"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, January 30, 2011

Beer Is No Trivial Matter Except When It Is

Don’t ever say we aren’t dedicated to the mission.  After substitute teaching an elementary P.E. class and after real-teaching middle school science, Nicole and I could have passed out on Friday quicker than a freshman at a frat party.  The siren call of beer roused us from our exhaustion and urged us to continue on our goal to visit every brewery in the state.  Our target this time was Elk Mountain Brewing in Parker.

Elk Mountain is an exercise in juxtaposition: a rustic, mountain themed brewery in a Denver suburb strip mall.  Though it makes the brewery seem like the sort of place on par with T.G.I. Friday’s, being located in a strip mall does not correlate to bad beer (Aurora’s Dry Dock Brewing, Co. and Boulder’s Upslope Brewing Co. come to mind).  Still, the uneasiness one feels when coming across a microbrewery (symbol of America’s business Davids) in a strip mall (symbol of America’s business Goliaths) is hard to overcome especially when, like a Rainforest Café, it’s anatopistically themed.

Passing by antlered chandeliers, hanging grain sacks, and the odd cast-iron stove or two, we sat ourselves at the bar and watched X-Games snowmobilers seriously injure themselves for the amusement of the crowd.  The bartender came over and I ordered their seasonal Vanilla Caramel Porter (5.57% ABV) and Nicole, having temporarily lost her ID, had some root beer.  I knew I already liked vanilla porters having already partaken in the genre’s offerings as interpreted by Breckenridge Brewery and the aforementioned Dry Dock and was hoping for the same level of quality in Elk Mountain’s take.  I was not disappointed.  Vanilla Caramel Porter is black with no evident highlights and has a brown head.  The vanilla and the caramel were both evident in the aroma and the flavor.  The first sip had a hint of vanilla followed by the ubiquitous coffee essence of a porter and it finished with caramel and a repeat of the vanilla.  This beer is sweet, roasty, and delicious.

Vanilla Caramel Porter

It was towards my last sips that Nicole found a box full of trivia cards and started relentlessly quizzing me.  We are avid patrons of Geeks Who Drink pub trivia and, seeing as the annual nerd-orgy known as Geek Bowl V was on the horizon (5 hours away at the time of this writing) we thought it best to bone up.  To more accurately simulate my projected state of mind at the big game I had to order another beer.  If you’re going to test intoxicated you have to study intoxicated.  I went with my old standby, the IPA.  The Puma IPA (6.59% ABV, 60 IBU) is an exceedingly clear, darkish yellow with a piney/hoppy bouquet.  Unlike the majority of American IPAs, this one doesn’t overpower you with bitterness.  Although I like a good bitter kick to the teeth, I can still appreciate the more subdued IPAs because they allow you to actually taste the flavor of the hops without being distracted by the shiver-inducing bitterness.  Even Nicole got into the spirit when the bartender, making the educated and accurate assumption that Nicole was over 21, gave her a sample-sized glass of Wild Wapiti Wheat (5.5% ABV), a hefeweizen with all the traditional clove aromas and flavors.  With lupulin and malt coursing through our bodies, we tore through the entire stack of trivia cards in no time. 

Puma IPA

Wild Wapiti Wheat

We bought a growler of Wild Wapiti to share with our friends at the after-quiz/victory party and headed back to Denver.  Beat though we were from the day’s work and facing a fairly long drive to Parker and back, we didn’t lose sight of the mission and we didn’t fail to make time for doing the things we love.  We stuck it out and Elk Mountain repaid our efforts.   



(Update: We placed 67th out of about 130 teams at Geek Bowl V)

Imagine you reach into your pocket expecting to find something and that something is missing. I have a little bit of OCD, especially when it comes to important things like keys, phones, and wallets. Well, when something goes missing, I start to freak out. Now imagine you are on a journey to try some beer after a long day’s work and you reach into your pocket and that something missing is your ID. So, when my ID is not where it should be, I start to wonder if it sprouted legs in the last 24 hours and walked away. The fact that I get asked for my hall pass when I wander the halls of a middle school or school, makes me realize that there is no way I am going to squeak by in a brewery without getting asked for my ID. As we sit down, I don’t even try to order a beer, but choose the 0.0000001% ABV root beer. After a long day of loud teenagers that would have much rather talked about their fun weekend plans rather than genetics, a root beer lifted my spirits. It had a nice flavor that wasn’t too sweet, as some sodas can be. I enjoyed my beverage with some buttery popcorn and shouted as a snowmobile missed an X-gamers head by mere inches. My only thought watching this crazy snowmobile event was that if I ever have sons, they will not participate in this activity. As I continued to cringe at the TV, I sneaked some sips of Chris’ beers. My first thought when I smelled the Vanilla Caramel Porter was that these brewers have some starts at nontraditional ideas for beers. The porter smelled like caramel corn, which made me salivate. I was worried that it might be too much sweet flavor based on the aroma, but it had a wonderful coffee flavor up front and hit you with the vanilla caramely flavor after. Thank goodness that we were able to take some beer home to try later. I was greeted with a nice surprise when I returned to my car. There on my car seat was my ID and I wondered how it ended up there. For now, I will blame a long, exhausting week on turning my brain into mush.


