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

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Upslope's Anniversary and the Quest for Pumpkin Beer

They say that the third anniversary is the “leather year.”  I may be falling into a Freudian trap by saying this but, if you ask me, that sounds kind of kinky.  All I can think of is whips, masks, gags, harnesses, gimp suits, and a bunch of other things I’ll refrain from mentioning lest I appear to be the expert on the subject.  Look, it’s completely natural to want to strap your wife down to a chair and flog her with a cat -o’-nine-tails after three years of marital bliss but might I offer a more practical alternative?  Forgo your deviant lifestyle and instead make like Upslope Brewing Company on their third anniversary and serve up some Colorado craft beer.  

Upslope turned three this past Saturday and, to celebrate, they held a party in their tasting room which has, since Nicole and I’s last visit, at least doubled in size.  The additional space was most beneficial since, to celebrate the occasion, Upslope was pouring a lot more than just the usual four i.e. Pale Ale, India Pale Ale, Brown Ale, and Craft Lager.  For an anniversary party, the canned and distributed stuff—good though it may be—aint gonna cut it.  You need the hard-to-find beers if you’re going to make the night special and Upslope met the challenge.  They had a Belgian pale ale, a Baltic porter, a foreign stout, some other stuff I can’t remember and, most importantly, their Great American Beer Festival gold medal-winning Pumpkin Ale.  There was so much to try but I only had two tickets to redeem so I went for the Baltic porter and the Belgian pale ale.

The Baltic porter was brewed specifically to celebrate three years of operation thus its moniker “3rd Anniversary.”  Since 3rd Anniversary breaks the Upslope trend of simply naming the beer after the style in which it was brewed, I had to ask what it was before I ordered.  I had thought that the bartender said Belgian porter so, for the first half of the beer, I was looking for the fruity esters and flavors that are commonly associated with Belgian-style ales.  The funny thing is, after awhile, I actually started to detect those qualities!  The placebo effect is alive and well.  However, after I overheard that it was actually a Baltic porter, I immediately lost any sense of fruity characteristics, slapped myself for slipping up in my beer assessment, and began the tasting notes anew. 
Baltic Porter

3rd Anniversary has a black core that fades to brown that fades to red at the edge of the glass.  It is topped with a tan head.  The aroma smells faintly of chocolate and the taste is that of a fine roasted coffee.  The flavor is smooth, inoffensive.  It is like drinking a gourmet cup of chilled coffee with chocolate syrup swirled in.  There is a buildup of bitterness in the back of the mouth.  Towards the end of my glass, I heard another patron comment that it is like a black IPA which, while technically incorrect (at least as incorrect as my Belgian porter assessment), holds some truth; it is, by all means, dark in color and possessing a somewhat bitter flavor.  So I guess that guy was kind of right.  Kind of.

I also ordered a glass of the Belgian pale ale (yes, I’m sure that this one was indeed a Belgian; I saw it written on the tap handle).  This beer is mostly clear—a light cloud hovers in it—and is the color of that tacky, gold metal trimming old people accent their bathrooms with.  Nicole told me the technical term is “Harvest Gold.”  The aroma is bready, yeasty, and reminiscent of a wit beer.  The scent of coriander is apparent.  Likewise, coriander makes a big appearance in the flavor thus making it taste like a hoppy hefeweizen or, perhaps more accurately due to the additional orange-like flavor, a hoppy Blue Moon.  The spices in this beer warm the back of the tongue and it finishes dry with some spurts of salivation following. 
Belgian Pale Ale

Unfortunately, even though Upslope had established two additional albeit temporary serving stations for the event, there still wasn’t enough room to tap all of the beers at the same time; they had to kick a few kegs before they added more.  For that reason, we missed out on Pumpkin Ale.  We had it at Upslope’s tap takeover at Hops & Pie and we were looking forward to having it again but we were also unwilling to wait around for the rest of the party to empty a keg.  So, I grabbed my handsome and exclusive souvenir glass and we set sail for Denver where we visited two breweries that could sate our unnatural lust for Pumpkin-flavored beers.

