"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 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.




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