Getting our quiz on at The Fillmore in Denver.  So many geeks in one place.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Remedying Disappointing Breweries with Eminent Non-Beer

Don’t believe the hype; Estes Park’s scariest building isn’t The Stanley Hotel.
The Stanley Hotel

After a short snowshoe hike in Rocky Mountain National Park, Nicole and I arrived at a haunted house.  The wooden façade was crumbly with age and mildew.  Toxic snowflakes of white paint chipped off with every wintery gust.  Floorboards creaked, cobwebs wafted, and an ominous chill coursed through my veins.  I was sure to be killed by the ghost of a vampire that was murdered by a werewolf on Friday the 13th.  Such was my first impression of the Estes Park Brewery.       

Estes Park Brewery

We passed through an eerily deserted gift shop peddling t-shirts and 6-packs and found our way upstairs to the main barroom and dining area.  One pessimistic word pervaded my mind: tacky.  Yes, the wildlife mural that encircled the dining room surely took talent on par with an undergraduate art major and the ubiquitous tabletop games where patrons flip quarters into a tiny basketball hoops added a certain county-fair chic to the joint but, overall, the feng shui was lackluster.
The only thing more unappetizing than the décor was the food.  I’m not sure how many ways one can screw-up hot wings but Estes Park Brewery found at least one way.  They were just too damn soggy and *shudder* saggy.  They looked like a chunky grandma’s varicose veined thigh.
Usually, the saving grace for breweries with substandard aesthetics and food is the awesome beer.  Unfortunately, Estes Park Brewery’s beer is merely “good.”  Having such a terrible first and second impression, they really needed to wow me with some spectacular brews.  My opinion of the brewery was only slightly more forgiving after tasting the beer.
I had the Estes Park Renegade IPA (5.8% ABV) and Nicole had the Stinger Wild Honey Wheat (6% ABV).  Renegade is a hazy, copper color and possesses a thick and creamy head.  The distinctive smell of Cascade hops is apparent.  The mouthfeel is very heavy for an IPA and the taste is as malty as it is hoppy.  If you put hops and malts on equal plains of priority, you will relish in this beer.  I personally don’t take much pleasure in extra-malty beers but I still give it a thumbs up because I love Cascade hops.  The Stinger is a clear yellow with a wheaty aroma and a light honey flavor.  Yes, the beers were delicious but they simply weren’t delicious enough to save the brewery from an overall subpar rating. 
Renegade up front, Stinger in the back.

I’m probably being overly prickish about this whole thing but, dammit, I’m proud of my Colorado beers and I’m so rarely disappointed by them.  I hate to see this place offset the curve.  Shape up, Estes Park Brewery; you’re representing the guild of Colorado brewers.  I hate to think of the possibility that a budding beer connoisseur might get the wrong impression of the state’s other offerings should they begin their journey in Estes Park.
After making a quick stop to the aforementioned setting of Stephen King’s The Shining, Nicole and I headed to Boulder to meet up with my sister Sarah to visit the Redstone Meadery.  Obviously, this is a beer blog and the focus is and always will be on beer but a little honey wine can steal a little of the limelight. 

Inside Redstone.

Inside Redstone.

The entrance to Redstone is modest and the tasting room quite small but the quality of the beverages and the customer service is exceptional.  Accommodating the uninitiated mead drinker (e.g. me), Redstone lets the customer sample all of their many offerings before buying.  I really appreciated this because, when it comes to mead, I’m as helpless as a toothless man in an apple orchard.  Being hardheaded about my passion for beer, I decided on Nectar of the Hops—mead with the faintest hint of Centennial and Amarillo hops.  It was close enough to beer for my liking.  We left Redstone with a few bottles for future enjoyment.

Despite the inadequacies of Estes Park Brewery, we still had a fine day.  We have another brewery to add to the list of conquests and we had some quality drinks even if they were in a shabby brewpub or in a genre outside of beer.  Life remains worth the effort.