We pulled up to Denver Beer Co. where, by happenchance, we ran into my neighbor Jeff who is a graphic designer responsible for the “Beer in Colorado” logo you see at the top of this page (visit his website if you like what you see).  We had a squat with him and ordered the Pumpkin Porter and the Great American Beer Festival bronze-medaling Graham Cracker Porter.
Pumpkin on left, Graham Cracker on right

The Pumpkin Porter is sumptuous.  The drinking experience is pure hedonism.  The pumpkin pie spices come out in full force and the porter aspect imparts a chocolate accent.  It is so decadent that I hardly took the time to take notes and it was so pleasurable that I think it partially erased my memory.  I’m sorry I can’t describe it in more detail but, trust me, it is one of the best pumpkin-flavored beers out there. 

The Graham Cracker Porter is also quite good but, since it is the award-winner, I expected it to be even better than Pumpkin Porter.  That wasn’t the case.  It smells and tastes simultaneously of graham cracker and vanilla with vanilla being the more dominate.  Again, a very good beer but it doesn’t touch Pumpkin Porter. 

We ended the night at Strange Brewing Company where I had yet another pumpkin-flavored porter.  This one was also quite tasty although it emphasized pumpkin flavor rather than pumpkin pie flavor.  Still, a taste of nutmeg was more obvious in this rendition.
Strange's Pumpkin Porter

Visiting three young but potentially long-lasting breweries in one day made me realize how lucky I am to be living in this wonderfully beer-friendly environment.  In a lot of places, upstart businesses—be they brewery or not—open and close within a few months.  Although that still happens in Colorado (case in point: Los Oasis Latin Grill & Cerveceria which, according to Boulder’s Daily Camera, opened and closed within about three months.  I wish Nicole and I knew that before we wasted about 20 minutes looking for a parking spot for a place that doesn't exist prior to attending the anniversary party), every brewery, new and established, has every opportunity to succeed due to the unwavering support of the craft beer community.  For that, I give a hearty Prost!


I never realized, while attempting to visit Los Oasis, that parking near Pearl Street Mall in Boulder could be such a stressful and confusing task. The streets were lined with cars, the parking garage was completely full, and the neighborhoods had signs about “permit parking excepted” which made absolutely no sense to me. After driving up and down the parking garage, finding out there were no empty spots, negotiating the tight turns in my SUV, and trying to avoid other cars, I gave up. I have no patience when it comes to driving. Naturally, this put me in a bad mood.

When we showed up at Upslope, I was excited to see what they had to offer. We went to a chili cook-off there a couple of years ago and they had live music, food (of course, it was a chili cook-off), and it was an all-around fun atmosphere. When we arrived, we jumped in line to find out that the entrance fee was $15 which included a glass and two beers. The price seemed a bit steep but we paid and found a table inside. As we listened to the man behind the bar list off the beers on tap I noticed he said that the pumpkin beer wouldn’t be tapped until later. What? The GABF award winning beer isn’t on tap yet? They had their usual beers and a couple of “special” beers available but not the pumpkin! That beer was the reason I was there! Since it was an anniversary party I thought they would have a whole line-up of seasonal and limited release brews but I was wrong. I guess I was thinking back to Strange Brewing’s first anniversary party which included several of specialty beers (they even brewed root beer for the under 21 crowd) and free pizza. So, I took back my glass and beer tickets and got my money back. This was a major disappointment. I helped Chris assess his beers and made plans to stop at Denver Beer Co. on the way home.

While looking at Denver Beer Co’s (DBC) facebook page, I was informed that they recently tapped another batch of the Graham Cracker Porter. On our other visits to DBC, Graham Cracker Porter was not on the chalkboard so, when I knew that it was ready, I wanted to check it out. When we go there and realized that they had a Pumpkin Porter on tap I was absolutely giddy. The aroma of the Pumpkin Porter had hints of cinnamon and pumpkin and the flavor was divine. The essence of pumpkin pie was obvious and well-crafted. After the disappointment early in the day this quickly lifted my mood. Not only did I get to try another pumpkin beer but also I finally got to taste the Graham Cracker Porter. Although the graham cracker taste wasn’t very strong, the vanilla flavor was a nice pairing with the roasty flavors of the porter. This style of beer was perfect for the weather which was dark, gray, and cloudy with chilling winds and a threat of snow.

