"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, October 5, 2012

Cultivate Pre-Party with Oskar Blues, Avery, and Boulder Beer

Beer is healthy.  I know, there are plenty of booze-chugging porkers with pallid pendulums of fat swinging below the waistlines of their Tom Brady jerseys but can you honestly tell me it was the beer and not the fifteen pounds of pizza that created this monster?  Don’t be mistaken, I’m not advocating the health benefits of macrobrewed beers because, frankly, there aren’t any, but I do advocate the health benefits of fresh, local craft beer. 

Technically speaking, beer is food and, when paired with a reasonable diet and active lifestyle, it imparts more good than bad.  Just ask the folks at BeerAdvocate or Draft Magazine’s “Beer Runner,” they’ll tell you the term “beer gut” is a misnomer; it should really be called “all-that-other-crap-you-stuffed-down-your-gullet gut.”  When consumed in moderation, craft beer is a part of a balanced diet.

For this reason, the Chipotle Mexican Grill-sponsored Cultivate Festival—an event celebrating local, organic, or, simply put, good food—will feature the Brewer’s Hall pouring suds from Colorado breweries Avery Brewing, Boulder Beer, Breckenridge Brewery, Del Norte Brewing Co., Great Divide Brewing Co., Left Hand Brewing Company, New Belgium Brewing, Odell Brewing Co., Oskar BluesBrewery, and Ska Brewing.  Additional booze-slingers Churchkey Can Co., Colorado Cider Company, The Infinite Monkey Theorem, and SHFT will also be on deck.  While the Cultivate Festival is free to attend, one must open their wallets at the Brewer’s Hall but, fear not, your hard-earned cash is going to a good cause; 100% of the profits will benefit the Food Family Farming Foundation which, in turn, benefits The Lunch Box program.

Since we are beer bloggers, Nicole and I have, at the time of this writing, already had a great deal of fun as a result of the festival’s influence; the organizers offered to send us on a private tour featuring three participating breweries in an effort to better understand the parallel between Colorado beer and the Cultivate philosophy.  We’re invited to participate in a behind-the-scenes look at some of the country’s best beer-makers?  Oh, jeez, my arm’s so twisted right now.

Our first stop was Oskar Blues’ Hops & Heifers Farm, a parcel of land with a two-fold dedication: to raise All Natural, 100% Black Angus beef for the brewery’s satellite restaurants and to grow and harvest 2 acres of 2,500 hop vines on a drip irrigation system.  It’s a relatively small operation but Geoff Hess, the man in charge of the farm, says he wants Hops & Heifers to be a model for what can be done with a measly 50 acres and just 20-some head of cattle; a farm needn’t be the size of a small, European country to make a positive impact on the planet and in the craft beer community.

Here's the heifers...
...and here's (what's left of) the hops
Hops & Heifers started with ten cows from another farm in Wellington, Colorado.  The two farms are close allies as they share identical philosophies on how beef ought to be raised i.e. naturally, locally, and with a focus on sustainability.  Between the two locations, Oskar Blues’ chefs cook and serve approximately one grass/alfalfa/spent grain-fed cow per week.  Hops & Heifers once had Berkshire pigs, too, but they’re difficult to acquire and too damn delicious to last very long. 

Unfortunately, we arrived after the hop harvest and the trellises were mighty bare—just a few stragglers still clinging to twine (surprisingly, though, many of the dried-up cones still had a great deal of sticky resin left inside).  I nonetheless found it impressive.  I could imagine the eight hop varieties (Centennial, Columbus, Nugget, Chinook, Willamette, Mt. Hood, Sterling, and Cascade) creeping skyward, fashioning row-after-row of thick, green walls with straw-thin beams of Colorado sunlight penetrating through the foliage.  It’s a beautiful sight even when most has been cut down to the roots.

The inspiration for the construction of the hop field came from longer-established growers in the Pacific Northwest.  The main difference between those fields and the one at Hops & Heifers is that Oskar Blues’ hops are slightly shorter and they’re planted in wider rows.  The acreage is too small to fulfill all the brewery’s hop needs but the vines yield enough to make a few wet-hopped and experimental beers.  Situated at the uphill side of the trellises is a small stage Oskar blues uses for their annual Gospel Brunch wherein a busload of guests enjoy a hearty meal among the hops while being serenaded with live, soul-lifting spirituals.  That kind of experience could make a believer out of anybody. 

Still plenty of resin left in there
The Gospel stage
Raising All Natural cows and maintaining hop fields is hard work but, true to the carefree attitude so common in the craft beer community, Hops & Heifers provides many recreational opportunities such as an under-construction mountain bike course that’s slated to end with a giant, back-flip ramp into a pond and a proposed zipline that’ll end in a similarly wet manner.  If that’s not enough to put you in a good mood, the free-range goats are always a delight; they’re as friendly as any dog but, unlike dogs, they’re not housebroken so, according to brewery rep Chad Melis, office workers often find little piles of pellets scattered about the room.  Also unlike dogs, goats have hooves so it’s a little more painful when they jump up on you to get your attention. 