Estes Park seems like a laid-back, little town with the Stanley Hotel looming over it. I don’t remember the last time I went to Estes Park and I was excited to spend my Saturday snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park. After finding a trail, we started our journey. But, climbing over logs and rocks and slipping while trying to make it up the slopes was not my idea of a good time. So, we turned around and prepared to taste some beer. After misplacing my sticky note with my directions on it (which I found on the couch when we got home), I finally got my Blackberry to look up the address of the brewery. Good thing my car has a navigation system because I don’t think I would have found the brewery otherwise. For future reference, it is behind the racing slides and the go kart track. I guess I don’t have much more to add to Chris’ assessment of the brewery. My wheat beer was wheaty, as it should be, but it wasn’t anything spectacular. I was more intrigued by the Shining themed beers that they had, so intrigued that I was inspired to visit the hotel before heading home. The Stanley is a piece of history, not just for its status as a historic building or the role that it played in a novel, but it was the location where the American Association of Orthodontics was founded [Chris’ Note:  How exciting!]. My favorite part of the hotel was the piano in the lobby. The piano was different than any one I had ever seen, it was more of a long rectangle. Although Chris and I are on a journey to visit all of the breweries in Colorado, I am also on a journey to see more of the state where I grew up. Visiting the small towns and other cities in Colorado is just as much of a learning experience as learning more about beer and the breweries where it is made.


Hiking in Rocky Mountain N.P.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Ostentatious Circumflex

Certain diacritical marks hold different connotations.  For example, the festive tilde makes me think Sweet!  Probably some sweet tacos around here.  The stoic umlaut make me think Shit!  Probably going to get a jackboot to the face.  And the circumflex?  The circumflex makes me think Great!  Some pretentious prick is trying to impress me.  Such was my thought when I first heard about Odell Brewing Company’s (Ft. Collins) latest offering from the corked Single Serve Series: Avant Pêche Imperial Porter (9.5% ABV).
I’m not some curmudgeon who’s upset that beer is being wrenched from the craggy hands of the working class and being transformed into a libation for the big city intellectuals.  Truth is, some beers aren’t for everybody.  Most people aren’t going to knock off work, drive their truck to Dave’s Saloon, and order an Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout (Great Divide Brewing Company, Denver).  Conversely, I’m not so snobbish that I won’t drink a Bud Light or PBR.  When it comes to certain situations like BBQs and sporting events, I actually prefer the cheap stuff.  I see both sides of the argument but Avant Pêche makes me lean towards the “beer is the everyman’s drink” philosophy.  The name just oozes with pompousness.  It sounds like the name of some black turtlenecked freak’s art exhibit consisting mainly of rotted fruit cores Super Glued into Lovecraftian shapes.  Don’t ask him what it’s supposed to be, he’ll just call attention to your unenlightened, neo-fascist mindset and walk off in a huff.  Plus, I don’t like having to figure out how to make that stupid little mark above the “e” in Microsoft Word. 
Names aside, beer is about the taste.  This is how Odell describes the beer: “We aged a classic Imperial Porter in oak barrels with Colorado peaches and wild yeasts.  The blend marries a bold roasted chocolate malt flavor with a subtle peach essence, and the wild yeasts create slightly tart complexities.”  What piqued my interest, for a couple reasons, was the peaches.  For one, because everybody living in Colorado must sign a clause that they will be a hippie for at least 10% of their waking life, I appreciated the fact that Avant Pêche used local fruit in the brewing process.  The other reason I was interested was because Nicole and I have homebrewed a Colorado peach ale and I wanted to see how they compared.
Avant Pêche is black with very faint red highlights.  It has a light brown head.  It smells both tart and sour with hints of acetone.  I talked about Dogfish Head’s World Wide Stout and it’s nail polish-like aroma in a previous post; Avant Pêche’s aroma is a subdued version of that.  With the first sip, Avant Pêche hits you in the front of the mouth with roasted malt and then lacquers your whole mouth like fossilized amber.  There is a tartness that dances on the tip of the tongue before heading deeper and eventually arriving at the roof of the mouth.  The oak-y quality of the beer is detectable but not overpowering.  Weak though it may be, the oak flavor stays on the tongue long after you swallow.  When you do swallow, it feels like watered-down liquor going down your throat.  It definitely has an alcohol burn.  The flavor and the aroma both mellow out as the beer warms.  I recommend keeping it out of the fridge for awhile before you pop the cork.
There was only one flavor that wasn’t predominate: peaches!  There’s no detectable peach aroma or flavor!  It’s right there in the name, one thinks it would be a bit more obvious.  When Nicole and I brewed our peach ale you couldn’t miss the peach flavor.  With Avant Pêche you have to hunt for it and, when you find it, you can’t be entirely sure you’re not just kidding yourself in to thinking you’re tasting peach.  Odell claims a “subtle peach essence” but I call that an overstatement.
Would I recommend Avant Pêche?  Yeah, why not?  It’s a decent porter.  However, I warn anybody who wants to try this beer not to get their hopes up about the peaches.  I’d like to see Odell tweak the recipe and double or triple the peach input; I think that would really make it stand out.  As is, Avant Pêche is a good Colorado porter adrift in a sea of good Colorado porters.                   

