform into giants.  How dare you become successful, make money, and desire to expand your endeavor!  Seriously, though, I’m always happy to see craft beer success stories; I just prefer my breweries to be more neighborhood-centric.

Dogfish brought Burton Baton (10% ABV), a blended beer made from an English-style old ale and an imperial IPA, and Black & Red (10.5% ABV), a blended beer made from a mint stout and a raspberry stout.  Burton Baton is hazy orange-yellow with a strong, punch-you-in-the-nose hop aroma.  The malts also make appearances on the nose.  Burton Baton’s flavor is piney and the intense amount of hops warms the drinker’s insides.  Amazingly, the bitterness level of this beer isn’t through the roof and, even then, the bitterness dissipates quickly. 
B & R on left, Burton on right

Black & Red has to be the wackiest beer I’ve ever set my lips on.  It looks normal enough: pitch black with a tan head like any stout.  When I put my nose to it, though, any assumptions about this beer being prosaic were hurled from the rooftop; it smelled of Crème de menthe with hints of raspberry.  Wow!  I knew what was in this beer was before I ordered it but I never thought it would be that obvious.  The flavor continues the trend as the beer tastes like mint chocolate chip ice cream with raspberry swirl.  Black & Red is dessert in a glass.  Nicole didn’t use all of her tickets so I kept coming back for samples of this beer; it definitely has too many competing flavors to warrant a full pint.

Breckenridge Brewery brought Agave Wheat (4.2% ABV) and their fall seasonal Autumn Ale (6.7% ABV).  Agave Wheat is cloudy yellow and has that quintessential “wheat beer” aroma.  The flavor is yeasty and lemony.  Autumn Ale is clear but dark brown like and overly stained piece of glass in a church’s window.  It smells sweet, nutty, and maple-y and those attributes are also present in the flavor along with a touch of toffee.
Autumn on left, Agave on right

In addition to the great beer, there was also great ambiance.  Like I said, the event was held on the rooftop patio so event-goers could drink in the scenery as they drank in their beer.  Nicole met somebody she knew from grade school and I made tentative plans to collaborate with another beer blogger.  It was a small but reasonably priced and super fun event that I hope becomes a Halloween tradition at Amato’s. 



One of my favorite parts about visiting new breweries and trying new beers and checking out the beer pulls. Some breweries have very creative and artistic pulls but Dogfish Head’s Black & Red had one of the most interesting ones I have seen. It was made of gears and the quote, “Analog beer for the digital age.” It is fitting that Black & Red should have a creative pull because it is one of the most imaginative beers I have ever tried. One of my favorite ice creams is mint chocolate chip so the fact that this beer tasted like the liquid version of the frozen treat intrigued me. I really enjoyed the flavor—especially the hints of raspberry. However, a tiny sample glass was more than enough for me. The mint flavor was very strong and the high alcohol volume packed a punch.

One of my other favorites of the night was Grimm Brother’s Master Thief. As the weather gets colder, I am ready to try some new porters and stouts. I used to think that porters and stouts were too heavy and thick but the more I try the more I like the complex flavors. I am learning to like the roastiness of these beers. The coffee and chocolate flavors of stouts don’t seem as strong or bitter to me anymore. I guess I can thank Chris for pushing me out of my beer comfort zone. When we first started our mission of visiting breweries I always ordered the wheat beer on tap but now I am more adventurous and I am willing to try everything. Well, I am willing to try a few sips at least to help assess the beer for its style but I don't drink to see if I like it or not.

Dogfish draft pull