"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!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Summertime Heat Beaters

In most parts of America they’re already celebrating summer.  BBQs!  Baseball games! Sunbathing!  Using binoculars to stare at sunbathers from a 5th story window!  Good times for everybody—except Colorado.  No, instead of frolicking gaily in a sun-kissed meadow we’re preyed upon by spontaneous blizzards, rainstorms, and the occasional hot, sunny day that so cruelly teases us with what we could be enjoying if we lived elsewhere.  Do not despair, Colorado.  Your winter may be extra long but those sweltering days will soon be bearing down upon us like a lion at a Weight Watchers meeting.  When that does finally happen, feel lucky that you have a legion of local libations to keep you chill for the season ahead. 
When the days get lighter, so, too, should your beer.  Stouts and porters need not apply for this summer job; we’ll be hiring for your position come fall.  Since it is the season of the lightweight brew, I have selected a handful of crisp, yellow beers that I deem worthy to drink while reclined in a plastic chair with feet soaking in an inflatable pool.  To be clear, the following beers are not meant to represent my personal top four hot-weather beers.  Rather, they are a random selection from my neighborhood liquor store meant to give you a general idea of what types of summertime brews are at your disposal.  There are plenty more to choose from and I encourage you to discover them for yourself.
Odell Brewing Co.’s Double Pilsner (8.1% ABV)
In the post that immediately precedes this one, I raved about Odell’s Myrcenary.  By Jove, Odell, you have done it again!  Double Pilsner—the second recruit to Odell’s 4 Pack Series after Myrcenary—is irrefutable evidence that Odell isn’t content riding on past successes and is still elbows-deep in hops and barley searching for the next great beer to add to the lineup.  Their newest creation deserves to be counted among Odell’s already prestigious ranks. 
Double Pilsner
I liked Double Pilsner before I even poured it out; the neat owl art on the bottle and the old school cap (they just say “OBC” instead “Odell Brewing Co.”) gave me good vibes.  I extolled it more after it was in my pint.  The color is the clearest, crispest, palest yellow you could hope to see and the carbonation is such that your pint looks like a bubbling beaker from a mad scientists’ laboratory.  If you poured Double Pilsner into a champagne glass nobody would guess you were actually drinking beer.
Don’t be afraid of the 8.1% ABV, Double Pilsner is as easy-drinking as they come.  It has a light hop burn and a malty sweetness that coats the mouth but both of those flavors are restrained.  The aroma is yeasty and bready and, likewise, the drinker might experience a “bread-lump” akin to the sensation one gets when eating rice too fast.  When you hear people say that a beer has a “dry finish,” this is the type of beer they’re talking about; you’ll have trouble mustering up enough spit to fill a thimble after drinking Double Pilsner. 
Of the two beers in the 4 Pack Series, Myrcenary is still my preferred beer.  This isn’t to say that Double Pilsner is in any way inferior to Myrcenary but the hoppy nature of Myrcenary adheres to my beer preferences.  If you’re not a hop-head like me but you still want a high quality, easy-drinking beer then Double Pilsner is at your service.
Great Divide Brewing Co.’s: Hades (7.8% ABV)
With a name like “Hades” one expects a truly hellacious beer—dark as midnight, bitter to the end, and high in alcohol.  For lack of a non-gender-specific word, you’d expect it to be “man beer.”  What a surprise you’ll get when you pour Hades in a glass and get a clear, straw colored body with a pure white head.  What’s the deal, Great Divide?  Are you guilty of false advertising like the movie The NeverEnding Story? 
 The history behind Hades’ name is actually steeped in tradition.  In Belgium, there is a brewery named Brouwerij Duvel Moortgat NV whose flagship beer is Duvel (Devil), a brewery named Brouwerij Alken-Maes that makes a beer called Judas, and a brewery named Brouwerij De Block bvba that has two beers that begin with “Satan.”  I’ve done some research into why Belgium has a tradition of naming their beers after underworld figures but haven’t come across anything conclusive.  One theory that I particularly like is that, because monks were the original Belgian brewers, they gave their beers evil-sounding names so as to scare people enough that they wouldn’t bum any brews off of them.  A more likely theory comes from the first civilization to brew beer: Ancient Egypt. Osiris, in addition to being the god of the afterlife, is said to have invented the libation to which this blog is dedicated thus, when Belgians name their beers after characters associated with death, they are likely following in the footsteps of the Egyptians who undoubtedly praised there underworld king for the gift he bestowed upon them.  Hades, a Belgian-style strong ale, is merely another beer giving props to another god of death.

When you get a whiff of Hades you don’t smell brimstone but rather hints of sour and unidentified berries.  It smells vaguely of Fruit Roll-Ups.  The taste, like the aromatics, is slightly sour and fruity with a citrusy hop bitterness that is uncommon in a lot of Belgian beers.  Hades is crisp and dry albeit not quite as dry as Double Pilsner.        