Monday, January 17, 2011

Das Reinheitsgebot: Second Worst Thing to Come Out of Germany

The continuation of yesterday’s blog…

We left Big Beaver and continued up to Ft. Collins.  Funkwerks, a saison-only brewery, was our destination.  We pulled into the parking lot and, although we have never had the pleasure of visiting Funkwerks, déjà vu abounded.  We’ve been here before—before the “fw” logo was plastered on the entrance sign.  A year ago when we came with a group of friends, the logo read “FCB.”  It seems the Fort Collins Brewery grew too big for their britches and built a brand-spanking-new facility just a few hundred yards down the road in an apparent attempt to play on the same level as New Belgium Brewing and Odell Brewing Company.  Luckily, their old facility didn’t go to waste and the town was graced with an additional brewery.  If you didn’t already consider Ft. Collins a beer Mecca of the country, start considering.
There's definitely something familiar about this "Funkwerks" place.

The new "fw" logo where the old "FCB" used to be.

I admit it, saisons are not my forte; of all the types of beer in the world, saisons rank among those of which I know very little.  I know they are from the French-speaking part of Belgium, I know they are often referred to as “farmhouse” ales, and I know they usually have a rocky head and a spicy flavor.  I’ve tried saisons on a number of different occasions but I’ve never took the time to learn everything there is to know about the style.  Probably the main reason is—and try to contain yourself—I really don’t like Belgian beers all that much.  I like New Belgium beers but old Belgium beers just don’t do it for me.  Please don’t send hate mail or demand that I turn in my “Beer Nerd” badge; I realize that a self-proclaimed beer-lover who snubs Belgian beers is akin to a Dave Matthews fan snubbing shitty music but, as I’ve said in previous posts, I’m a non-traditionalist when it comes to beer (and a few other subjects).  That’s why I crave American craft beer; it isn’t bogged down by what’s been done in the past but looks to the future and attempts to create the next great style of beer.  It is Funkwerk’s blending of traditional Belgian brewing and American craft that made me like it a little more than I expected.
Inside Funkwerks.

Whenever I go to a new brewery that serves a sample platter of all they offer, I almost always take that route.  Funkwerks had five flights to try: Casper, White, Saison, Māori King, and Belgian Resistance.

      Casper (5.0% ABV) is a hazy yellow beer with a sour aroma. It has a crisp initial taste that finishes with a wheat aftertaste that lingers on the tongue.
White (5.5% ABV) is clear yellow with an orange, floral aroma.  It tastes like an orange tea with       hints of honey.
      Saison (6.8% ABV) is a dark, cloudy yellow beer that has a wheat aroma.  It tastes quite a lot like a hefeweizen.
      Māori King (7.0% ABV) is orange/yellow, cloudy, and smells both sour and hoppy.  It tastes like a hoppy hefeweizen.  This was my favorite for several reasons.  For one, I believe hops are the best of the four traditional ingredients that compose beer and, seeing as this had the highest hop character, the decision to crown Māori King was easy.  Also, I once spent several months living in New Zealand and the beer’s name plus the inclusion of New Zealand Rakau hops (known to have passion fruit, mango, and peach qualities) brought back happy memories of that time.  More than anything else, I liked this beer because the mixing of Belgian and Kiwi styles was so delightfully non-traditional.
Belgian Resistance (6.7% ABV) is hazy with an apple cider-esque coloring.  It has a tart aroma and fruity esters from the yeast.
Left to Right: Casper, White, Saison, Māori King, and Belgian Resistance. 

We left Funkwerks (but not before saying hello to one of the owners on behalf of the Big Beaver Brewmaster), drove past FCB's new facility, popped over to Odell to pick up some Avant Pêche (expect a review), and headed back to Loveland to visit the Grimm Brothers Brewhouse

The new Fort Collins Brewery.

Much like Big Beaver, you have to know where you’re going if you want to visit Grimm Brothers.  At least Grimm Brothers has the occasional election-style lawn sign to point the wayward traveler in the right direction. 

