"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!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Beer Not in Colorado: Ballast Point

This is a continuation of the post Beer Not in Colorado: Coronado Brewing.  I would be remiss if I did not encourage you to read it first.
Sorry gear-heads, nitro is put to better use in craft beer than it is in your $500 import with a $2,000 spoiler.                                          
Next stop on our SoCal brewery tour: Ballast Point Brewing Company in an office building complex a few miles outside the fray of downtown San Diego.  I’ve said this about so many breweries already that even I’m getting sick of it but it’s very much the truth that you need to know where you’re going if you want to find Ballast Point; it isn’t the type of place you’d naturally stumble across on your daily constitutional.  But, once you’ve found this diamond that is great beer in the rough that is the plethora of vague businesses whose names all follow the Surname & Surname formula, you will be greatly rewarded.
Ballast Point
I was taken aback at how crowded it was on a Thursday afternoon.  Sure, the mingling space is limited (no chairs, just a few barrels serving as tables and some small ledges along the wall on which to set your drink) but what really pushed the room over its maximum capacity was the UCONN vs. San Diego State University Sweet Sixteen game.  If you watched it then you know it was a pretty close game.  There was a lot of cheering from the locals but, in the end, heads hung low.  The Huskies trounced the Aztecs and patrons shuffled to the bar to get a consolatory brew and murmured things like “Well, at least we made it to the Sweet Sixteen.”  Pshaw!  Back in my home state of Indiana, when it comes to basketball, there is no “at least.”  We’ve been brought up to believe that we are basketball and anything less than a championship is a disgrace to the state.  Whenever a team comes home without a trophy, we sacrifice them to appease our pagan gods and pray that they might send us more worthy competitors.  But I guess California’s more of a baseball state.
For my first beer, I ordered the limited release Puta Pepper Sculpin IPA (7% ABV, 70 IBU), a spicy twist on their more simply named Sculpin IPA (which won a gold medal at 2010’s World Beer Cup).  The difference between the two is that Puta Pepper has red peppers added to it post-fermentation.  I have homebrewed jalapeno beer (I put the peppers in pre-fermentation) that turned out excellent so I was curious how a red pepper beer might taste.  Turns out it’s not too shabby and its quite different from mine.  My beer gave the drinker a tingly feeling all over the mouth that was reminiscent of nacho cheese.  Puta Pepper is more like a light burn at the back of the throat more evocative of spicy BBQ dry rub.  Of course, being an IPA, it didn’t skimp on the bitter, either.  It’s a weird drink but I like weird.  Not a session beer but worth a pint.
Puta Pepper Sculpin IPA

The day before we went to Ballast Point, I had their Calico Amber Ale (5.5% ABV) at a seafood restaurant.  In a word: unimpressed.  “Great,” I thought, “another brewery with an amber trying to cash in on the success of Fat Tire.”  Calico is just there; not a damn thing to make me choose it over any of the multitude of other ambers inundating the market.  Needless to say, when I saw it on the chalkboard behind the bar I quickly skipped ahead.  But, hello, what is this?  Calico on nitro?  I’m listening. 

People say there’s no magic bullet.  Actually, when you want to make a mediocre beer great, there is: nitro.  Many people are familiar with the roiling, brown thunderhead found in a freshly poured Guinness but fewer people know that it is a nitro-infused tap that creates that thick, creamy concoction.  And it’s not like it only works on Guinness; any beer can be put on nitro.  In my college days there was a bar that had Odell’s Cutthroat Porter on nitro.  Nowadays, every Thursday night, I get a pint of Left Hand’s Milk Stout on nitro at the bar where I get my quiz on.  Calico, however, is the first nitro beer I’ve seen that isn’t a stout or porter.  I had to give it a go.

It’s a totally different beer, this nitro Calico.  From the visual feast that is the angry cloud to the milkshake-like viscosity, nitro Calico is a force to be reckoned with.  It makes me think why more breweries and bars don’t do this.  I say put the entire line-up on a rotating nitro list; put beers on nitro you wouldn’t normally e.g. IPAs, barleywines, lambics…etc.  Most likely it will turn out like, eh, not so good but they should experiment anyway.  I wouldn’t have though a nitro amber would have been as enjoyable as it was so who knows what else could use a nitro kick?  Personally, I’d like to try Great Divide’s Hercules Double IPA on nitro.  Big, creamy, ultra-hoppy beer sounds good to me.
There's somethin' a-brewin' in that Calico

As I drank my beers I read a newspaper article that was framed on the wall.  In a nutshell, it outlined how San Diego County beers were so good and how they were garnering a lot of attention on a national scale.  That was all well and good but they just had to mention that San Diego beers brought in more medals at the World Beer Cup than Colorado.  Look, kid, we host the Great American Beer Festival so don’t come frontin’ on us about what makes a good beer.  As we left I signed the guest book.  I complimented their beers because they deserve to be complimented.  I also said their beers were so good that they should feel honored that they stack up against the finer breweries in Colorado.  Captain Passive-Aggressive strikes again!



