"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, January 25, 2012

DIY at B&B Makes for a VHBG (That Stands for "Very Happy Beer Geek")

I’ve seen a ski rack made of two-by-fours and duct tape strapped to the top of an ‘83 Buick.  I’ve seen mountain shacks shingled with discarded, discolored license plates.  I’ve seen jeans patched with corduroy, wounds dressed with torn t-shirts, and bicycles modified with sidecars, trailers, and bar tops.  For better or worse, Colorado is a do-it-yourself kind of state.

This attitude stems from our history—when Colorado was the real-life version of Frontierland.  When your wagon wheel broke, when your food rations ran low, and when your safety was threatened by wild animals, what did you do?  You didn’t call AAA, you mended that wheel yourself.  You didn’t go to Safeway, you ate what you killed.  You didn’t involve animal control, you wrestled a cougar with your bare hands and let loose a primeval howl thus informing predators you were on the top of the food chain.  That independent pioneer spirit still lives in the Coloradoan’s daily life; “I can do it myself,” is the unofficial state motto and, seeing as Colorado is America’s beer HQ, it’s only natural that the DIY outlook would eventually find its way into the realm of craft beer.  You see, in other states you can order a beer that’s been dry-hopped.  Well, well, well, hello Mr. Rockefeller!  You got somebody hopping your beer for you?  You probably pay somebody you drink it for you, too.  Here in Colorado—at least at Bull & Bush Pub and Brewery—we aren’t completely inept; we hop our beers ourselves.

I speak of Bull & Bush’s Whole Hop Infusion: a process in which customers order a beer, choose a type of hop (currently, Cascade, Crystal, and Chinook are on the menu but Nugget and Northern Brewer are coming soon), and flavor their beer in a French press.  Customers can then wait a little while for a touch of hop aroma and taste or have it sit for a long time (ten minutes is the recommended maximum time), allowing the natural oils of the hop cones to really inundate the beer creating a colossal hop wallop on the nose and tongue.  It’s up to you, the drinker, to decide how long you want those hops to soak in.

Intrigued, I, along with my sisters, made a trip to Bull & Bush.  I had to give this contraption a whirl.  For the first beer, we played it pretty safe—we ordered a Justice IPA with Chinook hops.  The risk was low because it’s already a hopped-up beer—we’d just be adding a little more.  I waited the full ten minutes because I wanted to feel all the aggressive power of the hops.  My watch flashed ten, I gently pushed down on the stem of the French press, and, like a geisha with green tea, gently poured the beer into my stemmed glassware.  I was greeted with a seductive scent—the freshest hopped beer one could possibly hope for.  These grassy, peppery aromas are the stuff of beer geek dreams.  The flavor is, likewise, entrancing.  Certainly, Justice would highlight the hops even without the Whole Hop Infusion but the dry-hopping process imparts a smoky, earthy flavor that I, for one, find hard to top.
Justice with Chinook

Anybody who has read more than a handful of my posts know I’m not one for taking the easy route when it comes to beer; I came to experiment.  Dry-hopping Justice was child’s play; I wanted to dry-hop a style that isn’t known for its hop profile.  I ordered the Big Ben Brown Ale with Cascade hops. *Gasp* Scandalous!  Sacrilege! Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes! Volcanoes!  The dead rising from the grave!  Human sacrifice!  Dogs and cats living together!  Mass hysteria! Even the waitress said, “oh, that’s naughty” when I placed my order.

What’s the hubbub all about?  Simply put, you just don’t dry-hop brown ales.  Browns are all about the malts; they’re nutty, toffee-like, chocolate-y, or molasses-y, but they are not hoppy.  The beer pope may condemn me to beer hell where the only thing to drink is lukewarm Natty Ice but, like Galileo’s run-in with the real pope, I believe history will vindicate my actions.

Enough lead-in, let’s get down to the beer.  Like Justice, I waited the full ten minutes and, when I finally poured it out, I was in for a surprise in incongruence; in terms of flavor, Big Ben’s dark malts were too strong to allow much, if any, hope taste to come through.  It is, in essence, the typical flavor of an English brown ale albeit with a slipperier mouthfeel caused by the myrcene.  The nose, however, tells a different story.  The Cascade hops, usually prevalent in beers from the American Northwest, contribute a Deschutes-y pale ale-like smell.  Close ones eyes and smell a Cascade dry-hopped Big Ben and one couldn’t guess it’s actually a brown ale. 
Big Ben with Cascade

Is dry-hopping brown ales the next big thing in the American craft beer movement?  Likely not, but that’s the beauty of the Whole Hop Infusion process; you can experiment and play with different combinations until you hit gold.  Maybe I won’t Cascade hop a brown next time I’m at Bull & Bush but I can guarantee you I’ll come up with some other concoction that’s just as odd.

What do you say?  Are you ready to put a little more input into the beer you’re drinking?  As of now, only Bull & Bush and Table 6 offer this service but this beer geek has a feeling that the trend is going to spread to other Denver establishments very soon.  The craft beer scene in this city, nay, in this state, is too strong to ignore and the beer community demands innovation after innovation.  Colorado must stay on top of its game.  However, until the inevitable influx of self-dry-hopping finds a home in other establishments, go to Bull & Bush, try the Whole Hop Infusion, and be a beer hipster that dry-hopped his/her own beer before it was cool.



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