"Beer in Colorado" is dedicated to that divine elixir born of the marriage of water, malt, hops, and yeast as interpreted
by those living in Colorado. Follow the author as he visits every brewery in the state, creates experimental homebrews,
attends beer festivals, tries interesting beers from around the world, and spreads the good word of beer. Prost!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Rideable Saloons and Brewery Birthday Parties

There are times when beer news—like so many a domestic brew—is light.  There are other times when I’m avalanched by new developments in the world of craft beer that I can scarcely keep my posts timely.  It is the latter quandary in which I currently find myself.  In the interest of keeping posts somewhat relevant, I present to you a double-header post featuring my Thursday expedition on the Denver Patio Ride and the one-year anniversary party at Strange Brewing.

Denver Patio Ride:
In Colorado, where microbreweries are outnumbered only by medical marijuana dispensaries and where bikers clog the streets like cholesterol in an artery, it was only a matter of time before a business decided to combine the two pastimes into a single activity.  The offspring of this hybrid: Denver Patio Ride, a 16-person, pedal powered party on wheels that takes customers on a tour of the River North neighborhood bars and dives.  The bar/bike amalgam doesn’t take much effort to move and the steering is controlled by the tour guide so riders are free to sit back, rotate some pedals, and—if the mood strikes—stand in the middle of the contraption and shake booty to the pounding party beats courtesy of  the solar-powered stereo system.  The playlist of the night included a lot of funky 70’s hits but customers are welcome to bring their own music devices and create their own mix.  There’s even a roof for wet weather riding.  This thing is all kinds of fun.

Fun though it may be, the Patio Ride wouldn’t have a place in this blog if it weren’t for the fact that Colorado’s third largest (and soon to be second largest) craft brewery, Oskar Blues, was a sponsor.  It was our great fortune that we were able to ride along on the inaugural Oskar Blues Night wherein the bars had the brewery’s beers on special and an Oskar Blues sales rep was onboard to doll out insider information to eager ears.  For example, why is Mama’s Little Yella Pils classified as a malt liquor on the can?  Because, to sell in Texas, all beers over 5% ABV must be called either a malt liquor or an ale.  At 5.3% ABV, Yella had to choose between one of two misnomers.  However, since Yella is a lager and not an ale, “malt liquor” was slightly more accurate.  Once again, Texas causes Colorado aggravation.  And that little circle at the bottom of the cans?  Well, the rep could have been messing with me but he told me what it was for and to not tell too many people about its purpose.  In keeping with those wishes, if your curiosity is killing you then you’ll have to message me privately to learn the secret.

The ride starts at Billy’s Gourmet HotDogs at Larimer and Broadway and the rest of the route changes depending on the day and by customer request.  On this particular day, the ride took us to The Matchbox (foosball!), i-Fish (sake bombs!), and Brauns on Blake (Skee-ball!) with free Oskar Blues beers at each stop.  At the moment, there is no drinking on the actual bike but Denver Patio Ride is in talks with the city to remedy the situation. 

If the banks are too big to fail then the Denver Patio Ride is too damn fun to fail.  Go to their website, book a ride, and give this company your money.  I’d hate to see something so entertaining leave our fair city.

Strange Brewing’s One-Year Anniversary Party:
You got a business name alluding to SCTV’s McKenzie Brothers?  I’m paying attention.  So, too, did the Colorado craft beer community because, in a single year, Strange Brewing Company has already rooted down and established itself as a big contender housed in a small brewery.  One does not garner such attention with a punny name alone; it’s the beer that gets the people coming back.

Strange certainly has impeccable timing when it comes to celebrating an anniversary—the six-day party coincided with American Craft Beer Week.  Throughout the week, beer aficionados could enjoy day-long happy hours, food truck delicacies, barleywines on tap, the introduction of Double Take Imperial IPA, the reintroduction of 151 Anniversary Ale, and live music.  On Friday, when I went with Nicole and my sister, guests were entertained by the musical styling of JP and Friends and enjoyed free pizza from Hops & Pie. 
After negotiating a modest crowd, we plopped ourselves down and ordered a round.  Nicole had some root beer but I opted for the Powerhouse Porter (5.5% ABV), a deep red beer with a tan head.  It’s not the black-with-red-highlights beer that people associate with porters, it’s red all the way through.  The aroma has a roasty essence but it is mild considering the style.  The taste, likewise is not all that robust.  There is a slight hop bite accompanied by a smoky flavor.  Coffee-like flavors are present but not overbearing.  I wondered for some time if they had accidentally given me the dark ale, instead. 