Stay!  More California beer updates are in the works.

 I don’t have too much to add to what Chris has already described. I had a taster of the Wahoo Wheat. I usually order wheats when I don’t know what else to order. But, I have started to notice that there is some flavor in wheat beers that I don’t really like. I am guessing it might be the coriander or the cloves but I am not exactly sure. Now, the Wahoo Wheat was pretty enjoyable. However, I think my taste buds are evolving and I need to start searching for a new favorite type of beer. Any suggestions?



Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Beer Not in Colorado: Coronado Brewing

This is a continuation of the previous post titled Beer Not in Colorado: The Bruery.  Do yourself a favor and read that one first.

If you’ve ever watched the show Intervention then you know that, if you’re an alcoholic, true friends shed blood, sweat, and tears and fight with every iota of their earthly vessel to keep the poison out of your reach.  If you’re a beer enthusiast, true friends do quite the opposite.
After visiting The Bruery Provisions, Nicole and I headed to Culver City to visit Erin, a friend from my years as an undergrad at Western State College, and her brother Kenny.  Erin generously let us crash at her apartment that night and even more generously volunteered to be our designated driver to local craft beer bar Father’s Office.  We needed a designated driver less because we were planning to get ripped and more because we were fed up with driving in L.A.
F.O. (as it is advertised on the wait staff’s uniforms) is a hip place with lots of dark wood and mood lighting—quite different from the wobbly tables and family-friendly Italian restaurant air of Freshcraft or the artsy Bohemian ambiance of Hops and Pie.  As you might expect from a name like “Father’s Office,” attire along the lines of a stylish suit or polo shirt seemed to be the norm.  Certainly, said attire would have been more appropriate than my damp and dusty hoodie and Odell trucker cap.  Not that we were getting dirty looks but I do feel that F.O. caters to the yuppie population rather than the jeans-patched-with-corduroy free-spirits so common in Colorado.
The first beer I ordered was one I’ve heard a lot about but have never actually put to lips: Russian River Brewing Co.’s Pliny the Elder (8% ABV), a double IPA ( if Wikipedia is to be believed, Russian River can be accredited with inventing the double--or imperial--IPA style so one would hope they know what they’re doing).  It took but one sip for me to realize that this is what an IPA was meant to be.  Bitter, undoubtedly, but not the type of bitter that overpowers the floral and piney flavors of the hops.  Yes, the bite may make you grimace a bit but you’ll find yourself smiling immediately afterwards.  Even though it tasted so good, I think I spent more time sniffing than sipping.  It smelled so soothing.  Back in the day (and in some parts of the world today), people used to fill pillowcases with hop leaves in order to relax themselves into a deep slumber.  If you’ve ever had Pliny the Elder then you understand how great an idea this was.
As my birthday was the previous day, Erin offered to buy my next round.  I chose the Atticus IPA (7.1% ABV) from Strand Brewing Company out of Torrance, CA.  It was good to be sure but it’s hard to follow Pliny the Elder’s act.  Also, Atticus is a malty IPA and, as I’ve said in previous posts, I don’t like my IPAs to be malty.  Good beer, not great beer but, heck, it was free to me so I’m not going to keep complaining. 
We ate, we slept, we thanked Erin for her hospitality, and headed to Knott’s Berry Farm (finally, some coasters that were operating).  We picked up some Cerveza Caguama, an El Salvadorian beer recommended by Kenny, and met Nicole’s friend Collin for some after-work beers at The Local Peasant, another craft beer bar, on Ventura Boulevard.  Instead of a California beer, I ordered the Deadlift Imperial IPA from Widmer Brothers Brewing Company out of Portland, OR.  I don’t remember much about the beer but I do know it was amateurishly served to me in a goblet.  With an IPA, a tulip glass or even a simple pint glass is preferable.  Those wide-open goblets let the aroma and carbonation escape too quickly.
The next day we pointed south and drove to San Diego in hopes of finding sunshine and beer.  We managed to fulfill half our ambitions.  San Diego was neither hot nor cold or wet nor dry; it existed in the gray ether in between.  Not exactly lay-on-the-beach climate.  The weather was, however, accommodating enough for us to enjoy outdoor activities like Belmont Park and the San Diego Zoo (where we saw a sexually frustrated polar bear and the majestic "Arabian Wildcat" AKA housecat) and, no matter the weather, craft beer is always an agreeable diversion.
Why is this mangy cat worthy of being in the San Diego Zoo?
The Coronado Brewing Company is a brewpub of most unremarkable appearance and repute.  It’s a plain red brick building on a plain suburban thoroughfare and, unless you’re a freak about beer like me, you wouldn’t go out of your way to eat or drink there.  I don’t want to paint the picture that Coronado Brewing is bad, I just want to stress that there isn’t anything to stress be it good or bad.  It’s a face in the crowd.
I ordered the Idiot IPA (8.5% ABV) is a light, transparent yellow/orange in color with hints of orange-flavored hops on the nose.  And the taste?  Pliny the Elder this is not.  The satisfying flavor of hops is completely overwhelmed by bitterness akin to chewing on an orange rind.  This unsavory flavor loiters in the mouth for much too long.  I like to man-up my beers with plenty of ass-kicking bitterness but it’s all for naught if you get no flavor from it.  
Idiot IPA (not to be confused with Mermaid's Red)
I’ve come to learn that Idiot IPA belongs to the sub-sub-sub genre known as West Coast IPAs (Pale Ales > India Pale Ales > American IPAs > West Coast IPAs).  The delineation between West Coast IPAs and other IPAs is simple; it basically comes down to different varieties of hops (those grown on, of all things, the West Coast) and at what time during the boil they are added.  Very, very simple deviations that somehow create a monster that turns me, an avid IPA lover, off.  Somewhere in history somebody on the West Coast got it in their mind that a good beer must be high on bitterness and low on flavor and the left side of our nation has been worse off for it.  Still, it is beer that I can at least stomach and I would not turn one down if offered to me.  If you want to experience this type of beer for yourself, Green Flash Brewing Co.’s unimaginatively named West Coast IPA can be found in at least a few Denver stores.  Failing that, Avery Brewing Company’s standard IPA is a decent approximation.
Where you goin’?  More California beers coming soon.

