"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!

Friday, March 30, 2012

A Tale of Two Breweries

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of ales, it was the age of lagers, it was the epoch of hops, it was the epoch of malts, it was the season of highfalutin, it was the season of modesty, it was the spring that came too soon, it was the winter that never really happened, we had beer before us, we had a lot of beer before us, we were all going direct to Gore Range Brewery, we were all going direct to Crazy Mountain Brewing Company.

2012 has been Colorado’s year of juxtaposition; the good and the bad coexist, the days of three-foot snow dumps are followed by days of midsummer-like heat-waves, and the arrival of the NFL’s best quarterback heralds the departure of the league’s worst.  This state has been breaking even lately and Nicole and I’s weekend in the mountains further supports this thesis.

It started in Steamboat Springs where the weather was paradisiacal but the snow conditions were, like too many Colorado ski slopes this year, utterly barren.  Where the joy of being around one’s family was counteracted by a sibling’s failed 360 spin resulting in a broken wrist.  Where artfully-crafted beers from Upland Brewing Co., Sun King Brewing Co., and People’s Brewing Company (a birthday present brought out to me by my Hoosier parents) shared shelf-space with the so-called “King of Beers.”  The non-attracting opposites continued on Nicole and I’s trip back to Denver where a detour to Edwards introduced us to two breweries that share the same town and nothing beyond. 

First stop: Gore Range Brewery.  Initial impressions are everything and the first thought I had when I entered Gore Range was, “this looks like a Rock Bottom.”  It’s safe, suburban, and overzealous with rustic wood d├ęcor thus creating an inauthentic atmosphere like that found in a Western furniture and home accent shop.  The too-perfect placement of the interior design seemed sterile, robotic, and catering to the stereotypical Vail Valley skier that turns up his nose at dust, disarray, and other evidence of human life.

Thankfully, the beer did something to redeem this place.  We ordered a sampler platter that included GRB Lager, Fly Fisher Red Ale, Powder Day Pale Ale, and Bourbon Barrel Stout. 

GRB is a clear, straw-yellow beer with a grainy, sweet aroma.  The flavor is, likewise, grainy and with a little sweet corn and pretzel thrown in for good measure.  GRB finishes dry.

Fly Fisher has a light amber—like whiskey—color and it smells like caramel corn.  The flavor is quite feeble but what can be tasted is, like in the aroma, caramel-like.  

Though there is a touch of haze, Powder Day is mostly clear and is the color of polished brass.  Light pine notes define the aroma and an equally light pine taste defines the flavor.  The bitterness in this beer is fleeting and faint even at its strongest.

Bourbon Barrel was far and away our favorite and, really, the only beer on the menu that dared to step up to a seasoned beer geek’s standards.  It is a pitch black beer with reddish highlights topped with a thin yet dense head of tan foam.  Bourbon Barrel, unsurprisingly, smells like whiskey and vanilla while the flavor leans more towards the vanilla as whiskey takes a backseat.  It features a silky mouthfeel and a woody aftertaste.

Left to right: GRB, Fly Fisher, Powder Day, and Bourbon Barrel
Based on the four beers we tasted, I’d deem GRB a good summertime beer, Powder Day as a beer you’d use to train a newbie on to hoppy beers, Fly Fisher as an all-around plain and boring beer, and Bourbon Barrel as worthy enough to be counted among some of the state’s best stouts.  It’s a roller coaster of beer quality—anything but consistent.

Pretty sweet patio, though

Gore Range brew room

 We got a quick bite at Gore Range (on a positive note, the chowder is actually pretty tasty) and headed to Crazy Mountain Brewing Company.  To say these two breweries are opposites is to say the least.  Let’s count the differences, shall we?

Gore Range is easy to spot with its large, light-up sign pointed towards a busy road in its strip mall setting.  Crazy Mountain is, likewise, kind of in a strip mall but on the backside, lower level (the building is on a hill) under a martial arts studio and next to an industrial parking lot with barely-there signage.

There's a brewery in there?
Gore Range has a beautifully sculpted wooden arch over the front entrance.  Crazy River has a roll-up garage door with a pile of patio furniture acting as an impromptu barrier keeping a pack of wild brewdogs at bay.

Gore Range features puffy booths and the same wooden chair repeated throughout the brewery.  Crazy Mountain has beetle-kill picnic tables (as well as beetle-kill tap handles and bar tops) and repurposed chairlifts as seating.

Gore Range looks like a family-friendly chain restaurant.  Crazy Mountain—with its pinball machines, mini-fridges, boxes of clothes, and trashcans made of discarded grain bags—looks like the rec room in a frat house.