Ska Brewing Company’s: Mexican Logger (4.2% ABV)
If there are two things that put a smile on my face it’s ska music and cheesy puns.  It was this combination that led me to Ska’s Mexican Logger.  Ska is undoubtedly in the upper echelons of prolific non-Front Range breweries in the state.  The only brewery that can claim to beat Ska in that category is the Breckenridge Brewery.  Even still, Breckenridge’s flagship brewery is no more impressive than Ska’s; it is Breck’s auxiliary Front Range breweries and restaurants that push it to the number one spot.    
Mexican Logger
It’s easy to spot Mexican Logger at the store: it’s the lime-green can with a small caricature of a sombrero’d and mustachioed hombre wielding double chainsaws next to a behemoth chainsaw with the word SAAZ written on the side emerging from a dense, coniferous forest.
The pun I hope I don’t have to explain but will anyway is that Mexican Logger is a Mexican-style lager.  I’ve never liked the appellation “Mexican-style lager” because there is no such thing; what we think of when we think Mexican beers are actually attempts at re-create Bohemian beers with Bohemian ingredients.  Thus, when Ska makes a “Mexican lager” it’s actually an American attempt at creating a Mexican attempt at creating a German/Czech beer.  It gets a little confusing. 
The pun I probably should explain to the uninitiated is the word “SAAZ” written on the chainsaw.  Saaz is one of four varieties of hops considered “noble hops.”  The other noble hops—all characterized by their aromatics and lack of bitterness—are Hallertau/Hallertauer, Spalt, and Tettnang.  All four are grown near the German/Czech border and all are omnipresent in that region’s beer.  Since Mexican lagers are really just Bohemian beers masquerading in fake Fu Manchus and straw hats, you can bet that Ska used more than a handful of Saaz hops in Mexican Logger.  The pun, then, is that our little amigo on the can isn’t sporting two “chainsaws” but rather two “chainsaaz.”

Carlos Javier, Ska's name for the Mexican Logger mascot

Mexican Logger is a clear, effervescent yellow with a yeasty, bready aroma (like Double Pilsner) with very faint hints of lemon or a similar citrus.  The taste is also bready—almost like drinking a liquefied pretzel.  Overall, the flavors are weak and difficult to discern but, when you’re sweating like Michael Vick at the dog park, a simple, cold, yellow beer is more than just adequate—it is essential.      

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Quest for Perfection Took Less Time Than I Thought

