"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 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.


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