Patience on the left, Powerhouse on the right 

I polished off the Powerhouse and ordered a Paint It Black Honey Coffee Stout (6.5% ABV) on nitro.  Paint It Black is pure black—no highlights—and has an eggshell-white head.  It packs a wallop in terms of bitter, coffee flavor; it’s like chewing on Maxwell House straight from the can.  I guess there’s honey in this beer but it’s completely undetectable in the wash of coffee flavors.  The only thing I liked about this beer was the velvety smoothness it acquired through the nitro tap.
Paint It Black

Next on the list: Patience Saison (6.6% ABV).  Patience is cloudy orange with a white head and has a spicey (clove?), orange-y aroma.  It’s quite zesty.  The aforementioned aromas plus a little tartness carry over into the flavor.  In terms of mouthfeel, Patience is light and dry.

The final beer of the night was American Barleywine (11% ABV) which has a cloudy orange-brown color and an earthy, pine-like aroma.  It’s like a bed of pine needles that have been sitting on the forest floor for about a week.  The alcohol level is so high in this beer that it is hard to discern any other flavors. 
The author and his barleywine


Monday, May 16, 2011

Causing a Hoopla (And Then Drinking It)

Readers would be wise to read the interview with Kyle Hollingsworth prior to reading this update.  It has a lot of background information that will make this update easier to understand.  The interview can be found in the prior post titled Kyle Hollingsworth: Musician and Brewer.

This past Saturday was the official release party of Hoopla Pale Ale (5.7% ABV), a beer conceived and brewed by The String Cheese Incident’s keyboardist, Kyle Hollingsworth, with help from Boulder Beer.  Having interviewed Hollingsworth over the phone for my Examiner.com page, I couldn’t resist having a taste of Hoopla.  I’ve read and heard so much about it that it seemed crazy not to partake in it.  I mean, you can hear about the majesty of the Grand Canyon until your ears bleed and fall off but, to truly “get it,” you have to experience it.  Thus, my sisters and I went to the Boulder Beer taproom and became among the first paying customers to enjoy Hoopla.
Boulder Beer

This was my second visit to Boulder Beer (which has the distinction of being Colorado’s first microbrewery) and the first time I actually had to pay for my beers.  You see, if you take the free tour at Boulder Beer, it culminates in several free pitchers of their year-round offerings.  Even if you get stuck in a crowd rivaling a Who concert in Cincinnati there’ll still be plenty of beer to put you on the floor.  The only downside (or upside, depending on your view) is that you must go through the tour first.  Yes, it is endlessly fascinating to learn about beer and its creation.  If it wasn’t, this blog would have petered out after about three or four posts.  However, I’ve already done the Boulder Beer tour and I’ve done the tour at other breweries, too; the process is pretty much the same no matter where you go.  I go to breweries to try the beer because it is the beer that actually varies from place to place, not the process.  Nonetheless, I would endure the repetitive information again for the quality and quantity of beer that waits for me at the end of the tour.