It is well known among friends and family that my passion for beer goes a bit beyond the norm.  If there was any doubt to that, the very existence of this blog ought to lay those suspicions to rest.  Since beer is my forte, I am invariably asked the deceptively-easy-but-actually-difficult question: What’s your favorite beer? 
Gah!  Why don’t you ask a mother which is her favorite child or ask Michael Moore which is his favorite chin?  They’d both have an easier time answering than me.  I always cop-out when presented with that query.  Sometimes I name about six or seven that may be in the running for first.  Other times I just name styles of beer I like.  If I’m feeling specific, I say I like this beer in this context and I like this beer in this other context e.g. I like Left Hand’s Milk Stout when I'm in a dark bar in winter and I like Great Divide’s DPA when I'm outside and the weather is hot and sunny. 
I’ve tried a ton of beer in my life and to place each one at a specific point in the hierarchy is a daunting task.  One of the problems is that I like a lot more beers than I don’t like.  If I tried 100 beers I might give my favorite of the bunch a 95% satisfactory rating but I’d give my least favorite, oh, say, an 88% satisfactory rating.  Now, how does one sort through that cluster?  It’d be much easier if I was able to spread them over the entire spectrum (0%-100%) but that’s difficult because I generally avoid beer that is, well, bad and am thus tasked with sorting through hundreds of beers that are essentially tied for first.  What I need is a beer that is several strides ahead of the pack.  I need a clear winner.
And here he is crossing the finish line.
Myrcenary (9.3% ABV), a double IPA from Odell Brewing Co., is the beer I’ve been questing for these many, many years.  Myrcenary is the Kenyan at the London Marathon.  The Watson at the Jeopardy! tournament.  The Mayor McCheese at the 18th Annual Edible Head Awards.  Myrcenary doesn’t win—Myrcenary dominates.
Think I’m exaggerating?  Well, perhaps from your perspective and with your specific likes and dislikes, Myrcenary—misspelled so as to bring to mind the word “myrcene,” an essential oil found in the hop flower—isn’t the zenith of beer.  However, if you were to drink with my taste buds you’d think Myrcenary was custom-made for your enjoyment.
Let me run you through why Myrcenary deserves so much praise:
Color:  Caution: objects in your pint are more potent than they appear. To the unassuming passerby, Myrcenary might not look like anything more than a prosaic Budweiser: it’s clear, yellow (although the trained eye can see that it is actually a slightly darker shade of yellow than Bud), and has a pure white head.  The ordinary color is part of Myrcenary’s charm, though; it doesn’t need to dazzle you with rich ambers, cloudy oranges, or the priest’s collar look of a well-poured Guinness.  It looks exactly like what the average person thinks of when they think “beer”: a simple yellow.  But, behind the simplicity hides a labyrinth of aromas and flavors. 
Aroma: If, for whatever reason, you have an affinity for driving riding mowers through coniferous forests, then you have a good idea of what Myrcenary smells like: fresh cut grass and pine (with floral hints).  If you’re not a loony who drives a John Deere through the woods then a better comparison might be to Russian River’s Pliny the Elder.  The aroma is strong but also pleasant and relaxing.  I could sniff it and sigh with satisfaction for hours.
Taste and Mouthfeel: At the time of my virgin sip of Myrcenary, the cliché’ image of clouds parting, sending a single beam of light onto me, and angelic voices heralding the coming of the Chosen Beer rushed to mind.  I licked my lips and gaped in reverence of this holiest of brews.  Surely, no mortal man could have devised a way to take hops, malted barley, water, and yeast and combine them in such a way that it causes the drinker such euphoria.  Nay, this is surely the work of The Divine.
But that was when I was tasting with emotion.  After the first few sips my analytical mind kicked into gear and I started to pick Myrcenary apart piece by piece.  As a result of my scrutiny, the heavenly façade of the beer collapsed and my childlike wonder waned.  But not so much that its spot at number one is endangered.  Perhaps Myrcenary is not ambrosia of the gods but it is still worthy of being, at least, the Kool-Aid of the demigods. 
Myrcenary is lousy with sensations and each one works in congruency with the others to create the most balanced beer I’ve ever had.  The high ABV and the potency of the hops warms the entirety of the mouth even when the beer is, to the touch, chilled.  Though powerful, the hop taste does not wallop the drinker with extreme bitterness like those in the sub-genre of West Coast IPAs (loyal readers might remember me railing against this particular style in my posts about California breweries) but allows the drinker to taste the flavor of the hops—piney, like the aroma.  The astute drinker will also notice the sweetness of the malts present in the aftertaste.  As the beer warms, the sweetness no longer relegates itself to the aftertaste but shows up from beginning to end.  Unlike other malty IPAs (yet another style I have railed against) that claim a “balance” between hops and malt but really give you a beer whose sweetness counteracts the hoppy effects, Myrcenary’s malts work with the hops; you can taste both at the same time.  In terms of mouthfeel, Myrcenary tingles like electricity at the tip of the tongue.  Then, when the drinker is halfway through the pint, it feels as though the entire tongue is coated with a ½ inch thick, numbing lacquer.  Perhaps it doesn’t sound pleasant in writing but it is actually a very satisfying experience. 
And that, my friend, is how Myrcenary surged ahead of the masses and solved the mystery as to what I should consider to be my favorite beer.  It is Odell’s latest year-round offering—meaning you don’t have to wait for a specific season to roll around before you get it—so I suggest you run out and see if your liquor store has it in stock right now.  And, if you feel like solidifying your friendship with me, hey, I’ll take a few off your hands.  You know.  If you don't want it or something.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Power to the Sour