To top off a great visit to Denver Beer Co. I ordered some food from Chile Billy. Chile Billy is one of Denver’s amazing food trucks (carts) that can be found every Saturday at DBC. They offer a chicken pot pie that is topped with a jalapeño cornbread rather than the traditional pie crust. My taste buds were dancing. The cornbread and chicken had just the right amount of spiciness and the filling was “melt in your mouth” good. Sometimes pot pie can seem like a heart attack in a pastry pouch but Chile Billy didn’t use a thick, gooey gravy. Their pot pie was more like a tortilla soup with the traditional pot pie veggies. I am not doing this pot pie justice with this description. Seriously, find them soon and devour it! Trust me, your belly and taste buds will thank you.  


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Halloween Hangover at Amato's

“Trick or treat!” I said with extended arms and open candy sack.

“My, my, my,” said the old lady at the door, “look at all the scary monsters out today.  And what are you supposed to be, little boy?”

“Frankenstein!” blurted Timmy.

“I’m Buzz Lightyear!” said Cody.

“Harry Potter!” said Jeremy.

“And, uh, who are you, dad?” asked the old lady as she looked up at me.

“First of all, I aint these kids’ daddy, lady; I’m here for the candy so cough it up.  Secondly, can’t you tell from the blood around my mouth, the half empty bottle of Jack, and my three foot beehive hairdo that I’m Zombie Amy Winehouse?  Now, chop chop with the goodies.”

“How old are you, sir?”

“25, what’s it to ya?”

“Young man, aren’t you a little old to be trick or treating?”

“Aren’t you a little old to be alive?”

“I think you’d better leave now.”

“I think you’d better make good with the ‘treats’ before I ‘trick’ your ass all over town.”

“I’m calling the cops.”

“Fine!  I’ll go.  I’ll go to a place where people like me can go to enjoy Halloween without fascists like you discriminating people based on age.  We’re taking Halloween back, we are!  The college students!  The young professionals!  The hipsters!  The middle-aged parents!  This holiday is for everybody and we’re not going to stand by as you trample on our fun anymore.  You’ll see, you’ll all see!”

“I don’t care.  Just go.”

And go I did—along with Nicole—to Ale House at Amato’s for their Trick or Beer tasting event on Halloween night from 5pm to 9pm.

For a $5 ticket, participants received a sampler glass, six sample-sized tastings, and choice of one full pint from one of the three participating breweries: Grimm Brothers Brewhouse, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, and Breckenridge Brewery.  It was a small event especially after having visited Great American Beer Festival and Brew at the Zoo but, as I told my high school girlfriend, size isn’t everything.  Sure, three breweries seems paltry but one must also take into account what is being served and not just how much is being served.  At Trick or Beer, beer geeks were treated to a handful of unique brews—brews you probably wouldn’t find at the average BBQ, frat party, or sporting event.  Plus, the event was held atop Amato’s rooftop patio wherein lit up urban vistas were on the menu for the visual feast.

Trick or Beer featured great views

The first brewery Nicole and I hit was Grimm Brothers, a small brewery in Loveland that we had been to once before.  They were serving up Master Thief, a German-style porter, and Little Red Cap, an altbier.  Master Thief looks pitch black but, since this was an outdoor and nighttime/dusk event, it could have been a very deep, rich brown.  It has a tan head, a chocolate and roasted malt aroma and flavor, and the mouthfeel is quite thick.  It is, in short, everything a porter should be: nothing more, nothing less.  It’s a simple, solid drink and among the best porters I’ve ever had.  I ordered Master Thief for my full pint.  Little Red Cap is a cloudy red-brown and it has a tart, green apple-like aroma.  It’s not a dominating scent but it is certainly present.  Red cap is thin bodied and it possesses a mild bitter bite.
Master Thief on left, Red Cap on right