Grimm Brothers is small.  Not Big Beaver small but still very small.  The English geek inside me rejoiced when I saw that several beers were named after literary archetypes (Master Thief, The Fearless Youth).  Putting book dorkiness aside, I ordered a pint of Seven Ravens Schwarzbier and Nicole ordered Snow Drop Honey Wheat Ale.  Schwarzbiers have recently become a go-to beer for me (right alongside IPAs).  I never seem to get a bad one.  Seven Ravens is pretty typical of the style: black with faint red highlights, a brown head, light aroma of roasted barley, and a light, roasted coffee taste.  It was the Snow Drop that turned out to be the interesting one and we didn’t even know it until after we had drank it all.  We chatted with the brewers as we cashed out and came to find that Snow Drop is what’s known as a Köttbusser, an otherwise extinct German beer.  Way back in 1516 when the Beer Purity Law (das Reinheitsgebot) was passed, beers that did not conform to the draconian limitation of nothing but water, yeast, hops, and barley were forced to either call themselves something other than “beer” or just die out.  Poor Köttbusser, containing oats, honey, and molasses, took the latter path.  But now, thanks to the rogue brewers at Grimm Brothers, Köttbusser lives again!  I applaud Grimm Brothers in this endeavor; like ugly Americans, they flip the bird to the creativity-stifling das Reinheitsgebot and I gladly support them.  Das Reinheitsgebot might have been well-intentioned—everybody wants clean, quality beer—but it’s time to enter the 21st Century and embrace experimentation.  Snow Drop is honey, yellow colored and clear with a wheat aroma.  It’s light and crisp on the palate. 

We thanked the folks at Grimm Brothers for the education and headed home with three more breweries notched on our belts.  Three more down, too many more left to count. 


Like Chris, I was a little shocked to drive up to Funkwerks and see that it filled the vacancy created by Fort Collins Brewery’s move up Lincoln Street. We heard this referred to as “Beer Alley” by someone earlier in the day. As we drove from one end of Lincoln to the other, this term clearly makes sense. As we took our pictures of the sign for the scrapbook, a project that I will work on someday to commemorate our “adventures in beerland,” I was reminded of our visit to the same spot before. My first reaction to the new brewery was the missing trellis filled with hops vines. When we visited this location the first time, I was intrigued with the hops vines that climbed the trellis. I took several pictures of the sunlight shining on the hops. But, those hops vines are now just a memory and a page in the scrapbook. I must admit, I almost had a tear in my eye when I saw that they were gone. It was such a nice touch at the entryway of a brewery as well as a piece of art. When we walked in to the brewery, we noticed all the changes: a fresh coat of paint, new furniture, and the missing beer bottles from the mantle around the top of the wall. It felt a little bare. But, putting the aesthetics aside, I was ready to try some beer. We ordered a flight with their current beers. It came as a rainbow of beers that looked even better with the sunlight coming through the window. Of course, I took a picture. Actually I took several pictures from different angles because it looked so cool. After assessing the color of the beers, it was time to taste. My favorite of their beers was the White. It had orange blossoms in the beer which gave it a nice orange and honey aroma. When I first tasted it, I was reminded of Mandarin Orange Spice tea that is made by Celestial Seasonings, another Colorado based company. The orange flavor really opened up once I sipped from the tulip glass. This isn’t the traditional orange flavor that you get from citrusy wheat beers. The orange blossom flavor is rich and delicious.

Moving on from Funkwerks, we made our way to Grimm Brothers in Loveland. When we visit a brewery, we not only savor the beer but also the ambiance. Grimm Brothers seems like a cozy place where you can chat with the locals. They have a bookshelf with Grimm Brothers’ tales as well as brewing books. The high wooden tables made me feel like I was in a woodsy bar a few hundred years ago.

As I sat down with my beer, I pulled out my BlackBerry. I recently discovered Foursquare, so I “check-in” when I go to new places. As I scrolled through the info about Grimm Brothers, I came across a post about Pints n’ Purls, the Sunday knitting club that is hosted at the brewery. I talked to Emily, one of the workers, about the club. I am bummed that I don’t live in Loveland to add this to my weekly social events. But, maybe I can start something like this at one of the breweries in Denver. I can’t be the only person that enjoys beer and knitting, right? So, if you want to start a Denver chapter of Pints n’ Purls, let me know. One of my other favorite touches at Grimm Brothers was the artwork for their beers. The posters for each beer were awesome. They had an old-timey fairy tale feel with an edge. I bought myself a Snow Drop shirt so I can enjoy the art and show off the brewery.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Beer as Social Networking and the Beginning of a Mini-Odyssey