When we arrived at Boulder Beer and pushed through a modest crowd to find a seat near the bar.  I ordered Hoopla right away, opened my notebook, and started taking notes.  In terms of color, Hoopla is a clear, dark yellow.  It’s not so dark that you can’t see through it but it is noticeably darker than the average pale ale.  The aroma really threw me off at first.  It smelled herby and familiar but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.  I was starting to get frustrated with my lack of appropriate similes and started wildly speculating.  I knew that String Cheese is a band that draws fans from the hippie culture and I’ve smelled similar aromas when I’ve ridden behind a group of college kids on a ski lift and
seeing as we were in Colorado where there’s a medical marijuana dispensary on every corner, well, could there be some sort of hemp oil or hemp seed in this beer?  No, surely something like that would have come out in my interview.  Then what the heck was I smelling?  I wrote in my notebook that it “smells like an outdoor concert” and let it be until, finally, I heard that Hoopla had been dry-hopped with Glacier hops.  Since dry-hopping (or, aging beer over a pile of dried hop leaves) brings forth the aroma and flavor of hops without conveying a lot of bitterness and since the hop plant and the marijuana plant are “kissin’ cousins” in the world of botany, it’s easy to see how I got confused.  There’s a caramel-like quality to the aroma, too.  Due to the dry-hopping, Hoopla is an easy drinking beer that still has plenty in terms of hop flavor.  Hollingsworth wanted a beer that had a full body but would be refreshing for concertgoers who’re “sitting there watching Grateful Dead at one in the afternoon” and, in my opinion, he hit his mark. 

The author and his Hoopla
I met Hollingsworth for exactly as long as it takes to say,”Hey, I’m the guy who interviewed you on Wednesday” and shake his hand before he was whisked away to sign posters and bomber bottles and mingle with the horde of beer and music enthusiasts.  But, hey, I did meet the guy. 

After downing two additional pints (I wanted to get an accurate assessment), watching people contend in the string cheese carving contest, and having my notebook hijacked by my sisters who wrote that Buffalo Gold tasted like a buffalo burger and that the blueberry beer Kinda Blue sounded like Miles Davis with hints of Bob Dylan, it was time to leave.  If you’re interested in having Hoopla for yourself, look for Hoopsie Daisy, the silhouetted, hula-hooping girl on the logo. 


Hollingsworth (Left) and a Boulder Beer brewmaster (Right) giving the crowd a rundown of Hoopla