If you find yourself in a crowd of angry, beret’d men with your fist raised high, you might be inclined to shout “Black Power!”  If you find yourself in a crowd of groovy, tie-dye bedecked hippies with your index and middle finger raised high, you might find yourself shouting “Flower Power!”  If, however, you find yourself in a crowd of boisterous bar-goers with a glass filled with one of the offerings from the Lips of Faith Series from New Belgium Brewing held high, you’ll probably want to shout “Sour Power!”
Last Friday saw the conclusion of the inaugural Colorado Beer Week (April 8-15): eight days of beer-centric events held throughout the city of Denver and sponsored by some of the biggest names in Colorado (and U.S.) brewing.  Last night was also, unfortunately, the only night in which my schedule allowed me to participate in the revelry.  However, with Denver hosting the Great American Beer Festival and the Brew at the Zoo as well as being home to some exemplary breweries, I have a funny kind of feeling that there are enough hop-heads in the city to demand a 2nd Annual Colorado Beer Week.  I’ll catch more of the fun when it comes back in ’12.
A great place to get a craft beer and the jumping-off point for our Lips of Faith tour
Luckily, the Lips of Faith tour at Stoney’s, Freshcraft, and Star Bar (we skipped Stoney’s for time budgeting reasons) was one of the few Colorado Beer Week events that did not require an entry fee.  Not that I wouldn’t have coughed up a few bucks for the other events but, hey, the best things in life are free.  If you are unfamiliar with the Lips of Faith Series, then the best way I can describe it is “New Belgium goes Dogfish Head.”  When New Belgium wants to snub the Reinheitsgebot and go nuts with adjuncts and flavors that may not be exceptionally marketable, they have the Lips of Faith Series.  It’s hard to find them at your local watering hole or at the liquor store but they do exist and, when you hear that your local bars actually are putting the Series on tap, the beer geeks jump at the chance to indulge in rare beer from a ubiquitous brewery.    
Our first stop was at the venerable Freshcraft where one of New Belgium’s trusty Beer Rangers was stationed with free samples of Le Terroir (7.5% ABV)—“of the earth” in French.  Le Terroir, in addition to having a name that is fun to say in a stereotypical French accent, is a brown, cloudy ale brewed with Amarillo hops giving the beer a mango-like quality.  But, it is the sourness of the wild yeast that take center stage in this brew.  Le Terroir is so sweet and sour that it is like drinking the essence of wild grapes.  It is a beer that straddles the line between beer and wine and, as such, it challenges your perception of what a beer should be.  So, is it good?  Yeah, it is.  But, it’s not like any beer you’d have at a BBQ or a ballgame.  Some beers, like this one, can’t really be appreciated in a casual setting.  Crack it open when around fellow beer geeks only. 
Le Terroir
After my Le Terroir, I let my eyes wander over the massive line-up of craft beer that was tantalizing me from the glass-doored fridge behind the bar.  I ordered the Gubna (10% ABV), an imperial IPA from Oskar Blues Brewery.  At first glance, it looked like this beer had it all: it came from a great brewery (most famous for Dale’s Pale Ale, of course), it was a style of which I’ve had great success, and, being the Blazing Saddles fan that I am, I appreciated the ad slogan “Give the Gubna a harrumph.”  In addition to that, I’d heard great things about Gubna from fellow beer geeks and I’ve been itching to try it for some time now.  What a let-down: Gubna tastes like raw onions. It’s quite a disappointing brew considering it comes from such a respected brewery. 
After chatting with the Beer Ranger about vocational opportunities in brewing, we ducked out of Freshcraft and walked to Star Bar where every tap was commandeered by a Lips of Faith beer.  My first order was Metric 10/10/10 (10% ABV), a Belgian strong ale.  I’d like to tell you more but I accidentally placed it on an edge and it spilled all over the bar.  I wasn’t even that drunk.  It wasn’t a total loss, though.  I had a few sips before the incident and, really, it wasn’t that great.  It was a bit chalky.  I wasn’t sad to see it go. 
Metric 10/10/10
My second order was a framboise stout called Ooh La La (8.5% ABV).  Ugh, why do they have to give it a name you’re embarrassed to say in a crowded bar?  Then again, if they had called it “Football, Trucks, & Naked Ladies Ale” a guy would still feel a bit *ahem* light in the loafers if this dark purple, pink headed glass of estrogen was placed in front of him.  In terms of taste, Ooh La La is all raspberry and no stout.  It’s like a wine cooler.  Somehow New Belgium managed to take the manliest style of beer and turn it into the girliest.  No small feat, really.
Ooh La La (the pink and purple may be hard to see but, trust me, it's there)
The last one of the night was titled “Super Secret Sour” but, judging by the green apple flavor and the additional knowledge that it was a blended beer aged in Leopold Bros apple whiskey barrels, all signs pointed to this beer being Twisted Spoke.  The ABV is hard to determine since Twisted Spoke is really Transatlantique Kriek, Abbey, and Trippel all mixed together. Like Le Terroir, one has to accept that this beer—being sweet, sour, and apple-y—isn’t going to taste like the average beer.  Still, the concoction is pleasing to the palate and worth a look-into if you ever have the chance. 
Super Secret Sour AKA Twisted Spoke
After a long beer hiatus, I decided it was time to try something new. Hey, I ran almost 10 miles so I figured I deserve a drink. I looked through the beer menu at Freshcraft and then I looked again and again. The bartender joked with me as I tried to figure out what I wanted. I wasn’t in the mood for a wheat, I eyed the 400 Pound Monkey, but I wanted to try something new. The Somnambulance, a Belgian brown from Black Fox Brewing Company (Colorado Springs) sounded good. I don’t think I have ever had a Belgian brown, except for the sip of Chris’ that I had at Green Flash. The first sip made me glad that I ordered it. Somnambulance is delicious. Its flavor is like a dark chocolate bar with coffee beans in it. Just like a chocolate bar, it melts in your mouth. I enjoyed the smooth flavor as I watched the Rockies power past the Cubs. I was able to enjoy two of my favorite things: a Rockies win and a good Colorado beer.
I look forward to trying more from Black Fox Brewing. Chris and I will have to make a trip to Colorado Springs to visit the brewery. Black Fox, which shares a building with Bristol, did not have anything on tap when we visited in September 2009. At that time, they were just getting started and we were just getting started with our Colorado brewery mission. I guess we have something to forward to.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Beer Not in Colorado: Green Flash