I’m always pleased with beers preternatural ability to bring people together.  I think beer is the only libation where it’s only socially acceptable when you do drink socially.  It is easy to imagine a professorial gentleman enjoying his fine brandy or bourbon with nobody but the leather-bound works of Dickens, Tolstoy, and other authors who many people profess to love but have never actually read.  These secluded drinking sessions are admired; they make the lonesome drinker seem a hero of the intellectual class.  This is not so of beer.  The lone beer-drinker is either an abusive step-father or a NASCAR fan in the eyes of the public.  I disagree with this assumption.  Beer can be as high-class as the finest liquor or wine and, personally, I can easily visualize the solitary academic substituting his cliché drink for an imperial stout or barleywine.  Still, I prefer to drink with friends and my social lubricant of choice is always beer.

To see beer at its communally cohesive best, go to Denver’s Freshcraft: an above-average with an unparalleled beer selection.  It was here on Friday that Nicole and I met five of our fellow beer-loving friends.  The best part of Freshcraft is that it encourages all drinkers—novices and aficionados alike—to drink outside the box.  Nicole, never the IPA fan, ordered a pint of Left Hand’s 400 Pound Monkey.  I, having just finished reading Sam Calagione’s Brewing Up a Business: Adventures in Entrepreneurship and being thoroughly indoctrinated in the ways of Dogfish Head, ordered the World Wide Stout which, when debuted in 1999, had the highest ABV of any commercial beer.  It has since lost that title but it’ll still knock you on your ass quicker than a game of shot put dodgeball.  And, even though World Wide Stout literally costs a buck per one percent of alcohol, I still wanted everybody at the table to partake.  Although it smelled like nail polish, the taste made the price worthwhile.  That unworldly deliciousness cannot be hoarded, it needs to be shared.  Yes, I watched each of my friends with an eagle-eye to make sure they didn’t waste a single drop of the precious elixir but I still shared it.  Beer drinking is no time to be a tight-ass: build bridges, strengthen friendships, share beer.

Fortunately for me, the beer adventures didn’t end on Friday.  Nicole and I spent the better part of Saturday bolstering our brewery-visit count by three.  We headed North and visited Big Beaver Brewing Company, Funkwerks, and Grimm Brothers Brewhouse. 

Big Beaver (Loveland, CO) is like a mafia hideout; instead of hiding behind the façade of a “pet shop,” Big Beaver hides in the back of a nondenominational church.  There is very little signage advertising the existence of a brewery and you definitely need to know exactly where you’re going if you want to visit.  But, the tenacious craft beer hunter is rewarded for their efforts.

Can you spot the brewery?  Unless you know what you're looking for, you could be within arms reach of Big Beaver and not know it.

The only clue that you're on the right path.

When I first entered I was struck by the overall smallness of the brewery.  You could only fit about five or six people at the bar with a few more patrons along the wall.  I usually take this as a good omen since Twisted Pine and Golden City are two fantastic breweries also of diminutive stature: size doesn’t matter.  Another aspect of the tasting room was the scenery.  Unlike other bars where stool pigeons gaze upon rows and rows of bottled liquors, Big Beaver displays their beer-making equipment.  It’s like eating at Benihana; you get to see the master chef creating his masterpiece right in front of you.  They were grinding hops when we were there and the aroma was intoxicating.

Not too much else to this place than what you see.

The best part of any small brewery is the personal touch.  Great beer is fantastic but I really like it when you can sit down and chat with the people behind the pint even when (paraphrasing the Big Beaver brewmaster) they look like a homeless Zach Galifianakis.  Small breweries can also make you feel like an idiot.  I like to think I know a great deal more about beer than the average person and I stand by the remark.  However, a visit to Big Beaver made me Sarah Palin at a Mensa meeting.  There’s some ABV measuring contraption I’ve never seen over here, there’s insider talk of running a business over there, and I sat in the middle and absorbed as much as I could.  And if it wasn’t the brewmaster giving me an education it was his friends or the patron whose brother owns a brewery in Pennsylvania.  This aint no place for a greenhorn.