Perhaps the biggest difference is noticed in the aromas in each place.  Gore Range smelled like, well, nothing; like I said earlier, it’s a sterile environment.  Crazy Mountain, however, is permeated with the sweet smell of brewing: steeping grains, boiling hops, and the unmistakable scent of pride in a beer well brewed.

We ordered a big, big sampler platter and, quite honestly, we were a bit overwhelmed so the following reviews are sparse at best.  Furthermore, since the crew was brewing up a new batch, the whole room smelled like a microwaved bowl of Grape-Nuts so assessing aroma was a near-futile endeavor. 

Lava Lake Wit (5.2% ABV, 15 IBU) is the color and clarity of champagne.  It has a wheat-like aroma and a chamomile and bubblegum flavor.

I’ve already reviewed Mountain Livin’ Pale Ale extensively on my Examiner.com page.  Read it here.  Also, read the Crazy Mountain Amber review here.

Horseshoes & Handgrenades American ESB (6% ABV, 35 IBU) looks like a shiny, new copper penny and is defined by its toffee and caramel flavors.

Hookiebobb IPA (6.7% ABV, 87 IBU) is the color of straw and it is bitter on the back of the tongue.  It is not an overpowering IPA but it lets you know it’s there.  

Cara de Luna Black Ale (5% ABV, 25 IBU) has ruby-red highlights outlining a dark brown body.  It tastes like the average light lager but with a lightly roasted finish.

Snowcat Coffee Stout (5.9% ABV, 57 IBU) is a pitch black beer with blood-red highlights.  It’s somewhat sweet with a coffee-like aftertaste. 

Maria Brugge Belgian Brown (6.7% ABV, 40 IBU) is mahogany in color and tastes of toffee and dark fruit.

Front row, left to right: Lava Lake, Mountain Livin', Amber, Horseshoes & Handgrenades, Hookiebobd, and Maria Brugge.  Cara de Luna (left) and Snowcat (right) in the back. 
We snagged some free stickers, got the card for the beetle-kill carpenter (I got me some ideas), and headed back to Denver.

The purists may say, “it’s should be all about the beer; surroundings be damned.”  I am not a purist.  Some may stone me for spouting such notions but I don’t believe beer happens in a vacuum; I assess my breweries based on the entire drinking experience and that includes the environment and community in which I drink.  Every outside source affects the taste.  For that reason, the beers at Gore Range tasted just a little bit worse than they should have and the beers at Crazy Mountain tasted just a little bit better.  Agree or disagree, that’s how I make my approach.



With all the new breweries that keep opening on the Front Range, Chris and I haven’t made time to visit the mountain breweries. We decided to take the long way home from Steamboat and visit the breweries of Edwards.  First up was Gore Range. The Bourbon Barrel Stout is one of the most velvety beers I’ve tasted; this is the way a stout ought to feel. The rest of the brewery was quite generic. Even the rustic furniture didn’t make it feel very welcoming or home-y. Like most big restaurants, it was a “get in, get out, and be on your way,” philosophy [Even with that philosophy the service was pretty slow ~ Chris].  It was a Monday afternoon so there were only a few occupied tables but I imagine the atmosphere would be very different on a Saturday afternoon during March Madness or football season.

The scene was very different at Crazy Mountain. I was immediately drawn to the old chairlift that served as a bench in front of the brewery. I was welcomed by a yellow lab, Gus, that waited patiently for us to come in and pet him. Once we entered, we were greeted by several dogs that begged for our attention—dog-friendly, indeed. The taproom was comfortable with a laid-back atmosphere; someplace I would hang out on the weekends.  It’s an unassuming taproom but that’s exactly why I liked it.

Good or bad, Gore Range and Crazy Mountain have helped push our Colorado brewery count to 79 and that, I think, is an impressive number.


Friday, March 16, 2012

Taking "Buy Local" to a Whole New Level with Alpine Dog Brewing Company

“Support local businesses”: the rallying cry of the ethical consumer.  Forgo Wal-Mart, they say, and visit the little shop on the corner.  Shun King Soopers; instead, check out the neighborhood farmer’s market.  Going to McDonald's?  You'll find a tastier meat sandwich at Highland Tap & Burger.  The same sentiment can be applied to beer.  Why are you drinking Guinness when Left Hand’s Milk Stout is readily available?  Who needs Corona when Ska’s Mexican Logger is close at hand?  Jonesin’ for a Bud Light Lime?  Here, I have a locally-harvested bucket of liquid cow s*** to slake your thirst. 

