"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!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Bride of the Blog

Something old,
something new,
nothing borrowed,
something brewed.            

Something Old:  Nicole and I are ever pressing on in our quest to visit every brewery in the state but one mustn’t forget that even an already-conquered brewery can still offer up a surprise to the beer nerd in the know.  Whilst unabashedly propagandizing this blog on Facebook, a friend of a friend asked why The Bull & Bush Pub and Brewery in Denver wasn’t receiving its well deserved attention.  I explained that, at the inception of this blog, I had already visited over 60 breweries and to retroactively write about all of those places would cause me more frustration than a blind man reading the zits on Justin Bieber’s face.  Then again, I didn’t have much else going for me on a Friday night so Nicole and I loaded up and visited Bull & Bush for a second time.

This was only our second time at Bull & Bush but I have become well acquainted with their beers through the festival circuit.  A free poster I picked up at the Telluride Blues & Brews Festival of Bull & Bush’s somewhat pedophilial logo of two babies examining their “bull” and “bush” is tacked on the wall four feet away from where I write.  The physical brewery, much like Parker’s Elk Mountain Brewing, is an exercise in contradiction: an English pub with a Tudor-style façade amidst the glass and steel canyons of suburban office buildings.  These yuppie enclosures aren’t exactly the haunted moors one usually associates with old-timey public houses.  Ignoring the incongruities of its surroundings, Bull & Bush pushes the theme further with its interior design: iron lanterns, brazen lion heads, random knick-knacks, and images of fox hunts plastered on the wall.  Bull & Bush is an Olde English Applebee’s. 
Bull & Bush's logo/kiddie porn
Discrepant furnishings aside, we came for the beer.  I ordered a Bear Skin Rug (6% ABV)—a spiced winter lager with a clear, coppery orange hue.  There is a very light hop aroma on the nose but the prevailing fragrance is that of sour, orange citrus with hints of wheat beer.  The beer leans towards malty while the hop flavor takes the backseat.  Orange, cinnamon, and pretzel are all present on the palate.  Despite the complex flavor and my proclivity for beer additives, I wasn’t exactly electrified by this brew.  Perhaps it was the sourness or the wheatiness.  As extensive as my beer “likes” are, I still have a number of “dislikes” and sour and wheat make that list.  It could also be that I wasn’t enthused with this beer because the flavors were too subtle; when I order a winter spice beer I want to taste a tsunami of Christmas cheer.  Bear Skin Rug made me hunt for the spices.  Nonetheless, I wasn’t completely turned-off.  I neither hated it nor loved it.  However, that’s the worst feeling a beer can give its drinker: indifference.  Like good art, good beer should incite a strong emotion whether it be positive or negative.
The author with his Bear Skin Rug
Keeping with the idea of clashing thematic detail, I ordered a giant burrito. As a result, we were sitting at Bull & Bush for some time and had the opportunity to be seated amongst some interesting characters.  The first was a German couple that seemed to be in the middle of a fight (then again, everything sounds hostile in German).  They left and were replaced by two regulars: a married couple that has been in the beer snob business a lot longer than I.  It was through these fine folks that I learned of Bull & Bush’s vintage beer list—a fairly extensive list of cellared beers from around the world.  Come to think of it, maybe I shouldn’t be writing about this because the waitress lightly admonished the other couple for letting loose the “secret” of the list’s existence.  Then again, they also have advertisements for their vintage beers posted over the urinals so, if you take a piss, you know about the list.  Thus, I don’t exactly feel like I’m giving away the positions of key agents in the French underground by letting you know about this opportunity to experience some of the best beer you can hope to have. 