Breweries are about, beer, though.  No amount of affability on part of the proprietor can make up for below average beer.  Fortunately, Big Beaver knows what they’re doing.  I actually had two beers: Big Beaver Bock and Whiskey Dick Stout (as you might have guessed, they love juvenile sex puns here.  I suggested they make one called Big Throbbing Bock.  Time will tell if that catches on).  The bock was good but it didn’t make me jump up and down and cheer.  Anybody who knows my love of beer knows I prefer experimental beers; I crave additives that aren’t usually associated with brewing.  I recommend the bock to any of my readers who consider themselves traditionalists.  As one who opposes beer traditionalism, I enjoyed the beer without being ecstatic.  The stout, however, could make me salivate even if I just ate a handful of saltines.  I’ve had whiskey beers before (notably Odell’s Bourbon Barrel Stout) and I’ve never enjoyed them because they tasted like whiskey with a hint of beer.  Whiskey Dick tasted like beer with a hint of whiskey.  There isn’t an overwhelming alcoholic taste and goes down thick and velvety.  The quality of the mouthfeel came as no surprise; I could see how thick this beer was just looking at its frothy head.  You could have sculpted with it.  What I loved most about this beer, however, was the aroma: just like hot chocolate.  This isn’t one of their regular beers so get it while it’s in season.

Do you enjoy this picture of Whiskey Dick?  I hope so because the seasoned beer nerds laughed at me for taking it.

Due to the epic nature of this particular beer adventure, this post will be split in two.  Stay tuned for Funkwerks and Grimm Brothers.

After driving around downtown Denver on a Friday night trying to find a parking spot close to our destination and eventually succeeding, I was ready for a drink. Chris and I took our seat at the Freshcraft bar and I perused the menu. Even though I have a decent knowledge about the different types of beer, Freshcrafts’ beer selection can be somewhat overwhelming. At first I thought about ordering something familiar. Then, a Black Raspberry Mead caught my eye. But, I decided to save that for another time. So, I was still on a mission to find something that would satisfy my taste buds and relax my mind after battling traffic. I looked through the menu and found a name that I knew, the 400 Pound Monkey. I usually shy away from IPAs because I don’t like the bitter hoppy taste. I had sampled 400 Pound Monkey before and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I took the leap and ordered, which made Chris’ jaw drop just a little to see me leave my comfort zone. I continued to enjoy my beer as we ordered our dinner. One of the things that I love about Freshcraft is their suggestions for pairing their food with beer. I looked at the menu for foods that would compliment an IPA. I decided on the Antioxidant salad and the French dip. Both were fantastic. Overall it was a good night with good beer, good food, and good friends.


Sunday, January 9, 2011

Failures and Successes in Experimentation

A venturesome spirit is crucial to the craft beer enthusiast.  Everybody has their favorite beer but how can you know if this untried beer won’t become your new favorite?  That pinnacle of all beer may be waiting patiently in its keg or bottle as you nonchalantly walk by lest you embrace the unknown.  More likely, though, experimentation simply defines the field of what you don’t like.
I tried something different in another of my passions this Saturday: I skied the Mary Jane area of Winter Park for the very first time.  Overall, Mary Jane left me with an overwhelming sense of…meh.  The runs weren’t very steep, they weren’t very long, and there weren’t very many of them.  I tried something different and it didn’t work out.  My adventuresome spirit had taken a blow.  Thus, Nicole decided that the best way for me to resurrect the enthusiasm would be to experience one of my tried-and-true favorites: Tommyknocker Brewery.
It was my second time visiting the Idaho Springs brewpub and, for anybody whose enjoyed one of their many award-winning beers, it’s easy to see why we decided to come back.  Quality beer notwithstanding, the building that houses the brewery also plays into its greatness.  Most brewpubs like to put their brewing equipment in view of the public but usually behind a picture window and out of reach.  At Tommyknocker, the customer sits amongst the giant, metal cans that hold the younger version of what’s in their glass and can literally reach out and touch the equipment from their bar stool.  To me, this reveals Tommyknocker’s implied philosophy of hiding nothing and emphasizing the creation of beer as much as the beer itself.

Having skied hard, we were ready to stuff our faces with pub grub and brews (have the green chili burger; it is superb).  I perused the seasonal offerings while Nicole had one of her favorites:  Tundrabeary Ale—a fruit ale with raspberries and blueberries (4.7% ABV).  I only had a few sips and it’s not too shabby but it’s definitely aimed at the female patrons. Meanwhile, Bocknog piqued my interest.
Bocknog  is a Christmas-style doppelbock brewed with allspice and rum spices and the minute its reddish, dark copper body was set before me I knew this was going to be something special.  The aroma from this beer was such that a nasally-congested Sphinx could still detect strong wafts of cinnamon and other holiday spices.  It was reminiscent of the increasingly popular pumpkin pie-style of beer.  And the taste?  Divine.  The spices are as prominent on the tongue as they are on the nose.  What truly blew me away was a beer quality that so seldom blows me away: mouthfeel.  Bocknog has a high viscosity.  It’s like having holiday-flavored Vaseline coating your entire mouth; you’ll be tasting this beer a half hour after your pint is empty.

