"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, July 4, 2012

Epic Beer Weekend: Part III

Read Part II before going any further.  Thank you.

The Rails & Ales Brewfest came to a close and soon so, too, would the Epic Beer Weekend. Rails & Ales may have been the climax but the story’s not over yet; there’s still the dénouement—the resolution—to attend to. 

When we travelled to Alamosa, we took the Front Range route down I-25, cutting west at Walsenburg, over the pass, and to our destination.  Going home, we took the scenic route but not to rubber-neck; Nicole and I have both driven these particular highways before—we knew what the surroundings looked like.  I guess we’re just jaded Coloradoans; flatlanders would gape for hours at the natural beauties we flippantly passed at 75 MPH.  Grandiose though the drive may be, we had another mission in mind—a mission for beer.

Poncha Springs and Salida are two dot-on-the-map towns nestled in the southern corner of the Arkansas Valley and, at first glance, you’d be surprised if they even had one brewery between the two of them.  You must remember, though, that this is Colorado—the beeriest state in the union! There are actually three breweries in this remote corner.

First stop: Moonlight Pizza & Brewpub in Salida.  Upon arrival, it’s difficult to determine if Moonlight is, indeed, a brewery; there’s no outdoor signage to indicate they serve homemade beer with their pie.  This, I think, is a mistake.  New York and Chicago are the pizza capitals of the country but, when you get down to it, every town across the nation has a pizza parlor or two; it’s not the most unique restaurant concept.  Happily, today, the independent American brewery is less a rarity than it used to be but it’s still much less common than a pizza joint.  Let the people know you make beer, Moonlight.  You do more than pizza and you should advertise it especially in Colorado where the population craves craft beer—don’t hide your true self!  
See? It is a brewery!

We walked in, the glint of polished tanks in the corner exposed Moonlight’s brewpub status, and we took a seat on the patio.  As usual, we ordered a flight of everything: MoonLite Cream Ale (5% ABV, 17.3 IBU), IPA (6.1% ABV, 120 IBU), Amber Ale (6.1% ABV, no IBU data), Robust Porter (5.3% ABV, no IBU data), and ESB (no data).

MoonLite is a clear, straw-yellow beer with white foam and a corny, yeasty, bready flavor.  As the name suggests, it has a creamy mouthfeel and a dry finish. 

The IPA is slightly hazy with a brassy orange body.  Pine needles and orange fruit take front-and-center in the aroma and a bitter, pine resin-like hop flavor grabs on to the back of the throat and doesn’t let go.   

Again, brassy orange is a good descriptor of a beer.  This time, I’m talking about the Amber although it is slightly darker than the IPA.  Caramel aromas and a light, malt-forward flavor complete this beer.

The porter, with black body and reddish brown highlights, is all chocolate.  The foam looks like frothy chocolate milk, the nose is similar to chilled hot cocoa, and milk chocolate dominates the palate.

A light, coppery color, toffee and caramel aromas—like taking a whiff of an open Cracker Jack box—and a flavor that’s also reminiscent of the aforementioned ballpark treat defines ESB’s characteristics perfectly.  Despite the “B” in the style’s name, ESB is actually not too bitter—at least not bitingly so.

From near to far: MoonLite, IPA, Amber, Porter, & ESB
We snarfed our pizzas (damn good, by the way), listened to the street performers squeeze their accordions, and were on our way to Amícas Pizza & Microbrewery (yes, another pizza parlor/brewery in the same, small town—there’s always room for more of a good thing, I think).

Unlike at Moonlight, Nicole and I ordered one beer to share but, good lord, what a beer it was!  For their tenth anniversary, Amícas rolled out Honey-Bourbon Imperial Brown (10% ABV) brewed with Salida-made honey and aged in bourbon infused oak barrels.  There’s nothing about this beer that doesn’t sound fantastic! 

Tan head.  Dark but almost transparent mahogany body.  Sweet, vanilla-like aromas.  A slight, never overpowering alcohol burn from the bourbon intermingled with vanilla/oak flavors.  A wood quality, like a dry Popsicle stick, that can be tasted nearer the end of the glass.  This is what Zeus drinks on Mt. Olympus.

Honey-Bourbon Imperial Brown
We left Amícas shortly thereafter.  It’s a fine, hippie-centric establishment but we had one more brewery to hit before concluding our Epic Beer Weekend.

Elevation Beer Co. in Poncha Springs—which emphasizes barrel-aged and specialty beers—is one of the newest breweries to grace our state.  Located near the county fairgrounds, it’s actually somewhat hard to find considering the size of the town.  The simple, metal siding-clad exterior of the building conceals an interior that appears to be a millionaire rancher’s personal living room: copper accents, tractor seat bar stools, furnishings made of corrugated metal and weathered fence posts.  This taproom is the visual definition of the word “rustic.”

We’d already had our fair share of beer by this point so we each ordered a single taster.  Nicole had the Mount Blanca Saison (5.5% ABV) and I ordered Barrel Aged Apis IV (10.7% ABV)—the “IV” referring to the fact that the beer is a quadrupel.

Mount Blanca & Apis
Apis, like Honey-Bourbon Imperial Brown, is brewed with local honey.  It is a clear but dark beer, a piece of cherry wood with one too many coats of stain.  A thick, beige head holds in a wood and dark fruit aroma—black cherries, perhaps.  These same dark fruits along with black licorice complete Apis’s flavor.

Mount Blanca is hazy, a darkish shade of yellow, with a spicy aroma not unlike that of a Hefeweizen.  It boasts a citrusy and peppery flavor.

After leaving Elevation, we made the long way home back to Denver, plopped down on the couch, and napped for days.  Questing after Colorado’s hidden gem breweries takes a lot out of a person, even beer warriors such as us.  No matter, we did more in one weekend than most beer geeks do in a year; we could sit on our butts for the remainder of the summer and have had our fill of locally-crafted beer.  Epic heroes never truly rest, though.  We have plenty more adventures planned for the upcoming weeks.  Stay tuned.

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