This is the sixth and final installment in our posts concerning our California beer adventure.  Read the previous five posts if you haven’t already.
The only thing that tastes better than beer is sticking it to the man.
Stone and Iron Fist behind us, we drove to our final brewery of the day and of the entire trip: Green Flash Brewing Co. from Vista, CA.  Following in the vein of its SoCal brethren The Bruery and Iron Fist, Green Flash is yet another roll-up-the-garage-door brewery where beer lovers can mingle—without barricades—amidst boiling kettles (as in they are actually, currently boiling), wet and slippery concrete floors, and bottling and boxing machines that look like they could tear a finger from the bone quicker than a man with diarrhea runs out of a crowded movie theater.  Bring the kids!
There are three or four folding tables that serve as a temporary bar during visiting hours.  Hanging above is a chalkboard with a list of what’s ready to drink.  Before coming to Green Flash, I was only familiar with one of their beers—West Coast IPA—because it was the only Green Flash beer available in Colorado.  Lo and behold, Green Flash actually has a pretty decent spread: nut browns, imperial IPAs, Belgian-style ale, barleywines, stouts.  I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that a brewery would have more than one beer to offer but it still took me aback since I was used to seeing nothing but West Coast IPA. 
I looked over this surprisingly extensive list, deciding what a good capper would be for our three-brewery day, and saw something that made me want to raise a fist and play Public Enemy’s Fight the Power on a ghetto blaster.  The first beer listed was named Fizzy Yellow Beer.
If you remember my post Beer Not in Colorado: Stone (or if you are at all familiar with the Stone Brewing Co.) then you know that one of Stone’s slogans is “Fizzy yellow beer is for wussies.”  Now, there is no way in hell that you could call Stone a major player on an international level.  You can find their beers coast-to-coast but even still calling them a national player would be a misnomer, too.  However, in SoCal and in the realm of craft beer, Stone is a juggernaut.  They’re not the evil, faceless corporations that pervade your local sports venue or hound you via billboards on your way to work but they are an unstoppable force if you’re a small brewery.  And a small brewery is Green Flash.  They’re not a major player at any level.  They’re just a few kettles in a loading dock.  They don’t even have a proper bar.  They toil for their craft and they scream into the night “I’m here!” but their cries are stifled by the success of their larger counterparts.  Success made possible by transitionary beer geeks who are hip enough to shun the macrobreweries of the world but still close-minded enough to only patronize a select few craft beer companies.  Their taste is refined but their sense of adventure is broken.  Does our proletariat hero bow down to its oppressor’s damning stance on well-carbonated, golden ale?  Nay, I say!  With puffed chest and clenched fists Green Flash spits in the eye of such notions and says, “Fizzy, yellow beer is for men and women whose courage fluctuates at different echelons.”  Are not many IPAs yellow and fizzy?  Do they not often knock the drinker on her ass with a haymaker of hoppy bitterness?  Stand, Brother, stand, Sister, and be counted!  ¡Viva la Destello Verde!   

Green Flash's scream against the maelstrom
For all this blustering, I didn’t even order that beer.  I’ll just put away my beret and Che T-shirt and continue this blog.

What I did order was a half-pint of the Double Stout (8.8% ABV).  Before you bust my balls about ordering a half-pint, you should know that a half-pint is the way to go: it’s bigger than a flight so you can really get into the beer before it’s gone and it’s smaller than a pint so you don’t fill up fast and you can try a whole host of beers without getting too inebriated.  Since this was our third brewery of the day, I actually was a little inebriated so it was to my advantage that they offered this smaller size.  When you read overly poetic tasting notes like “the color is like midnight on a moonless night” and that the head “is the color of crystallized brown sugar” then you know I’m starting to slip.  In addition to my flowery prose, sweet, caramel coffee essences permeate the nose and the roasted malts are noticeable but not obvious.  There is a chocolate aftertaste and it has a light mouthfeel for a stout.

Gah!  Look at this awful, fuzzy picture of Double Stout (it's the best I have)

The second beer I ordered was Le Freak (9.2% ABV), a mix between an American IPA and a Belgian trippel.  It is a clear yellow (don’t you tell me that this yellow, fizzy beer with an ABV of 9.2% is or wussies) and the aroma has pleasant, floral wafts.  It smells like walking past the Bath & Body Works.  At first, the IPA part of the beer nips at your tongue but that quickly subsides and is replaced by the flavor of Belgian yeast reminding the drinker of a wit beer.  There’s also a hint of orange in there. 
The author and Le Freak
 The last one I had was the Belgian Brown.  All I wrote down was that it was tart and sweet.  I remember that I really liked it but that’s pretty much it.
Belgian Brown
And that was our last day before we began the long drive home.  We finally got to Six Flags Magic Mountain but, since spring break was coming to a close, we couldn’t spend an entire day.  Still, I rode almost everything I’d ride given a full day.  I was, however, a little ticked to see that they’re actually plastering advertisements right on the roller coasters now.  Look, I’m trying to ride Viper, not Hair Gel Ad with Blatantly Homosexual Model: The Ride.
California, you did me well.  I applaud your excellent beer and I wish you continued success in your endeavors.  You truly deserve to be counted among the likes of Belgium and Bavaria when converstaion turns to the great brewing regions of the world.  But, there is a reason I live in Colorado and there is a reason this blog is called “Beer in Colorado.”  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll have myself a Titan IPA.
Ahh, tastes like home.
I do not have a lot to add since I was a bystander during this beer adventure. It was fun to see the brewers in action at Green Flash especially since their brewing attire included matching galoshes. I watched as they measured hop pellets into buckets and dumped them into the boil. At one point, I mused as to what they were brewing. Chris urged me to ask but, being the shy gal that I am, I made him ask. I think it was the West Coast IPA (Chris: it was).