Then came the craft beer darling of America: Dogfish Head.  With a near-endless resume’ of experimental beers, a start-your-own business book authored by headbrewer Sam Caligione, and a short lived TV series, only Sam Adams can compete with Dogfish Head for the title of “most overexposed craft brewery.”  Okay, so I like Dogfish beer, I read the book, and I watched the show but my inner-hippie still gets perturbed when funky little breweries transform into giants.  How dare you become successful, make money, and desire to expand your endeavor!  Seriously, though, I’m always happy to see craft beer success stories; I just prefer my breweries to be more neighborhood-centric.

Dogfish brought Burton Baton (10% ABV), a blended beer made from an English-style old ale and an imperial IPA, and Black & Red (10.5% ABV), a blended beer made from a mint stout and a raspberry stout.  Burton Baton is hazy orange-yellow with a strong, punch-you-in-the-nose hop aroma.  The malts also make appearances on the nose.  Burton Baton’s flavor is piney and the intense amount of hops warms the drinker’s insides.  Amazingly, the bitterness level of this beer isn’t through the roof and, even then, the bitterness dissipates quickly. 
B & R on left, Burton on right

Black & Red has to be the wackiest beer I’ve ever set my lips on.  It looks normal enough: pitch black with a tan head like any stout.  When I put my nose to it, though, any assumptions about this beer being prosaic were hurled from the rooftop; it smelled of Crème de menthe with hints of raspberry.  Wow!  I knew what was in this beer was before I ordered it but I never thought it would be that obvious.  The flavor continues the trend as the beer tastes like mint chocolate chip ice cream with raspberry swirl.  Black & Red is dessert in a glass.  Nicole didn’t use all of her tickets so I kept coming back for samples of this beer; it definitely has too many competing flavors to warrant a full pint.

Breckenridge Brewery brought Agave Wheat (4.2% ABV) and their fall seasonal Autumn Ale (6.7% ABV).  Agave Wheat is cloudy yellow and has that quintessential “wheat beer” aroma.  The flavor is yeasty and lemony.  Autumn Ale is clear but dark brown like and overly stained piece of glass in a church’s window.  It smells sweet, nutty, and maple-y and those attributes are also present in the flavor along with a touch of toffee.
Autumn on left, Agave on right

In addition to the great beer, there was also great ambiance.  Like I said, the event was held on the rooftop patio so event-goers could drink in the scenery as they drank in their beer.  Nicole met somebody she knew from grade school and I made tentative plans to collaborate with another beer blogger.  It was a small but reasonably priced and super fun event that I hope becomes a Halloween tradition at Amato’s. 



One of my favorite parts about visiting new breweries and trying new beers and checking out the beer pulls. Some breweries have very creative and artistic pulls but Dogfish Head’s Black & Red had one of the most interesting ones I have seen. It was made of gears and the quote, “Analog beer for the digital age.” It is fitting that Black & Red should have a creative pull because it is one of the most imaginative beers I have ever tried. One of my favorite ice creams is mint chocolate chip so the fact that this beer tasted like the liquid version of the frozen treat intrigued me. I really enjoyed the flavor—especially the hints of raspberry. However, a tiny sample glass was more than enough for me. The mint flavor was very strong and the high alcohol volume packed a punch.

One of my other favorites of the night was Grimm Brother’s Master Thief. As the weather gets colder, I am ready to try some new porters and stouts. I used to think that porters and stouts were too heavy and thick but the more I try the more I like the complex flavors. I am learning to like the roastiness of these beers. The coffee and chocolate flavors of stouts don’t seem as strong or bitter to me anymore. I guess I can thank Chris for pushing me out of my beer comfort zone. When we first started our mission of visiting breweries I always ordered the wheat beer on tap but now I am more adventurous and I am willing to try everything. Well, I am willing to try a few sips at least to help assess the beer for its style but I don't drink to see if I like it or not.

Dogfish draft pull