After The Bruery, most of my beer drinking was limited to sips here and there so that I could help Chris with the beer assessment. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy trying new beer and tasting different flavors, but beer is not a waistline friendly food. So, when we went to Father’s Office, I enjoyed a nice glass of ice water instead. When we first walked into Father’s Office, I noticed how busy it was for a Monday night. I also noticed the lack of a hostess which would mean that we would have to scope out the place and try to find a table. On our first walk through, there were no open tables. This is the point where I start getting irritated.
Since I didn’t have any beer at Father’s Office, I will turn my part of this blog into a food critique. I should probably start with the fact that I am a picky eater. I stick to the basics, chicken, turkey, steak, fish, shrimp, a few fruits and veggies. Another note, I don’t eat dairy. When I heard that Father’s Office was a “burger joint”, I figured there would probably be something else, like a salad or chicken that I could enjoy, since I don’t eat burgers either. But, I was wrong! I found a lot of foods that I don’t really adventure into like eel, duck, lamb, or Brussels sprouts. And, there was only one burger on the menu and of course it had cheese. So, I figured that I would choose the burger (minus the cheese) and stick with something that I could handle. This was until I looked at the bottom of the menu that reads, “Not substitutions, modifications, additions or deletions. Yes, really.” Well that was a slap in the face! Really, I can’t ask for “no cheese?” What about people with food allergies? I was back to a search for something that was healthy and didn’t have cheese.
My options were pretty limited so I settled on shrimp wrapped with bacon after much coercion from Chris to be polite and pick something. I double-checked with the lady behind the bar to make sure that they couldn’t “delete” the cheese. She snootily replied, “We don’t modify our food.” At that point I wanted to tell her that I wanted to modify the chef’s face, but I sucked it up and ordered the shrimp. Thankfully, Erin ordered some sweet potato fries because four small shrimp aren’t really a dinner. The only thought that kept running through my mind is that the chef must think he/she is God’s gift to the culinary arts since he/she won’t dare modify the food. Well, I can tell the chef that the shrimp with bacon was nothing special. In fact, it was pretty mediocre. I think that I am capable of making the same thing in my oven. But, Erin was nice enough to take us out and show us around, so I didn’t want to be too much of a pain in the ass. If I hadn’t been a guest, I would have gotten up and found another place to eat. I noticed that I wasn’t the only person who was not pleased about the lack of accommodations in the menu options. The ladies next to me chatted about it as well. But seeing as how most of the other people in the place were enjoying their food, I will chalk up my disapproval to my picky eating and food allergies.
After leaving L.A., we ventured to San Diego. One of the highlights of the trip for me was the San Diego Zoo. Again, this is the science geek in me. One of the most exciting animals, as Chris mentioned, was the Arabian Wild Cat. Look how exciting it is. But truthfully, the monkey that was clinging to the fence as she took care of some bathroom duties for all to see was hilarious as well as the monkey that was looking for something on another monkey’s butt. So, after a day of watching animals do crazy things it was time to visit Coronado Island. We visited the Coronado Brewing Company. The first thing I noticed when we walked in was the noticeable smell of hops and malt. They were in the process of brewing, which we could view as we ate our lunch. Again, I opted for water. I could smell the hoppiness of Chris’ beer from my seat across the table. I took one sip which, in my opinion, was one sip too many. It was too bitter for my enjoyment and left a bitter aftertaste in the back of my throat. The bitterness felt like a punch to my mouth that lingered even after I continued eating. I rarely like IPAs because of their hoppy and bitter character. I have found a few Colorado IPAs that actually don’t frighten my palette. I wish I would have tried another beer so that I could give Coronado Brewing Company a fair assessment. After the brewery, we walked around Coronado so that I could visit the library to do some homework. We also found a liquor store that had some brews that we hadn’t seen before. So we chose a few and packed them for the trip home. We also wandered through the Hotel Del Coronado and finished our time on the island with a stroll along the beach.



Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Beer Not in Colorado: The Bruery

A beer enthusiast’s tongue was not meant to be monogamous.  I have cheated on you, Colorado, but you knew what you were getting into when we started this relationship.
The teaching profession is a tough one regardless of what too-many politicians say. But, one of the tiny perks that keep teachers from wrenching fistfuls of hair from their heads until they resemble Mr. Clean’s half-brother is a little something called “spring break.”  In past spring breaks I’ve headed to the wilderness to hike, camp, wax Thoreau-ian, and generally hippie out.  This year, however, Nicole and I decided to urbanize our trip.  We packed up the Jeep and beat cheeks to Los Angeles and San Diego.  Yes, the meditative solitude that one enjoys while sitting on a sandy embankment and listening to the roar of the Colorado River as it cuts the Grand Canyon inch-by-inch deeper would indeed be missed.  But for being denied my natural experience I was to be duly rewarded.  Beer would fill the void.  Oh, but not just any beer would do.  If I was going to forgo my wilderness pursuits then I was going to need some of America’s best and best known craft ales.  And that’s exactly what I got.
There were other things besides beer on the agenda, of course, and the first was to do the only thing I might enjoy just a little more than beer: ride roller coasters.  It is a deranged passion of mine, these rides.  I have a running tally of how many I have ridden (currently at 246, sucka).  I can name you the park, manufacturer, year of debut, and several “fun facts” about a coaster based on a three to four second clip I see from a commercial.  I know the next big thing coming to a park near you.  I assess my rides like I assess my beers i.e. I look for the things that the general public ignores or completely misses.  Shoot, this could easily be a roller coaster blog if roller coasters were as accessible as beer (also, I’d rather associate myself with beer culture than ride culture because, while beer nuts are usually cool guys with gnarly beards, the ride community and the comic book/video game/sci-fi/pathetic loser Venn diagram is basically a single circle).  For that reason, our first stop was Six Flags Magic Mountain, the mega-park that played Walley World in National Lampoon’s Vacation.  Unfortunately, I was going to end up more like Clark Griswold than I expected.
The skies opened up that day like it hadn’t since the Old Testament.  Magic Mountain, with so many rides yet un-rid by me, was closed due to inclement weather.  Needless to say, I was disappointed.  Hell, I was pissed!  I drove cross-country and they’re closed!  I didn’t even get to punch in Marty Moose’s fat nose or run across the parking lot in slow motion to the tune of Chariots of Fire.  I was seconds away from threatening John Candy’s life with a BB gun if he wouldn’t let me ride the Whippersnapper when a voice of reason (played by Nicole) suggested we visit a local brewery in substitution.  Yeah, I guess that could make up for it.
Inside The Bruery
Our brewery of choice: The Bruery in Placentia (yes, many a “placenta” joke was made) whose intentionally misspelled name derives from the fact that the owners’ surname is Rue.  The Bruery is an example of my favorite type of brewery; the brewery that’s no frills.  It’s just an open space at the end of a commercial/industrial complex and is nearly as hard to find as Shangri-La.  Very little announces its presence save for a bacon food truck parked outside (delicious) the garage-door entrance.  Once inside, the visitor is greeted by massive kettles on the left side, stacks of barreled beers aging to perfection on the right, a small serving bar in the middle, and recycled barrels serving as makeshift tables scattered about.  For me, drinking in this sort of environment—where the brewing process and the drinking experience share the same space—makes beer taste better than when tasted in a restaurant setting.

Inside The Bruery

I ordered the Humulus XPA (4.3% ABV, 40 IBU), “a delicious extra pale ale brewed with Brettanomyces, Centennial, Simcoe, and dry-hopped with Columbus hops.”  I quote The Bruery’s website because, at the time of my drinking, I had just been severely disappointed by Magic Mountain’s closing and I’ve just braved the L.A. traffic and I just needed a beer; I didn’t take the time to asses Humulus XPA to my fullest extent, I just drank it.  However, I can say that there was less hoppy bitterness than I expected.  A good session beer.  Nicole had the Orchard White and, hopefully, she can give her two cents about that beer in her comments below.