Friday, May 13, 2011

Kyle Hollingsworth: Musician and Brewer

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Kyle Hollingsworth, keyboardist for The String Cheese Incident, about his life in homebrewing.  Hollingsworth will be leading a homebrewing demonstration at Boulder Beer on July 23rd.  He will also be releasing Hoopla Pale Ale, a collaboration between himself and Boulder Beer, at the Boulder Beer taproom on May 14th.  Please visit the original Examiner.com article as well. Below is the interview in its entirety.
These first few questions are going to be about you as a brewer.  People can tell a lot about a man’s character by the way he plays music and I think you can tell a lot about a man by the way he brews.  What is your favorite style of beer to drink and brew?
I would say my favorite style of beer to drink is currently IPA.  It has been known to change but I’m currently in an IPA phase.  And to brew, it’s about to the same although I have been experimenting with some other styles as well but it has mainly been IPA.
Do your preferences change with the seasons or does it come and go at random?
It is where I am right now as far as taste.  It is across all seasons.
What is your stance on additives in beer?  Are you like Sam Calagione from Dogfish Head who pretty much throws the whole kitchen into the brewpot or are you more on the side of the Reinheitsgebot and use only the four main ingredients?
No, I’d say I’m much more like dogfish: like Sam.  I feel [Hoopla] is very similar to the way I live my life and the way I play music.  I explore musically as well as when I brew.
What are some of the weirdest additives you’ve used in a brew?
Recently—I did [this] for an event I called Hoppy Holidays—I did [a beer] with the Avery brewery here in Boulder.  We were trying to think of Christmas-type herbs.  There’s myrrh, there’s frankincense, but that doesn’t make any sense so how about sage?  We tried a sage beer—a sage IPA—which kept getting thrown out.  But we did end up using thyme, we had a thyme IPA.  I’m sorry, a rosemary IPA.  And then we did a juniper orange IPA.  Actually, it wasn’t sage.  I was wrong, it was thyme.  The thyme was way over the top.
I could probably guess with the answers you’ve already given me but do you consider yourself a “a dash here, a pinch here” kind of brewer or do you like to take meticulous measurements?
How did you first get involved in homebrewing and how did that eventually evolve into The Brewru Experience?
So, you read the press release?  I started brewing many years ago in my basement back in Baltimore where I’m from.  Basically, I was interested in what my brother was doing.   I was 18 then and I’m 42 now.  So, it was “Oh, this is really cool.”  Part of it, when you’re 18, is making beer and drinking it before you’re 21 but also the process and the art to it was really intriguing to me.  I’d never really been into cooking but I felt it was a similar vibe.  It’s a craft, beer-making. 
For people coming out to The Brewru Experience, what can they expect?
You’re the first person to talk about that, which is great.  The Brewru Experience is going to be more of a craft brewing—or, I’d say, homebrewing—101.  It may not be for people who are veterans but I’m hoping to have some experiences for them, too.  We’ll all be talking about different styles of beer first.  Then, we’ll go through the ingredients (hopefully I’ll have ingredients with me) and we’ll pass [the ingredients] out and we’ll talk about the homebrew style and what works for commercial breweries, too.  We’ll talk about the differences between those.  We’re working on making a brew on-site.  As a musician, I’m appealing not only to homebrewers but also—potentially more so—to fans.  It is my mission to get fans into making homebrews. 
What is your inspiration for Hoopla?  Was there another beer that sparked the muse inside you?
The inspiration was based completely around [making] a drinkable, summer pale ale that would be good in festival situations.  String Cheese plays a lot of festivals—Bonnaroo, for example, is one of the big festivals we’ll be playing this summer.  In Tennessee, when its 100% humidity and its 95 degrees, I was like, “let’s make a beer that’s meant for the people watching the music.”  I wanted it hoppy but I didn’t want it completely challenging for the palate.  I wanted it to be refreshing as well.  I call it a new category of beer: a sensible pale ale—a SPA.  My thought is to bring it to a lot of these festivals and make it more of a summer drinking beer.  It’s not in any way a wheat beer, I really wanted it to have the body of whole hops so I chose pale [ale].
You’ve been quoted as saying “Beer or music, I’m willing to take risks with both.”  Do you think Hoopla is one of your more risky beers or is it low on the risk scale?
Good question.  It is middle of the road for risk for me.  I knew I wasn’t going to challenge anybody much when they’re sitting there watching Grateful Dead at one in the afternoon.  I knew I wanted something that was going to have a dry finish and that was something new that I hadn’t tried before.  I’d say medium risk factor.  The lowest risk factor for me would to just make a hop bomb.  The other side of the risk would be a Belgian.
You are having a release party at Boulder Beer.  It’s a prestigious brewery but it’s not the only one.  It’s not even the only one in Boulder.  How did you and Boulder Beer partner up?
I have, for the past couple of years, been touring the country and talking to fans—String Cheese fans and music fans—and doing meet-and-greets with many brewers from Stone to Deschutes to Dogfish to all across the country.  Finally, I put on my own brew festival which is happening [again] this summer on July 23rd at Boulder Beer.  I did it last year and they were involved and they said, “You’ve been making beers with lots of different breweries all across the country, why don’t you step it up with us and do a national release?”  It makes sense.  They’re the oldest [brewery] in Boulder and it makes sense as far as the String Cheese vibe and keeping it homegrown.  Plus, I love their beer.
Did Boulder Beer have any input in making Hoopla or are they only distributing it for you?
They are more than equal partners.  The main brewer there, Mike Memsic, basically made the recipe.  We talked about what we wanted in a beer.  We talked about the malt build.  We talked about the hops.  And then he said, “I’m going to go ahead, based on what you said, make it work back at our brewery and make the recipe.”  So he made the recipe based on our two inputs.  He is the man who made the beer. 
At this point in your career, do you consider yourself a musician that brews or a brewer that plays music or are you somewhere in between?
I’m definitely a musician that brews.  It’s funny, it’s called The Brewru Experience and in no way do I pretend to be a brew guru at all in making beer.  I consider myself a touring musician who is in love with brewing beer and [who] loves the process. 
Do you find that brewing and music complement each other?  Do they inspire each other?
Yeah, that’s where it all began.  For me, the whole thing, a couple years ago, as a musician (especially in an improvisational band) I felt like I had to be in the moment.  In that moment, while I’m in the middle of a brew or perhaps when I’m in the middle of a jam, jumping into the moment and taking the risk and taking that solo or leading that jam and, sometimes, it totally falls on its face.  But, at least you tried.  For me, that’s what it’s like when I’m brewing beer.  I brew in a very similar way.  “Let’s throw thyme in the beer.  Let’s take that solo.  Okay, it sucks!  But, whatever!”  It’s kind of that attitude of living in the moment and going forward.  That’s kind of my thing.  I don’t know if it relates but that’s my theory. 
Is there anything else you’d like to say to the beer geek community?
I think you covered a lot.  If you do mention the brew fest it wouldn’t be the worst thing.  It’s on [July 23rd] at Boulder Beer. 
Don’t you have a release party on May, 14th as well?
That’s not the brew festival, that’s just a tapping of Hoopla for the first time.  The only thing else I’d like to say to the [beer geek] community [is that] I’m so open to learning and getting critiques so I can learn from my mistakes.  If anybody would love to come up to me at one of my shows, come talk to me.  Let’s talk beer.  Let’s get into it.       