As Chris enjoyed his beers, I acted as his scribe and scribbled notes on a piece of paper that was cluttering my purse. Chris was in fact being quite poetic as he described the color, aroma, and taste of the beer. Sure, I tasted the beers to help Chris identify subtle flavors (and the not so subtle ones, too) but I think Chris keeps me around to help him figure out the aroma. We all have our super power senses and mine are tasting and smelling. This probably doesn’t help get me far in life and it probably makes me sound crazy but it’s true. (You can imagine the problems this posed for me when we were at Iron Fist and the only table in the place that just happened to be by the bathroom. If you read the last blog, you know what I am talking about.) Maybe being a super-taster is what makes me such a picky eater.

My last thing to note is in response to Chris’ comments about Belgian Brown. As I geared up to write some notes about this beer, Chris told me that there was no need to take notes. He was sure that he would remember things about a “beer this good.”


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Beer Not in Colorado: Iron Fist

This is a continuation of the post titled Beer Not in Colorado: Stone.  Read it before continuing and your life will be easier.
When your bartender pours the wrong beer you must become a Sherlock Holmes of the palate to surmise what’s been laid in front of you (if you’re a literary geek like me, you could become a C. Auguste Dupin of the palate if you prefer).
Having left Stone we headed towards Iron Fist Brewing Co. in Vista, our second brewery of the day.  Like Placentia’s The Bruery and Colorado’s own Big Beaver, Iron Fist does not put barriers between the patron and the equipment.  There are no walls or windows blocking the fermentation tanks, aging barrels, or mash tuns from view.  Everything that is Iron Fist is laid bare for the bar-goer to see as he mingles in the loading dock that doubles as a tasting room. 
Iron Fist's unassuming entrance
Since Iron Fist isn’t a national player in the beer wars and, thus, isn’t readily available in Colorado, I went for a sampler of four flights instead of one, big pint.  What I ordered was Hired Hand (6.5% ABV), a saison; Dubbel Fisted (8.1% ABV), a Belgian dubbel; Velvet Glove (9% ABV), a stout; and an IPA that wasn’t listed on the menu (I assume it was the Gauntlet at 9% ABV).  After paying and informing the bartender (in retrospect, probably too loudly) that a customer had dropped an unflushable deuce in the bathroom, Nicole and I meandered through the crowd until we found an empty table near the back.
The first beer we tasted was Hired Hand.  It has a dry finish and is full of zest.  There are traces of sour in both taste and aroma.  The second beer was Velvet Glove.  It’s a typical stout with a cloudy yellow color, white head, banana-like flavor, and bouquets of grape.
Wait a minute.  That can’t be right. 

I looked at my flights—none of these could possibly be mistaken for a stout.  Its neurotic but I can’t properly evaluate a beer unless I know what I’m getting.  I need to know what qualities said beer should be graded on.  For instance, if I order an IPA then I get it into my head that I’m going to be getting a bitter, hoppy beer and should assess the beer based on these qualities.  If, however, I order a porter or a stout then I understand that roasted malts and coffee essences are the norms and I should judge the beer based on this knowledge.  If I’m in the dark about the beer’s style then I don’t know what I should be expecting and the whole system goes to ruin and I can’t, with any confidence, continue to educate and entertain through this blog and I’ll have to give up my dreams of becoming the beer blogging version of Perez Hilton (also, the straight version) and I’ll have to settle down at a soul-crushing office job and coast through the rest of my life a miserable, miserable man and wonder where—oh, where—did my life go so horribly wrong?  I know, it’s a serious crisis but, please, try to get a hold of yourself.
Inside Iron Fist
“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth,” said Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s eminent detective.  Thankfully, Nicole and I, when presented with a beer quandary, can be quite the sleuths, too.  With help from the beer menu and a little deductive reasoning we started whittling away at the potential suspects until we had our man.  We already tasted Hired Hand and its flavors were congruent with what we understood about saisons so we knew that one couldn’t be anything but what it claimed to be.  We checked the other two flights to make sure they weren’t imposters, too.  The IPA tasted like an IPA and a West Coast IPA at that (re-read Beer Not in Colorado: Coronado Brewing for a refresher about my stance on West Coast IPAs.  In short, I’m against them).  No doppelgangers there.  The next beer in the flight tasted tart and had a plum-like aroma.  I’m not especially familiar with dubbels but I knew I was drinking Dubbel Fisted because my evaluation matched the description on the menu.  That left three suspects: Renegade Blonde, Spice of Life, and Golden Age.  Renegade was a definite possibility; it had the right color and the fruity flavors made me quite suspicious that this very well may be the perp.  Spice of Life, perhaps?  Nah, the description says it has intense flavors of coriander and bitter orange peel.  I definitely didn’t detect any of that in my mystery beer.  Let’s see what it says about Golden Age:  blah blah blah banana blah blah blah grapes.  Ready your pistol, dear Watson, the guilty party is in our presence.  The cervisia incognitus undeniably features banana flavors and grape essences and, according to the menu, there is but one Iron Fist beer that matches that description: Golden Age (9.2% ABV). 
Renegade, Dubbel Fisted, what we discovered to be Golden Age, and Hired Hand
This exercise is a fantastic way to train one’s palate.  To see if my skills are up to snuff, I may ask the bartender at my next brewery visit to pour me a pint without telling me what it is and I’ll see if I can identify it, first, by taste and, second, by how the brewery describes it.  A blind taste-test like that separates the true connoisseurs from the typical college kid whose appreciation ranges from Natty Ice all the way to Keystone Light.     