Orchard White and Humulus XPA
One beer would not compensate for Magic Mountain.  I had to go a get another.  The second time around I got Cuádruple (10% ABV), a Belgian-style quadrupel with a southwestern twist; the regular brewing sugars are replaced with dark agave nectar.  This gives the beer a very dark color and a somewhat molassesy taste.  Again, I did not go in depth with my analysis but I remember enough that I can recommend it for a dinner party or other higher-end social functions.
Cuádruple and food truck goodies
As this is the L.A. area, it isn’t too surprising to have a celebrity encounter and that’s just what Nicole and I had at The Bruery.  Not four feet away from our oaken table stood the head honchos from San Diego County’s Stone Brewing Co. (a lot more on them later) and Chicago’s Goose Island Beer Company as they filmed their latest Hop CastIf you have the slightest insight into the world of American craft beer then you know that these two companies are juggernauts of the field.  And there they were, just chatting and drinking as the cameras rolled.  If you happen to watch the Hop Cast focusing on The Bruery, know that Nicole and I are just right of the camera frame—stuffing our faces with delectable bacon cheese fries from the food truck.
We finished our beers, rubbed the stars from our eyes, got some information from the bartender about The Bruery’s subsidiary craft beer bar in old town Orange, and went to the Staples Center to see the Lakers barely edge out my second-favorite team i.e. any team that plays against the Lakers.  On another note, I know pro sports exist to make money but I think it's exceptionally tacky when the cheerleaders don't wear the team colors and name but rather corporate sponsors like Verizon.  That's L.A. for ya; always an advertisement no matter where you look.  The next day was wide open so we filled it by visiting the aquarium, checking out a few beaches, and popping into the aforementioned bar.
Cap art at The Bruery Provisions
The Bruery Provisions is located in a part of Orange that never seems to have abandoned that 1950’s ideal: old-timey storefronts, a small park in the middle of a roundabout, tin ceiling tiles, clean streets, well manicured flora.  I felt like Marty McFly stepping out of the DeLorean. 

The bar itself is a hybrid between an upper-end liquor store (with Colorado craft beer rightfully represented) and a tasting bar.  After admiring their impressive bottle cap artwork, I bellied up and ordered flights of Saison Rue (8.5% ABV), Mischief (8.5% ABV), and Imperial White Orchid (9% ABV).
Saison Rue is a cloudy orange/yellow with a vaguely sour smell.  There are spices in the beer that warm the back of the throat as you drink.  It is a sweet tasting beer with a cherry-esque flavor.          
Mischief is a clear, light yellow that has a woodsy, hoppy aroma.  The flavor is complex; I catch hints of pear, black pepper, and hops.  As the beer warmed, these flavors became more apparent. 
Imperial White Orchid is a clear, pale yellow that smells a bit like Big Red gum which may be a result of the nutmeg and coriander present in the beer.  Imperial White Orchid finishes dry.

Saison Rue, Mischief, and Imperial White Orchid
The Bruery makes some fantastic beers.  Not only that, they make some fantastically complex beers; it took all my snuff as a beer enthusiast to muster up the relatively sparse descriptions you just read.  With their high quality beer and the success they’ve already garnered in just under three years of operation, don’t be shocked if you see Bruery beers popping up at your neighborhood liquor store in the near future.
Oh so much beer and oh so little attention spans.  More California beers coming soon!

My dad warned me about the possibility of rain in California in March, but Spring Break is Spring Break. With a week off of school, I didn't really care if it was rainy, I just wanted to be somewhere else. After a 12ish hour day of driving and a second day of getting up in the dark to finish the drive to Magic Mountain, I was a little disappointed to arrive in L.A with a fear that it was going to be washed away by a crazy downpour. Well, to be totally honest, my heart skipped a little when I saw the coasters and my nerves started to kick in. But then I was bummed that we had to find an alternate plan to our day. Good thing I have my Blackberry (aka Crackberry), which I am thoroughly addicted to using to find information.

My standby website for brewery information, Beerme.com, doesn't seem to work anymore on my phone, so I had to find another means to search for info. I Googled "breweries in Los Angeles.”  Simple enough right? Well, Google was somewhat useless and it lead me to articles that had little substance. Finally, I found some info on The Bruery. I had heard the name, but was not familiar with their beer since we don't have that in our liquor stores here. We decided to give it a chance, which turned out to be a great idea. After driving in more L.A. traffic (due to the crappy weather and the L.A. marathon), we made our way to The Bruery. I enjoyed the Orchard White which is a Belgian wit bier with coriander, citrus peel and lavender. It also has spicy fruit yeast and is brewed with rolled oats. I could taste hints of the lavender, which is an interesting ingredient for beer. As we sipped our beer, I noticed that they had some bottle caps floating around. Chris and I are always looking for new bottle caps to add to our collection for our art projects. Chris has completed one project; however I have more ideas than I do time. When I asked the bartender for some caps, he told me about the bottle cap art at The Bruery Provisions, the liquor store/cheese and meat shop/tasting room that is a secondary location for the brewery. So, we put that on our agenda for the next day.

