"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, June 27, 2012

Epic Beer Weekend: Part I

“Epic” is one of those words thrown around so often that it’s essentially lost its meaning.  To fulfill the definition, something “epic” must involve a hero on a journey; a hero that accomplishes a series of great feats—feats insurmountable for mere mortals.  So, no, that party last night was not epic, it was a couple of drunk college kids playing beer pong and quoting Anchorman.  No, it wasn’t an epic wipeout when you crashed your snowboard, you caught an edge and slipped on your ass.  No, you did not just get back from an epic concert at Red Rocks, it was Dave Matthews.  However, every once in a while, something truly epic—rivaling Homer (the Greek, not the Simpson)—occurs.  Something like the absolutely epic beer weekend Nicole and I just experienced.

The heroics began Thursday night at Do at the Zoo, a fundraising event for the Denver Zoo.  While not specifically a beer event, Great Divide Brewing Co., Wynkoop Brewing Company, and AC Golden Brewing Company kept attendees in good libation.  Extra props to Great Divide, though, because most people would have been satisfied with their ubiquitous line-up (Titan, DPA, and Samurai, basically) but, for true beer geeks, they brought special treats such as Belgian Style Yeti and their new doppelbock, Wolfgang.  I applaud them for not slackin’ even when they totally could have gotten away with it.

That’s not to dis on the other breweries in attendance; Wynkoop may not have brought any rare beers but their three canned offerings always make for good drinking.  Next time you see Wynkoop at a beer festival, grab their new clip-on can handles.  They’re these little plastic handles that snap onto any standard beer can so you can drink it like a mug.  It’s kind of stupid but I thought they were neat.  They didn’t have any extra to give away at the time so I’ll have to come see you again, Wynkoop. 

When you have an event at the zoo, major highlights will always include the animals.  Denver Zoo recently opened the Toyota Elephant Passage exhibit and we had the opportunity to meander through and view the new enclosures.  I was quite fond of the fruit bats because I just think they’re rad.  Also, they reminded me of the fruit bat rescue in Cairns, Australia that Nicole and I visited last summer.

Do at the Zoo shenanigans
Not captivated with the epic-ness yet?  Of course not, the journey’s just begun!  The very next day after Do at the Zoo, Nicole and I headed south on I-25 towards Alamosa for the Rails & Ales Brewfest.  That, alone, requires the designation of “epic” but, beer heroes that we are, Nicole and I added a few off-shoots to the main quest.  The first such off-shoot was Pikes Peak Brewing Company in Monument, Colorado.

Located just off the highway, Pikes Peak is at the end of a little office park but, because it’s at the end, it boasts a large, lush beer garden off to the side.  Unlike many other so-called beer “gardens,” this one has actual grass so you can wriggle your toes in the lawn as you put a few back.

Nicole and I entered the rustic, cabin-like tasting room and took a seat at the bar.  As per our norm, we ordered a flight of everything: Rocky Wheat Ale (5.1% ABV), Gold Rush Belgian Golden Ale (7.4% ABV), The Brits are Back (5.1% ABV), Summit House Stout (7.3% ABV), Summit House Barrel Stout (8.8% ABV), Devil’s Head Red (7.1% ABV), and Elephant Rock IPA (8% ABV).  

Back three: Summit House, Rocky Wheat, and Devil's Head. Middle two: Brits and Barrel Summit House. Front two: Gold Rush and Elephant Rock
Rocky Wheat is cloudy, the color of straw, and smelling of bubblegum.  Banana and spices dominate the tongue.  It’s you typical American-style wheat, basically. 

Gold Rush has a pastel yellow body and a yeast-forward aroma.  The flavor is, likewise, heavy on yeast as well as citrus, a touch of sour, and a touch of bitterness.

An English mild, The Brits are Back is a clear mahogany color with an off-white head.  Toffee and the scent of chocolate ice cream tickle the nasal cavities while a coffee and, again, chocolate ice cream-like flavor soothes the tongue.  Brits is rich, creamy, and smooth (I guess that’s another ice cream parallel; will somebody just make ice cream with this beer already?).         

Black with dark red highlights, Summit House, like Brits, also has a toffee and chocolate aroma but a touch of roasted flavor and an alcoholic burn set it apart.  The velvety mouthfeel takes it right back into Brits territory, though.

Summit House Barrel is very unlike its non-barrel’d brethren.  This beer’s nose is all cherry and hard alcohol while the whisky that was the barrel’s former occupant takes over the beer’s flavor.