Tundrabeary on the left, Bocknog on the right

I took a chance on Bocknog.  When I asked the waitress to explain it to me before I ordered, I knew that it wasn’t a beer for the casual drinker.  Hell, I knew that, in all likelihood, there was very little chance that I would rate it above “average.”  As it happened, I loved this beer and my gamble paid off.  Friends, no matter how many times you get burned, always try new things.  Even if it only works out 10% of the time, it’s still worth it.
We left Tommyknocker fully sated and smiling.  Nicole left with a 4-pack of their soda and I left with a bottle of Hop Strike and Golden Saison.  Stay tuned for reviews.

The author enjoying his Bocknog

As Chris sipped on his Bocknog, I enjoyed the Tundrabeary Ale.  The first time we visited the brewery (about a year ago) they were out of Tundrabeary so I ordered my favorite type of beer, a wheat.  But, this time I was fortunate to try the Tundrabeary, which had hints of raspberry flavor and a light berry aroma. The berry flavor was just enough; not overpowering like some raspberry beers. I enjoyed the subtle flavors of this beer.  As I write about it, I am wishing that I bought some of this beer home with me.  

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Welcome to the Blog

Zymurgists and beer enthusiasts of all ilks,

Welcome to “Beer in Colorado,” one man’s attempt to capture the Centennial State’s thriving beer culture, keg it, and distribute it across the land.  I’m not a professional brewer and my knowledge on the subject is probably not as up-to-snuff as the next beer geek in line but, like the Sex Pistols, what I lack in talent I make up for in passion.  I’m simply a budding beer connoisseur enthralled with my state’s unholy ability to churn out quality ales and I want to bring you along for the ride.

Why should anybody have the notion to create and maintain a blog concerning beer?  Why, doesn’t every mesh-capped, aviator-bespectacled, American Eagle-wearing, John Mayer-listening fraternity brother belong to the fabricated and clichéd “Tappa Kegga Daya?”  Doesn’t the man in the sleeveless NASCAR shirt and Kentucky Waterfall haircut know the cool caress of Busch Light as it glides down his nicotine-stained gullet?  Yea, verily.  Beer is neither exotic nor expensive; it is a beverage most American adults have imbibed at least once before.  So, then, most people must be quite versed in the world of ales and lagers?  Nay I say to you! There is another dimension of beer that the casual drinker is unaware of and, honestly, the casual drinker probably doesn’t care about this less-advertised world anymore than the casual cinema-goer cares about the inner-workings of moviemaking.  I am that tiresome party-goer who will tell you more than you wanted to know about a seemingly pedestrian product. This blog is my way of spouting knowledge and opinions to a wider audience.  Luckily for you, if I start to annoy you, just click that little, red “x” in the upper right-hand section of your screen.          

Any given update will probably fall under one of these three categories:

Brewery Visits
Thanks to relaxed taxation on brewers, Colorado is home to a relatively large number of breweries.  While visiting one of the state’s most successful (Odell Brewing Company, Ft. Collins) with my girlfriend Nicole I happened across a map that pinpointed all the breweries in Colorado.  A little, drunken muse tapped me on the head and, with that, the idea to visit them all was born.  As of this writing, Nicole and I have been to about 60.  This might sound like we’ve conquered them all.  In fact, when we started, there were over 100 breweries in the state and new ones seem to pop up all the time.  The quest has scarcely begun.  Come along for the journey and discover these place with us.

I have only been homebrewing for a little over a year but Nicole and I have already turned out 10 different types of beer including a Jalapeno blond, a S’mores porter, and a Chai porter.  Obviously, when I’m making beer I’m not looking to make something you can just grab at the local supermarket; my philosophy is “if you can buy it, I don’t make it.”  Eclectic and seemingly incongruent ingredients are my specialty.  Stay tuned for recipes, successes, and mistakes associated with homemade beer.

Beer Tastings
When you can’t make it to the brewery and when the homebrew is taking too long then you have to do it the old-fashioned way: go to the liquor store.  There are tons of beers yet to be sampled and, with curious taste buds, I aim to try as many as possible be they from Colorado or not.  Read about my thoughts and opinions and what I recommend and what I snub.

Of course, if something strikes me that’s beer related (other than a bottle) then I’ll include it here even if it doesn’t fit under one of the aforementioned categories.    

Please check in often and leave your comments.