Monday, May 9, 2011

Beer Not in Colorado: Homecoming

You can go to a five-star restaurant but you’ll always long for mama’s cookin’.  You can vacation in exotic locales but you’ll always sleep sounder in your own bed.  No matter where life takes you, home is home and it will always, to some degree, draw you back.
Life has taken me to Colorado and the state has treated me well ever since I moved here in 2004: the beer is great, the skiing superb, and the people active and friendly.  I have no plans to uproot and replant myself outside Colorado and I suspect that my dying breath—hopefully an event for the distant future—will occur within her borders.  But, for all my blustering about the superiority of Colorado, this is not technically “home” for it was not the snow-capped peaks that graced my newborn eyes but rather the corn and soybean choked fields of Indiana.
It only takes a cursory glance to see why I chose to move out of Indiana and resettle in my current location: Colorado trumps Indiana in almost every category.  However, my Hoosier blood incites me to defend my home state in a number of isolated situations.  The Rockies, Nuggets, and Avalanche may be my favorite teams in their respected sport but you’ll never see me at Invesco Field unless the Colts are in town.  You can keep 3OH!3 and The Fray, I’ll stick with John Mellencamp and Michael Jackson.  Red Dawn was a kick-ass movie in nearly all respects but Hoosiers is the best sports film ever made.  Period.  I have a foot in both states and, although I think it was a wise choice to move to Colorado, my heart still goes out to Indiana.
It is this unshakeable devotion that coaxed me back to Indianapolis this past weekend to run the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon (colloquially, the Indy Mini) for the fourth time.  Sure, it would be easier to just run a local half-marathon but then I’d be missing out on America’s largest 13.1 mile race as well as the local flavor that comes out in droves to serenade runners as they make their way to, around, and back from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  There just isn’t a half-marathon in the country that has comparable fanfare with the Indy Mini.  And the best way to re-carb after a good day’s run?  Beer. 
After the race, I took a deservedly long shower, clothed myself (complete with Ranger IPA trucker cap), loaded in the car with my mom and Nic, and headed out to three breweries that were recommended to me by a local contact.  Regrettably, after my run, I was tired in both body and mind and thus did not have the energy to take meticulous tasting notes.  Please forgive the superficial nature of the following reports.
Our first destination was Sun King Brewing Co., a brewery that looks like a converted bowling alley.  It is one of those industrial-style breweries wherein the actual brewing operations take place in the same room as the tasting area.  They gave tours but it seemed unnecessary since all the equipment was in plain sight just thirty feet away.
When we walked through the door we received four tickets and two unattached beer can tops: four tickets for four tasters of the year-round brews and two can tops for two tasters of the seasonal offerings.  I think the tasters could have been twice as big and they’d still be a reasonable size for patron and business alike but it was nice to try everything that they had to offer without getting rip-roaring drunk.  It’s not as if Sun King is readily available in Denver so I was happy to drink my way through their whole line-up and still be sound-of-mind enough to enjoy the two upcoming breweries.