Devil’s Head is a rusty red with a malty, caramel-y, lightly hopped aroma.  The flavor is also malt-forward with a suggestion of bittering hops.

Elephant Rock is clear and orange like a mountain sunset.  It’s big on pine aroma and flavor and the bitterness sticks to the back of the tongue like resin. 

Pikes Peak interior
Before leaving our eighty-fourth Colorado brewery, I indulged in a little beer cheese soup, Nicole bought a shirt, and we continued down through Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Walsenburg, over La Veta Pass, and into Alamosa where Nicole’s aunt and uncle provided us with accommodations and their designated driving services.
We got an emergency! Somebody's sober over here!
Having partied at Do at the Zoo, visiting Pikes Peak, and driving all the way to Alamosa, you might think we’d be completely bushed and, well, you’d be right.  But we are beer warriors so we headed to downtown Alamosa and had dinner and a beer at San Luis Valley Brewing Company.  I had Valle Caliente, a Mexican-style lager soaked with Hatch green chili thus imparting an ever-so-slight warming sensation—probably the mildest chili beer I’ve had.  They also have a non-chili’d version called Valle Especial if you’re a spice wimp.  I also snarfed the Brewers Smothered Chili Burger which was messier than Oprah in a cupcake factory but about as tasty as it comes.

Also at San Luis was CAUTION: Brewing Company bigwigs Danny and Betty Wang whom Nicole and I met just a few days prior.  We probably would have seen even more of them at the San Luis block party just outside but, hey, we’re heroes not gods; we badly needed sleep after all the beer adventures we’d already had and I can only imagine what the next would have been like if we hadn’t hit the hay early.

But you’ll hear more about that later.  Stay tuned for part two of our Epic Beer Weekend.



Have I mentioned that I love going to the zoo? Growing up in Denver, I have visited the Denver Zoo many times over the years and every time we go I talk about how it’s changed: “this animal used to be over here and that animal was over there.”  On one of our recent visits, Chris’ brother challenged us to find the elusive red panda.  My childhood visits paid off; I led Chris right to it.

Do at the Zoo, however, allowed us to explore uncharted territory: Toyota Elephant Passage or TEP to the zoo employees. The highlights of TEP:  taking our picture with Groucho, one of the zoo’s Asian elephants, in the background, watching as Asha, the female Asian small-clawed otter, try to play with the unenthused male, Barry Kirin, and crowding into a hollowed out log for a photo-op. Colorado breweries shared the spotlight with local restaurants that highlighted their delicious food offerings. As we shoved some Steubie snacks and fries from the Steuben’s food truck in our faces, we caught a glimpse of celebrity chef Keegan Gerhard, former host of Food Network Challenge, serving up desserts for his sweet shop, D Bar.

The authors and friend Robin
Before heading out on our journey to Alamosa, I did a little bit of research on the breweries along our route. As we pulled up to Pikes Peak Brewing Company, Chris shared a tidbit about why Pikes Peak is not Pike’s Peak.  The U.S. Board on Geographic Names removed most of the apostrophes from geographic locations in 1891 including that in the brewery's namesake mountain.

My favorite brew at Pikes Peak was The Brits are Back because of its creamy mouthfeel.  Although the brewery serves sandwiches, soups, and snacks, they are not made in house but rather at local Colorado Springs restaurants as the brewery’s “kitchen” consists of a Panini grill, a refrigerator, and warming trays. The beer cheese soup came with a pretzel roll drizzled in butter and I think one of those will be my next cooking endeavor.  I know somebody that will help eat some beer cheese soup and pretzel rolls.

San Luis Valley Brewing Company was among the first breweries that we visited in our quest to hit them all. As I looked through my newly created brewery log to see when we first visited San Luis Valley, it was labeled as brewery #50 where it should not have been.  I didn't see it and thought maybe I didn't include it on the list and that our brewery count might be off by one.  Luckily, I referred to my scrapbook and saw that the only page completed was the one for San Luis Valley, the second brewery that we visited. Their beer list has expanded since our first visit. I didn’t try the Settin’ Sail Kiwi Ale, their seasonal beer brewed with kiwi, but my cousin said it was amazing and I will take her word for it. After recommendations to try the Southwest Chorizo Salad or their burgers.  I ended up with the Smoked Bacon, Cheddar & Mushroom Burger. My meal was completed with me dipping fries in the brewer’s signature red chili that sloshed out of Chris’ burger.


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