Before heading to the Lakers game, we stopped by the Angels Stadium of Anaheim. Chris has a passion for beer and coasters, I have a passion for baseball. I have visited 9 major league baseball stadiums, some to watch games, some to just take pictures. But, I enjoy seeing different stadiums and experiencing what each one has to offer. Since baseball season hasn’t officially started, I wasn’t able to watch a game. But I am counting down the days until Rockies opening day. Buy me some peanuts and cracker Jacks…I am ready for some sunshine and the boys of summer. Baseball was on my mind even at the Lakers game. They have a cheer with the same rhythm as the “Tulo” cheer, and every time I heard it I quietly murmured “Tulo” at the end. I didn’t want to anger the Lakers fans too much. The fact that they almost lost was enough to send the guy next to me into a major temper tantrum. But in the end, the Lakers pulled out a win for Jack Nicholson and Bruce Willis, who were in attendance, and the fans behind us were excited to get some free Jack in the Box tacos.
When we woke up to gloomy clouds and drops of rain spitting at as, we decided to go the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach. I guess that is the animal lover/science geek in me. I had a great time and was probably as giddy as all the little kids that were there for a field trip. After a quick lunch with a view of the Queen Mary, we headed to Orange. It seemed like a quaint little town, with lots of antiques stores, a cool store with hundreds of types of bottled soda, a cupcake shop (which was closed that day…bummer), and a handful of other shops and restaurants. As we drove through Old Town Orange, I found myself thinking that I could live there. It would be a perfect place if they had a yarn shop. But then I snapped back to reality and remembered all of the reasons why I love living in Colorado. To complete the day, we went for a stroll along Huntington Beach. It was nice to see the sunshine and listen to the ocean waves as well as to people-watch.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Lady Gaga, Gwen Stefani, and Johnny Rotten Walk Into a Craft Beer Bar...

Beer tastes good even when you’re Rotten.
This past Saturday, Robin (a friend to myself and wiener dogs alike) and I—proud March babies that we are—had a joint birthday party that took us up and down the Berkeley neighborhood (Tennyson Street) of Denver.  Shame had no place in us nor in our guests for it was a costume party themed to rock stars; those seeking future positions in public office need not apply.  As you can imagine, the night was rife with anecdotes (having my cell phone launch itself down the entire length of a bowling lane gutter and the cover songs at the karaoke bar come to mind) but this isn’t a here’s-a-quirky-story blog: this is a beer blog.  For that reason, I will focus my writing on the pre-party wherein Nicole, Robin, Robin’s husband Justin, and I got a drink and a bite at Hops & Pie, a craft beer and fancy pizza joint near my house.
This was our second visit to Hops & Pie since it first opened.  I’m not exactly sure how long Hops & Pie has been in operation but it’s been over a year and less than two years by my surmising and I’ve been itching to go back ever since my initial visit.  It’s not nearly as large as LoDo’s Freshcraft—both in physical size and selection—but Hops & Pie is my neighborhood’s craft beer bar and I want to support the local businesses.  Besides that, Hops & Pie doesn’t paralyze you with choices like Freshcraft; sometimes it nice to have a smaller selection so that you don’t drive yourself bonkers with all the choices. 
I have professed my disdain for sour beers in previous posts.  It is my official and non-wavering creed that all beers should be tried at least once so that the burgeoning beer connoisseur might be acquainted with the widest of possible spectrums from which to assess the next beer in line.  It is my unofficial and irresolute creed that all beers should be tried a second time after a year or two because one’s palate changes over time.  What was once disgusting might now be pleasurable and vice versa.  So, I ordered Russian River’s Sanctification (6.1% ABV, 27 IBU).  True, it was the first time I’ve had this beer but not the first time I’ve had a similar beer.
Sanctification is a wild ale meaning that the brewers don’t artificially add yeast during the brewing process.  Instead, they allow wild yeast from the area to find its way into beer as the beer sits in open containers.  This is what gives Sanctification its calling-card sourness.  Beyond the sourness, the beer is a pretty nondescript yellow, fizzy concoction that even non-beer geeks are familiar with.

Sanctification is good.  Certainly, it was better than other sour beers I’ve had (perhaps because Sanctification was straight sour; other sour beers I’ve had try to cram too many other flavors in).  It didn’t make me do an extensive overhaul of my rank-and-file of what I like and don’t like but it did let me know that there are islands of enjoyable beer within the sea of beers I generally avoid.  The moral is this: just because you claim to not like porters, hoppy beers, wheats, or whatever else, you should never give up on them.  Perhaps the beers you have been drinking were from inferior breweries.  Maybe your taste buds were just off that day.  There’s innumerable reasons why you might not like a certain style but there’s always a chance that one beer from one brewery might just surprise you by hitting just the right spots.
We had a date to keep at the bowling alley and service was a bit slow that night so we didn’t have time to linger and really take in our beers.  Still, any party that starts with craft beer is bound to be a raucous one.  And so, Lady Gaga, Gwen Stefani, Johnny Rotten, and Justin as an unintentional Joaquin Phoenix from I’m Still Here went on their merry ways to meet their friends and celebrate in true rock star fashion.

Sour, Rotten


Thursday, March 10, 2011

4 Old Friends

Beer news hasn’t been forthcoming lately but, since Colorado is the beer Mecca that it is, there is always something to talk about even when there hasn’t been any momentous newsbreaks.  Colorado beer snobs need not sit and wait for exceptional beer to come their way—great beer is often found in those ubiquitous bottles we overpass when pursuing the new small-batch release that’s been getting all the press.  The beer scene is such that, if all beer production in Colorado were to immediately stop, I’d still have ten years worth of material to keep this blog afloat.     