My thoughts on the tasters:

Osiris Pale Ale (5.6% ABV, 50 IBUs): Osiris has medium-level bitterness.  It falls somewhere in the top-middle in my personal hierarchy of best pale ales.  This is a great beer for warm—not hot—weather.
Wee Mac Scottish Ale (5.3% ABV, 23 IBUs): I oftentimes avoid Scottish ales because I enjoy highly-hopped, sparingly malted beers.  Scottish ales are the polar opposite.  Knowing my apprehension towards Scottish ales, I suppose it diminishes the honor a bit when I say Wee Mac is the third best of that particular style I’ve ever had after Great Divide’s Claymore and Odell’s 90 Shilling.  Like the annual Boston “R” Pronouncing Contest, there’ll inevitably be a winner but there isn’t much prestige in the victory because, c’mon, look at the competition.  Wee Mac’s not the best beer in the world but it is one of the best in its field.
Sunlight Cream Ale (5.3% ABV, 20 IBUs): Like the name suggests, there is an evident creaminess to this beer.  It is a very light beer with a milk-like consistency that is great for summertime drinking.
Bitter Druid ESB (5.8% ABV, 43 IBUs): Of the four year-round beers, Bitter Druid has the biggest hop bite.  Although Osiris has a higher IBU level, it just didn’t taste as intense as Bitter Druid.  Though bitter, it does not overwhelm the palate and the drinker can enjoy this beer without much grimacing or shivering.
Inside Sun King
I also had two German-style seasonal ales (an alt and an amber) but, as I mentioned, my brain was on power save mode and I can’t remember any details about those two beers.  I do remember them being quite good, though. 
The next stop on the brewery tour was Thr3e Wise Men Brewing Company.  Unlike Sun King, Thr3e Wise Men is more polished; it has a formal bar and restaurant area and all brewing equipment is safely displayed behind glass.  Having opened on January 17, 2011, Thr3e Wise Men is also an exceptionally new brewery to hit the Indy beer scene. 
Thr3e Wise Men

Inside Thr3E Wise Men
Falconer's Flight
 I ordered the seasonal Falconer’s Flight Black IPA (8% ABV, 32 IBUs) which was very tasty with its mix of intense hops and roasted malts.  It doesn’t seem like the right season for this type of seasonal beer what with the dark malts but one mustn’t fall into the trap of being too persnickety about pairing beers with the time of year.  Falconer’s Flight may be a bit dark for May drinking but it’s still an appetizing brew regardless of the climate.  Besides that, the high hop character is spring-like so, really, Falconer’s Flight has qualities that are half winter orientated and half spring orientated.  
If Thr3e Wise Men is the new kid on the block then the Broad Ripple Brewpub is the grizzled veteran.  Broad Ripple Brewpub, having opened in 1990, is Indiana’s first brewpub and it is the oldest operating brewery in the state. 
We sat on the patio because the weather was remarkably pleasant for Indiana in May.  I ordered the E.S.B. Extra Special Bitter (5.6% ABV) and enjoyed the sweet yet bitter drink as the Midwestern sun warmed my cheeks and bicyclists meandered down the uncongested road.  This is a true neighborhood hangout.

A basketball hoop=sure sign you're in Indiana
Although I’ve spent 18 years of my life living in Indiana, I was almost completely unaccustomed to Hoosier beers until this past weekend (I was quite familiar with the defunct Warbird Brewing Company from Ft. Wayne but nothing beyond that).  There may be fewer breweries gracing the cornfields than there are the mountains but the breweries I visited in Indy still represent only a small percentage of all breweries in my home state.  Still, I feel as though I now have a basic understanding of what beer in Indiana is all about.  Indiana is not the beer hotspot that Colorado is—not by a long shot—but I wouldn’t be surprised if a national player rose from the ranks of Hoosier beer in ten years or so.  Three Floyds Brewing Co. in Munster is already a superstar in certain circles; which of its in-state brethren will join it at the top?