A mountain bike course in the works
One of four too-friendly goats
We ended our time with Oskar Blues with a trip to the Tasty Weasel Tap Room which expanded since Nicole and I were there two years ago (I like the addition of Skee-Ball and the crushed-can bar top).  I tasted a sample of fresh-hopped Deviant Dale’s, ordered a full pour of Chaka, and followed Chad as he gave Nicole and I a quick run-down of the brewing facility and canning line.  I asked Chad about the Sklar Brothers who filmed their TV show United Stats of America at the Tasty Weasel.  Apparently, they were a pain in the ass because they wanted to shut down operations in effort to keep the noise levels at a manageable level not realizing that the Weasel is a working factory and that to shut down the machinery would mean thousands upon thousands of dollars lost. 

The Tasty Weasel
A bar made of old Gordon (now known as G'Knight) cans
We concluded our tour with a sneak-peak of the new Oskar Blues packaging and a taster of British G’Knight, a normal G’Knight dry-hopped with English Fuggle hops thus imparting a completely new and delicious aroma and flavor.

Next stop: Avery Brewing.  Avery may not have their own farm but they still embody the spirit of Cultivate because, although the festival focuses on food, in a more general way, it’s about freethinkers; people who challenge so-called common knowledge and have a superior product to show for it.  Avery, with its big, complex beers, fits the bill perfectly. 
Working hard at Avery
Ironically, it was lack of innovation that nearly killed the company.  According to our guide and brewery rep Joe Osborne (who, Nicole would like to add, deserves a raise for loving his job as much as he does) when Avery was just beginning, their beers were the epitome of conventionality; they were good but they hardly grabbed anybody’s attention.  Beer geeks didn’t want the same old same old so they weren’t buying and Avery faced almost inevitable business failure.  With nothing left to lose, they brewed the big, gnarly barleywine Hog Heaven—a significant departure from their previous beers—as a kind of last hoorah.  But it wasn’t a last hoorah; it was the savior of the company!  It took the grandeur of Hog Heaven for the beer community to take notice of Avery and they’ve been a successful “big beer” brewery ever since.

Avery is defined by their status quo-challenging beers and their barrel room annex is proof of that fact; rows upon rows of whiskey, rum, and wine barrels housing slumbering beers that, according to Joe, may or may not produce a drinkable beer.  The idea behind the barrel room isn’t to create 100% output, it’s to experiment with different beers and different barrels and find the perfect combination.  The failed experiments go down the drain and the eye-rolling, euphoria-inducing successes are put on tap and served to customers.  I was treated to snifters of Rumpkin and Oud Floris and, good Lord, are they tasty!  Rumpkin is like a pleasant fire cascading down the esophagus and Oud Floris is one of the finest examples of a Flanders Brown I’ve had the pleasure of drinking.  To think these elixirs wouldn’t exist if Avery hadn’t adopted the defiant attitude it now has towards commonality!  If Cultivate is a festival for free-thinkers then methinks Avery fits right in.

Rumpkin and Oud Floris
Slumbering Avery beers
These poor suckers had to wait and watch while Nicole and I sipped and savored 
An interesting side note, Joe told us about a certain type of espionage in which people in the brewing industry sometime engage.  The four main ingredients of beer are water, hops, malted barley, and yeast but only yeast can be cultivated in secrecy as water belongs to everybody and hop and barley farms are too big to keep under wraps.  Yeast is microscopic, easy to keep in the lab and out of the public eye; scientists can cultivate unique new strains without the competition’s knowledge.  However, if one isn’t careful, a “guest” at the laboratory might “accidentally” brush up against a petri dish, get a few yeast spores on their sleeve, and take that sleeve to their laboratory for further studies.  That’s why all visitors at yeast labs much keep their hands in sight at all times.
The party at Boulder Beer

Our last stop was Boulder Beer which was celebrating its 33rd birthday upon our arrival.  To commemorate the event, Boulder Beer sponsored a beer festival, inviting several fellow breweries to set up tents and join the fun.  The unconventional theme of Cultivate incarnated itself once again in the numerous off-kilter beers served such as Coriander-Chamomile Belgian Wit from Upslope Brewing Company, Rum Barrel Porter from Crystal Springs Brewing Company, and Merlot Barrel Brown from Bootstrap Brewing.  Heck, even Coors-owned Blue Moon Brewing Company brought the big guns with Lemongrass-Basil Strong Ale!  No matter where one looked, there was a pioneering beer to try. 

Nicole's favorites of the party were the bitingly strong Sigda's Green Chili Beer from CooperSmith's Pub & Brewery, the smooth and decadent Nibs & Beans Double Chocolate Milk Stout from Odell Brewing Co., the uniquely flavored Prickly Pear Saison from Strange Brewing Company, and almost soda-like Mango Nectar from Redstone Meadery

The party at Boulder Beer
Boulder Beer was no slouch in innovation, either, serving up a Bourbon-barrel aged double black IPA, a pineapple and champagne yeast golden ale, and a rum barrel-aged mild ale among others.  And if Paddy O’Hopped Beer—100% wet-hopped from vines growing on Boulder Beer’s patio—doesn’t scream “drink local” then I don’t know what does.

Thankfully, Nicole doesn’t drink as much as I do because I don’t know how I would have gotten home after that beer-soaked Saturday.  Now, we’re looking forward to the actual Cultivate Festival and foodies and beer geeks alike should be, too.  Be at City Park on Saturday, October 6th anytime between 10am and 6pm to enjoy this celebration of excellent consumables.
Many thanks to the Cultivate peeps for making this trip possible (especially our handler, Danielle Winslow)!



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