The Pinzgauer
Having solved our mystery, we sipped at the remainder of our flights, admired the Sharpie art hanging on the wall, and took a few pictures of the Pinzgauer, a military vehicle used by Scavengers Beer & Adventures Tour to transport beer geeks from one San Diego brewery to another.  Nicole and I considered using their services but, at $105 per person, we decided it would be best just to make our own tour.  Still, sweet ride.

Sharpie art
The final installment of our California beer adventure is coming next.  Stay tuned for Green Flash

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Beer Not in Colorado: Stone

This is a continuation of the post titled Beer Not in Colorado: Ballast Point.  You’d be a fool not to read that post first.
Demons, dictators, and solar explosions: the plot (in its entirety) of Michael Bay’s next movie?  Nay, I speak of the respective mascots of three of SoCal’s more eminent breweries:  Stone Brewing Co., Iron Fist Brewing Co., and Green Flash Brewing Co.
Stone is (and I definitely intend the pun) a monolith in the craft brewing world.  In my mind, the giants of craft beer are equally distributed across the nation.  The East has Dogfish Head, the middle part of the nation has New Belgium, and Stone from Escondido, rounds out the West coast.  Other people might include Sierra Nevada, Goose Island, Brooklyn Brewery, and Boston Beer (AKA Sam Adams) in that fray as well but, no matter how you rank them, there is no denying that Stone is way up there in the hierarchy.  And I’ve never really liked them.
There is a relatively short list of categories that breweries across America might fit into in regards to public image.  Some, like New Belgium and Dogfish Head, present themselves as whimsical hippies that embrace personal expression, experimentation, and togetherness.  Others, like Boston Beer, emphasize traditional brewing methods and really try to class up their advertisements with business-casual attire and professionally staged photo shoots.  Stone is something else entirely.  With beers named Arrogant Bastard Ale and Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale and with mottos like “You’re not worthy” and “Fizzy yellow Beer is for wussies,” Stone presents itself as a bunch of unabashed pricks.
Furthermore, with their gargoyle mascot and their merchandise that comes in several shades of black, Stone could be personified by that greasy, military-jacketed kid who sits in the back of Algebra class as he fingers his incalculable facial piercings and writes “Slayer” over and over again on the back of his notebook.  Stone is the metal-head Goth of the craft beer world.  Stone doesn’t care what you think of it.  Stone thinks you’re a poser.  You just don’t get Stone’s pain.  Stone is going to turn his music up loud and draw Satanic imagery on his arm to piss off his parents.  That’s right, Stone is hardcore. 
Wait a minute.  What’s this place with a pretty, pretty tunnel of pink wisteria flowers leading to the door? 

 Much the same way I imagine that Marilyn Manson brews a cup of Earl Grey tea and snuggles up with a robe and a good book when he’s not “on,” so, too, is Stone’s demonic reputation tarnished when you visit it at home.  With an acres-large beer garden complete with koi ponds, bamboo, waterfalls, and private grottos, Stone is a Zen garden, not a death metal factory.  You wouldn’t come here to bang your head, you’d come here to do yoga. 
The first beer I ordered—OAKED Arrogant Bastard Ale (7.2% ABV)—I had in the restaurant area of the brewery.  With floor-to-ceiling windows on one side showcasing the beer garden and floor-to-ceiling windows on the other side showcasing Stone’s massive brewing operation, the inside of Stone is equally impressive as the outside. 

OAKED Bastard, an American strong ale, is the oak-aged version of Stone’s flagship Arrogant Bastard Ale.  It is an impenetrable amber in color as if the glass were not clear but a deep shade of slightly frosted red.  For a brewery that revels in the fact that they make strong beers for strong constitutions, the aroma is surprisingly subdued with only a hint of hops.  The hops, however, strike the palate quickly after the first swallow.  Originally, I couldn’t detect any oaken flavors or scents but, as the beer warmed, they became a slightly more apparent.  Still, I might as well have been un-oaked Arrogant Bastard for the minute difference the oak made. 