Yes, it’s a good idea to buy local beer no matter where you live but Colorado takes it a step further; instead of buying at local breweries, we buy in to local breweries.  Introducing Alpine Dog Brewing Company, an upcoming brewery that’ll do more than serve you beer—it’ll make you part of the company. 

Last Tuesday, after a brief business meeting with my sister at Ale House at Amato’s, I sat down with Gardiner Hammond, 26, the man behind Alpine Dog.  Hammond is looking to make some high-quality ales to satisfy Colorado’s discriminating taste but he’s run into a problem: Alpine Dog has neither a location nor a brewing system.  That’s where you, local beer lover, come in.   

Go to Alpine Dog’s Kickstarter.com page now and give generously to this business venture.  Not too keen on throwing your money around?  Don’t worry, Hammond is no bum and he isn’t looking for hand-outs—he’s looking for a mutually beneficial situation.  You see, depending on how liberal you are with your cash, you can earn prizes of increasing quality.  If, for example, money is tight and you can only donate $5 then you will receive a complimentary Alpine Dog sticker.  If, however, your rich uncle just died and bequeathed you a hefty sum, you might consider donating $5,000 thus giving you the opportunity to brew a commercial-sized batch of beer on the Alpine Dog system (Hammond’s shooting for 7 barrels) to be served in the taproom.  What’s more, those who contribute higher amounts also receive every prize given to those who donated less.  That is to say, you could get a batch of beer, a sticker, and everything in between (bottle opener, shirt, pint glass, contributors-only opening party…etc.).  For more details on the prizes, visit the brewery’s Kickstarter.com page

So, what exactly are you financing?  When Alpine Dog opens its doors (likely in the Highlands or Capitol Hill), you can expect a taproom that is all-out Colorado; rustic, cozy, log cabin-esque.  You can also expect a variety of beers but a special emphasis on big, bitter hops since Stone Brewing Co.’s Arrogant Bastard was one of the beers that initially turned Hammond on to craft beer culture.  There will also be numerous Belgian-style beers from which to choose.  Perhaps, in the future, Alpine Dog might also sponsor a mountain bike and ski/snowboard club but let’s not get ahead of ourselves; right now, let’s just get this thing opened.

Hammond has been a homebrewer since his friend introduced him to the craft in college.  Afterwards, Hammond brewed for Old Mill Brewery & Grill in Littleton but, even with commercial-sized equipment at his fingertips, Hammond never stopped making beer at home: his homemade brews won him awards at the 2011 Colorado State Fair as well as the 2012 Big Beers Belgians & Barleywines

Hammond has previously supported beer documentaries such as Beer Hunter: The Movie and Two Girls One Pint via Kickstarter.com so won’t you embody good karma and reciprocate?  Everybody knows Colorado loves craft beer; show the world how deep our love is by helping this brewery get off the ground.  Go to the Alpine Dog Kickstarter.com page now and be a part of something big.



Monday, March 12, 2012

Celebrating Diminishing Maladies at River North Brewery

I may sound like a bitchy, worn-out Facebook status but it’s a fact that being sick sucks.  One aches, wails, and curses their creator for providing an earthly vessel of such insufficient capacity.  Writhing in agony, feverish delusions grip the mind, snot flows forth like a crack in the Hoover Dam, and anemia causes the afflicted to become as feeble as Calista Flockhart on a diet.  But that’s not even the worst of it!  The worst part is that—because of the NyQuil, antibiotics, and general illness—one is prohibited from drinking beer!  As you can imagine, that didn’t sit well with me.  Oh, how I yearned for that sweet, sweet elixir whilst in the throes of malady.  How I hungered for a drop of hoppy bitterness and a dash of malty sweetness.  The temptations were too great and, I must admit, I delayed my recovery as I drank a beer or two before being 100% recuperated.  I regret nothing.     

Intense though an ailment may be, the hop for convalescence keeps one battling.  Eventually, a sunbeam broke through the menacing cloud—my immune system kicked in, ridded my body of illness, and prompted me to celebrate my newfound vigor.  First order of business: attend a birthday party.  Though the invite specified a wine and cheese pairing, I felt a beer and cheese pairing was just as applicable so, with mix-pack in hand (Deviant Dale’s from Oskar Blues, Foreign Style Stout from Upslope, and Solstice from Funkwerks), Nicole and I headed to Wheat Ridge to celebrate the aging of our friend. 

Fun though the party was, I felt that my recovery deserved a bit more in the way of life affirmation.  Thus, amidst the revelry, Nicole and I made plans to attend a new brewery on the following day with our friends Robin and Justin.  Our destination was the newest brewery in town (at the time of this writing): River North Brewery.