While at the local liquor store, I randomly grabbed four bottles of beer from four of the state’s preeminent breweries.  You’ve most certainly heard of these breweries and there’s a good chance you’ve had these specific beers.  If you have, sit back, read, and relive the experience.  If not, use this blog to make an informed decision when perusing the beer aisles near your home. 

Left Hand Brewing Company’s Stranger American Pale Ale (5% ABV)

Stranger American Pale Ale
The Stranger has a white head and is clear yellow in color.  I must have had Spanish on my mind when I had this beer because, in my notes, I wrote that it was “amarillo.”  It’s hard to live in Colorado and not have Spanish on the mind, I guess.  Still, even from my current, looking-back perspective, calling the beer “amarillo” just seems right. 

Stranger is called an “American Pale Ale” but the flavor is less “mom and apple pie” and more “mutter and sauerkraut.”  Its taste, reminiscent of a soft pretzel, screams “Munich.”  Just like other bready foods, Stranger causes a lump in the throat that can be hard to swallow if you take too large a gulp.  Drink with caution.         
There is a light hop aroma—much less than I would expect from a pale ale.  It finds the nose and quickly retreats.  Like the fragrance, the hop flavor is fleeting.  Though ephemeral, the bitterness isn’t the pleasant, hoppy taste that has turned so many a layman into beer enthusiasts.  Instead, the bitterness is more aligned with the acrid flavor of earwax (not that I’m an aficionado of earwax but, hey, accidents have happened).  For once, I’m glad my beer didn’t wash me in a tsunami of everlasting hop flavor; a nip was enough when it tastes like this. 

I feel like a prick giving Stranger such a hard time about the hops.  While I strive to speak my mind—be it good or bad—on all the beers I try, the truth is that, overall, Stranger is a good beer.  It is a flawed beer to be sure but a beer nonetheless worthy of your time. 

New Belgium Brewing’s 2̊ Below Ale (6.6% ABV)

2̊ Below is light pumpkin orange in color and is evocative of Avery Brewing Company’s Rumpkin in that it smells and tastes faintly of cherries albeit in a less alcohol-dominated environment.  There is a little bitterness that lingers at the back of the tongue but that bitterness subsides as the beer warms.

New Belgium is Colorado’s darling in the craft beer wars and for good reason: they really don’t have a bad beer.  Perhaps they have a beer that is not your preferred style thus you don’t like it but it would be slanderous to say that the beer itself is subpar.  For that reason, I give 2̊ Below a thumb up.  It’s not my favorite from New Belgium but it’s a great beer for when the thermometer matches the label. 

Breckenridge Brewery’s Oatmeal Stout (4.9% ABV)
Oatmeal Stout is a nearly impenetrable black with the slightest of red highlights beneath a creamy, tan head.  The mouthfeel of Oatmeal Stout leans towards the “high” side of viscosity which accounts for the Belgian lace it leaves on the pint.  Straight from the initial pour the drinker catches strong whiffs of coffee.  It should, then, come as no surprise that drinking Oatmeal Stout is akin to drinking chilled coffee.  However, you can forget about the sugar and cream training wheels.  If you drink an Oatmeal Stout then I hope you like your coffee like Hugh Grant likes his transvestite prostitutes because, bitter though it may be, the bitterness is not so much associated with hops but is more analogous to chewing on coffee grounds.  That bitterness loiters near the uvula and never seems to want to move along.  Oatmeal Stout mellows out as it warms but never leaves you completely. 

Breckenridge makes some damn fine beers.  All one has to do is look at their lineup which includes Avalanche Ale, Vanilla Porter, and Lucky U IPA.  I cannot, however, recommend Oatmeal Stout.  I like some coffee beers because they are just that: beers with coffee flavor.  Oatmeal Stout is more like beer coffee.  If coffee is your thing, maybe you’ll really dig this beer.  Otherwise, I advise you to look for a similar but more nuanced take on the java stout. 

Avery Brewing Company’s Out of Bounds Stout (6.3% ABV)

And here it is; the subtler version of Oatmeal Stout.  Out of Bounds and Oatmeal Stout are similar on many points: they are both black in color (although I’d say that Out of Bounds’ highlights are closer to brown than red), they both have tan foam, and they both have a coffee aroma.  What sets Out of Bounds apart is that the roasted malts that create that coffee taste and aroma are used more sparingly.  The bitterness is derived from lupulin rather than java beans.  The balance between malts and hops is more carefully calculated.  All in all, Out of Bounds is simply more beer-y.  If you have to make a decision between Oatmeal Stout and Out of Bounds, well, this aint exactly Sophie’s Choice, people.  Go with Out of Bounds.




Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Waxing Philosophical on Beer's Place in Society and Examining Breck's Brews

When it comes to quality ingredients and nuanced flavors, beer should taken as seriously as a fine wine.  When speaking of proper attire and topics of conversation surrounding a tasting, beer should be taken as seriously as a bachelor party. 
Yes, one should sweat copiously from the brow when creating beer but, conversely, be in a state of nirvanic giddiness when drinking a beer.  As much of a beer snob as I am, I still recognize that the ultimate goal of beer is to bring happiness and togetherness to those who sip of its soothing waters.  Sure, pair it with cheese, breathe deeply of its aromatics, and release the flavors with deliberate swishes over the tongue because good beer deserves this attention.  If, however, you find that you’ve been obsessing over your beer all day as your friends are playing a raucous game of cornhole* and conversing about sports, movies, and the promiscuity of each other’s mothers then you may want to reassess your priorities.  Craft beer is a bourgeois drink for the blue-collar person.
In Colorado, during the winter months, it is especially faux pas to drink in apparel any fancier than ski-pants, hat-hair, and a goggle tan. For this reason, Nicole and I were none too uncomfortable visiting the Breckenridge Brewery in just such attire after a day of skiing at Copper Mountain.
Breckenridge Brewery is one of those little breweries with a big reputation; the original brewery is in a modestly-sized brewpub in a modestly-sized ski town yet they have a subsidiary brewery in Grand Junction and two in Denver (one of which is probably twice the size as the original and located within walking distance of Coors Field).  Their distribution is widespread considering their size and it’s not uncommon to find Breck’s beers in any given Colorado or neighboring state’s bar.  Their Avalanche Ale is an amber found in almost as many places as Colorado’s poster child of amber beer—Fat Tire—and is just as good (just look for the ski pole draught handle at your local bar).  The Breck Brewery has fought the good fight to bring worthwhile beer to the state and the populace has responded graciously.   
This was our second time visiting the brewery but, as you can surmise from the previous paragraph, we were already quite well-versed in Breck beer anyway.  Since we were so familiar with their beer, I had to go for a seasonal brew: 471 Double IPA (9.2% ABV).  Nicole went for a more familiar—but probably Breck’s best—beer: Vanilla Porter (4.7% ABV).
Vanilla Porter on the left, 471 on the right
471 is honey-colored and not-quite-clear but not-quite opaque; it is a very low level of translucency.  Although it is a double IPA, 471 doesn’t have an overwhelmingly hoppy aroma.  Breck has balanced it quite nicely with sweet malts.  Those malts are apparent on the tip of the tongue on the first sip with the hops following close behind.  The balance between malts and hops is impeccable; the drinker cannot determine which is more prominent.  Breck has created a double IPA—usually one of the bitterest beers you can have—and reduced the bite to that of a weak IPA or a strong pale ale.  I admire the craftsmanship it took to create this balance but, as I’ve said in previous posts, I’m all about the hops.  Ramp it up, I say.  Kick me in the mouth with hoppy goodness.  I don’t need malty training wheels.  In spite of this minor complaint I still enjoyed 471 and, yes, I would order it again in a heartbeat.
Vanilla Porter is dark brown with red highlights and a tan head.  The aromas are that of a straight porter (roasted malts and coffee essences) as the vanilla has a hard time finding the nose.  Likewise, the first sip is more akin to a no-frills porter but the vanilla eventually catches up to the drinker in the aftertaste.  Apparently, vanilla is a heavy adjunct because the closer to the bottom of the pint you get the more intense the vanilla flavor becomes.  Unlike 471, you can probably pick up a sixer of Vanilla Porter in your local, Colorado liquor store.  So, yeah, go do that because, like I said, I think Vanilla Porter is Breck’s best offering (Ed.  Looks like 471 is offered in bottles.  Go pick up some of that, too). 

I’m not a “porter girl,” I’m a “wheat girl.”  But, on a sunny winter day, the Vanilla Porter seemed like a better choice than a wheat. The creamy porter filled my belly as I tried to soothe my sore muscles from a day of racing down steep, black runs. If you know me, I wasn’t racing down the mountain. It was more like trying not to face plant while “gracefully” making my way to the bottom and not get lost. It was nice to spend the day on the mountain with less people trying to run me over. If only I had every Monday off…I can only wish. But, I must get back to the beer. I have had sips of the vanilla porter before, but never a full pint. I enjoyed the roasty malts and the sweet vanilla aftertaste. As I sipped my beer, I started to notice more hints of vanilla as I got to the bottom of the glass. I actually like porters, or at least Breck’s Vanilla Porter. I think I might have to branch out and try more porters. I might just find out that I am a “porter girl.” Eventually, I will get around to critiquing the Chai Porter that I brewed a few months ago.


*Cornhole is a lawn game of Midwestern origin in which contestants pitch beanbags (originally filled with corn, now filled with plastic beads) at an inclined board with a hole in the top-middle.  The goal is to make the bag in the hole for three points or on the board for one whilst knocking off or cancelling out your opponent's throws.  If you are in my presence, do not call the game bags, beanbags, or bag toss.  The proper appellation is cornhole