OAKED Arrogant Bastard
Stone has this to say about OAKED Arrogant Bastard: “This is an aggressive beer. You probably won’t like it. It is quite doubtful that you have the taste or sophistication to be able to appreciate an ale of this quality and depth.”  Okay, dude, I get it; you’re totally badass.  You make the best beer in the world and if anybody fails to realize this profound truth then it is their own damn fault.  Truth is, though, Stone is right; I really didn’t like it all that much.  No, it’s not because it’s too “aggressive” or that I lack “sophistication,” it’s just not that great.  It leaves a leathery taste in the mouth and it’s too malty for my taste.  It’s not bad but it’s not great and I just can’t imagine picking Bastard over another beer in any given situation.  I also can’t imagine why Stone made this beer their flagship when Stone IPA and Ruination IPA—both superior beers—are in their lineup.  I guess when you have a funny name like “Arrogant Bastard” people will buy it regardless of how it tastes.  “Perhaps you think multi-million dollar ad campaigns make a beer taste better,” says Stone to the fans of macro-breweries like Budweiser and Miller.  Take a look at yourselves, Stone, for you are teetering on the edge of hypocrisy.  Your ad campaign (though, admittedly, probably not in the millions) reeks of insecurity.  Just because you tell us your beer tastes good and just because your beers exude confidence doesn’t make it true.  Focus on the beer and not how you advertise it. 

In spite of the evil ads, the brewery grounds are decidedly Eden-esque and expansive.  It had rained earlier and much of the garden was flooded yet even with so much roped off it was still vast.  We headed to a secluded corner surrounded on all sides by vines and flower and plopped down next to a gigantic stone slab that served as a table.  Meditative music played, the sweet smell of flowers wafted, I had another glass of beer, and the world was at peace.  This time I had Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale (8.7% ABV), a deep, dark brown beer with an off-white head.  Nicole tasted the roasted malts and hops on the tongue while I felt it at the back of the mouth.  It may have been my surroundings but I could have sworn that Self-Righteous had a distinct flowery smell.  Maybe it's because Self-Righteous is a better beer or perhaps my surroundings had me in a state of inner-peace but I'm more forgiving in my assessment of this beer than I am of OAKED Arrogant Bastard.           
Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale

Not a bad place to have a beer
Stone leaves me with conflicted feelings.  I hate their ad campaign, I love their brewery, and their beers range from so-so to great.  Like the discrepancy between their hellish mascot and their heavenly garden, my opinion of Stone is a ball of contradiction.  I’m going to cop-out and not say whether or not Stone is brewery worthy of your time.  Make your own opinion because mine is too convoluted. 

We finished up our drinks, admired the garden one last time, and headed to Iron Fist and Green Flash.
Check back soon.  More to come.

A couple of months before we left on our spring break adventure, we sat on a chairlift and made our way to the top of Storm Peak. As we hid our faces from the cold wind, we chatted with a guy that was visiting from San Diego. We picked his brain about the breweries in San Diego that we should visit. He told us that we had to visit Stone; he said it had a great atmosphere. In my mind, I was expecting the atmosphere of other breweries that we have been to. I envisioned a large bar, lots of tables, some hop inspired art, merchandise lining the walls, mash tuns, fermentation tanks, and lots of beer.
We drove up Stone, it looked like an office building. I had to check the signs in the parking lot telling people that the parking spaces were for Stone customers only. As we walked up to the entrance we were greeted a gray-black stone pathway that was lined with large gray-black boulders and covered with a canopy of fragrant, flowered vines. The doors were large wooden doors that made me feel like I was entering a castle. Once inside, we were surrounded by bamboo shoots, waterfalls that trickled down boulders, and large expanses of glass windows that showcased the outdoor bar and gardens. It really felt like they were bringing nature inside. Of course, they had a large bar complete with a metal contraption that held the tap pulls of everything that was currently on tap. We also had a nice view of the brewing equipment and the tours flowing through.
I opted for the Stone Cola in place of a beer. They had their own root beer and a couple of other sodas. The cola was “spicy” as the waitress had described. But it wasn’t a hot spice, but more like the spice that you feel when you eat ginger. The cola had an interesting flavor that I can’t really describe. Even though we had eaten a huge breakfast at the Hash House, I was ready for a snack. I chose the large soft pretzel and Chris ordered the beer cheese soup, one of his favorites that I will someday learn to make. I was expecting a traditional large pretzel, the kind you would find served with some spicy mustard at a German beer fest. But instead, I was greeted with three sweet twists of fried deliciousness that must be related to the doughnut. It was wonderful. As I write this, the after dinner munchies are kicking in and I wish I had some of those pretzels right now. Chris enjoyed his beer cheese soup that was made with sharp cheddar and Ruination IPA Both gave it a powerful flavor. But, it still doesn’t rival the beer cheese soup from Austin’s American Grill in Fort Collins that uses Colorado’s own Fat Tire beer.
Before leaving Stone, we ventured into the outdoor bar, patio, and garden. Walking around the outdoor area gave me ideas for the backyard that I want to have someday. As we sat underneath the flowering vines, I felt so peaceful and relaxed. The massive stone tables which seemed so simple were dug up when they built the brewery (or so says some guy that was ruining my Zen moment with talk about zombies and other odd conversation). I could have spent all day in the gardens, but it was starting to get crowded and I was getting dirty looks from some frat boys as I tried to take pictures of the area that served as a table, fire pit, waterfall, and koi pond. They were obviously just there for the beer and couldn’t appreciate the natural beauty that surrounded them.