Behind a roll-up garage door on the corner of 24th and Blake sits River North Brewery.  As you can ascertain by its name, the brewery is in Denver’s River North neighborhood (near the river, north of Coors Field) otherwise known as RiNo to those prone to wearing tight jeans, thick-rimmed glasses, and ironic facial hair.

We entered the taproom and found it to be cozy and in the clean-lined, modern industrial genre of style elsewhere found in breweries like Renegade and Denver Beer Co.: copper light fixtures, simple slate-colored walls, sturdy but minimal bar stools.  Though the tap room is small, it looks as though there is an abundance of unused space in the brewing area.  Might this tiny brewery be expanding in the future?  They certainly have room to do so. 

I had been sick recently and had I poured a good amount of alcohol down my gullet the night before so I started out small with a taster of Hypothesis (9% ABV, 130 IBU), a Belgian double IPA.  Nicole got a taster of BPR (6.4% ABV, 57 IBU), a Belgian pale red ale, and Robin and Justin got a sampler of everything on tap which, in addition to Nicole and I’s beers, included Hello, Darkness (6.2% ABV, 55 IBU)—a black IPA, River North White (5%ABV, 20 IBU), and J. Marie Saison (7.5% ABV, 23 IBU).

Hypothesis is cloudy and orange.  Based solely on appearance, once might confuse it for Blue Moon.  Actually, based on appearance and aroma one might confuse it for Blue Moon as the nose is packed full of orangey, spicy esters—this Belgian double IPA’s scent puts a lot of emphasis on the Belgian part.  It’s herby and pleasant but it lulls the drinker into a false sense of security because hops are nowhere to be found on the nose but there’s a helluva hop smack in the flavor.  It’s big, it’s piney, it’s full of grapefruit zest, and any Belgian notions are pushed to the side to make way for its brash, American-style hop assertiveness. 

I sniped a few quick sips from Robin and Justin’s sampler (Hello, Darkness = more malt than hop, River North White = crisp and dry, BPR = mildly sweet) and ultimately ordered a full pour of J. Marie.  Quite honestly, I was too caught up in socializing to take any useful notes so I’m afraid I can’t remember much save for the fact that this saison is a bit heavier on malts making for a darker color, a sweeter flavor, and a reduction in the quintessential spiced nature found in traditional saisons.  Despite the high ABV, it’s quite sessionable.

Left to Right: Hello, Darkness; River North; J. Marie; BPR; and Hypothesis

We paid our bill, snagged some free stickers, took a detour to Sweet Action Ice Cream, and headed home.  There are pros and cons to River North Brewery.  The pros are that it is in a hip neighborhood, it has an intimate and welcoming taproom environment, and the beers are, at their worst, a B-.  The cons are that, in such a sunny piece of the world, there’s no outdoor seating.  Yes, they have a roll-up garage door wall but that wall is set back in a 3-foot deep enclave effectively preventing any sunbeams from penetrating into the taproom.  Maybe they’ll be able to cram in some sidewalk seating; it’d be a squeeze but it’d be possible.  Furthermore, there were no stouts, porters, or other beers of a highly malted quality (unless you count Hello, Darkness).  However, I’m reticent in counting that against River North as they are well under a month old and one thinks that, in time, they will indeed be serving up some dark beers.  There were, after all, only five of a possible eight tap handles being used on our visit; those remaining three could be the new homes of upcoming black beers. 

Regardless of any minor faults, River North is a worthy addition to the Denver craft beer scene and Nicole and I are proud to count it as number 76 in our quest to visit every brewery in Colorado. 



The usual gang of idiots

In a beer town like Denver, you’re never far from a brewery; every neighborhood is able to claim a brewery as their own. River North Brewery is a welcome addition to a part of downtown that, just a decade ago, civilized people avoided. After Coors Field was built, RiNo saw new life: a surge of new lofts were built, bars and restaurants opened, and people weren’t scared to walk around the neighborhood after dark.

River North Brewery occupies a huge space on the corner of 24th and Blake. Although the space is huge, the tap room is rather small. As I perused the beer menu, nothing caught my eye; I quickly ruled out the double IPA and the black IPA. I was left with a red and a white (which sounds more like a wine list than a beer list) plus a saison. I settled on the BPR which is not to be confused with PBR. The BPR was tasty but not something I could drink an entire pint of as it was a little too bitter for my taste buds.  Seeing as it is so close to Coors Field, I was hoping for a Rockies or baseball inspired beer name.  Come Rocktober they will, perhaps, provide Rockies fans with a special beer since River North would be a nice place to grab a pint before or after a ballgame.