Beer and wine are similar in that some styles are better when they’re older.  Bull & Bush has stockpiled a number of these cellar-worthy beers and sells them—at a price reflecting the aged quality—to the true beer enthusiasts.  I have recently started cellaring my homebrews as well as a few commercial bombers but I’ve never had the occasion to actually taste a matured beer.  I couldn’t pass on the opportunity and ordered Avery Brewing Co.’s barleywine, Samael (15.53% ABV), from April, 2008. 
Avery's Samael
 When Samael is poured into a glass, the sediment becomes suspended mid-vessel like an astronaut floating through space.  Even when the glass is twirled, the floating particles make no discernable movement in the reddish, orange/copper liquid.  As Samael is brewed with oak chips, it possesses that vanilla aroma and taste common with oak-aged beers.  Hypocritically, I enjoyed this beer’s sour aroma.  I can’t explain why the sourness in Bear Skin Rug turns me off and why I find the sourness in Samael to be an asset.  I suppose the difference in style and the quality of aged beers makes the difference.  Like Avery’s Rumpkin, Samael warms the whole body when it creeps down your esophagus and sparks a fire in your core.    
Due to the high price and the inconvenience of waiting several years for the nuanced flavors to present themselves, your average beer geek cannot enjoy a cellared beer on a regular basis.  However, when the opportunity presents itself—take it.  Your pocket will be lighter and you’ll be considerably drunker but all beer geeks should treat themselves to a vintage beer at least once before they die.  
Something New:  Boulder breweries don’t come any newer than Crystal Springs Brewing Company.  New though it may be Crystal Springs is already eking out a considerable niche in the local and seemingly saturated beer scene.  Amidst numerous and prestigious competition, this brewery manages to hold their own by supplying liquor stores both in Boulder and in Denver, supplying a handful of local bars with kegged beer, and by brewing a special beer exclusive to local eatery The Kitchen.  Having only been open since May of 2010, the exponential growth of Crystal Springs would be impressive if it were a hip-to-college-kids brewpub located on Pearl Street.  Alas, Crystal Springs does not fit that bill.  It’s not a happening college bar complete with skankily-adorned CU students bringing in lucrative frat brother dollars.  Crystal Springs’s success is even more impressive when you realize the brewery in its entirety exists in brewmaster Tom Horst’s detached garage. 
Crystal Springs Brewing Company (no, I'm not kidding)
 Nicole and I take our mission very seriously; It’s not good enough to just drink a beer from every brewery. No, we must drink a beer at the brewery.  Crystal Springs presented an interesting dilemma.  Obviously, there is no public tasting room at Crystal Springs and we’re steadfast to a fault in our self-imposed rules.  I floated an e-mail to Tom explaining our predicament and asked if there would ever be a time when he would have a public tasting room.  Of course, I wasn’t expecting any groundbreaking news on the groundbreaking of a visitor’s center.  I was just asking so I could sleep at night knowing I pursued every possibility.  Unfortunately, I was correct—partially.  To paraphrase Tom’s reply: “We have no plans to open a tasting room anytime in the near future.  But, what the heck?  You seem like passionate beer folk, why don’t you just come over for a few beers on the house?”
I did not see that coming.
We arrived at Tom’s house—tucked away in a canyon outside of Boulder—at noon on Saturday.  As expected, there was no insignia to mark the presence of the brewery: just an unassuming light-blue house complete with matching garage accentuated by 1980’s era ATVs and a Fisher Price playhouse.  Magellan wouldn’t have been able to find this brewery.
Tom met us at the “brewhouse” door and welcomed us into the heart of the operation.  Sam Calagione likes to brag that, when it first began operation, Dogfish Head was the smallest brewery in America.  Now, I wasn’t there for the christening of Dogfish Head but I can say with some confidence that Sam’s first brewing system was in all probability monolithic compared to Tom’s.  Tom doesn’t even use the entire garage, just the back quarter.  He has three, racked pots for brewing, a closet-sized fermenting room, and a closet-sized cold-storage room.  He doesn’t even have a sink, he pumps water in through a water-purified garden hose.  The rest of the space is filled with the usual chotskies found in American garages: bikes, old furniture, and, in this case, beer paraphernalia including vintage bottles (these ones were empty), bottle-cap magnets, and stickers.
Brewmaster Tom Horst with pretty much everything that is the Crystal Springs Brewery

The Crystal Springs water supply
Tom cleared off an antique table with checkerboard inlay, rustled up a few seats from the jumble of storage, and set out a few flutes of Summertime Ale (4.7-4.9% ABV).  As we imbibed the highly-carbonated, champagne-colored beer, Tom fiddled with a troublesome bottle-labeling machine and talked about the legal and pragmatic obstacles of opening a small business.  I’ve read Calagione’s Brewing Up a Business and, while I learned a lot, listening to Tom talk over a beer has educated me as well as any how-to book.
Summertime Ale
When we finished our Summertime Ales, Tom brought out some snifters of Stagehouse 1899, a black IPA with a tan head and dark, brown-highlighted body.  Stagehouse 1899 has a hoppy aroma that is juxtaposed with roasted coffee flavor.  Both of the beers we had were very good but, seeing how IPAs are my favorite, I liked Stagehouse 1899 better.
Stagehouse 1899
I cannot thank Tom enough for being an accommodating host.  I urge you, the reader, to pick up a pack of Crystal Springs’ beer as soon as you can.  I don’t care if you’re broke, pregnant, or a recovering alcoholic, just buy the beer.  Tom is an abundantly friendly man with a knack for making quality beer and he deserves your business.   
Something Brewed: We had re-conquered the Boulder breweries and set back to Denver feeling rightfully triumphant.  However, our adventure in beer had yet to reach its terminus.  Nicole and I haven’t made our propensity for beer a secret and, by means of months of interjecting our beer-lust into any given conversation, we eventually convinced a few of our friends to take up the hobby of homebrewing.  Although they had pre-ordered a kit in advance, these budding brewers were forced to use our equipment because adverse weather prevented the supplies from shipping.  It was of no consequence to us, we just like brewing and we don’t care whose equipment it is.  We all traveled to Stomp Them Grapes, a nearby home winery/brew shop, to pick up ingredients for their virgin batch.  Since the beer would be ready to drink by the time warm weather arrived, we got what we needed for a pilsener-esque orange blossom honey beer (the “esque” meaning we used a Belgian ale yeast rather than the traditional lager yeast.  The grains and hops, however, were all pilsenser). 
There really isn’t anything quite like brewing some sure-to-be damn fine beer whilst simultaneously enjoying craft beer from established breweries.  I had some West Coast IPA from Green Flash Brewing in Vista, CA as well as a bomber of Deschute’s Hop Henge IPA, Nicole had her first taste of her homebrewed chai porter, and New Belgium and Alaskan Brewing beers were also circulating throughout the house.  It was a good time to be alive.
I wish my friends happy and hoppy times in their new venture and I look forward to possibly starting an informal amateur brewing club with them i.e. everybody bring what you’ve brewed and we’ll all get drunk on it. 

No comments:

Post a Comment