"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, November 30, 2012

Crooked Stave and Black Shirt: The Perfect Thanksgiving Dessert

I’m not a fan of Thanksgiving; I never saw the appeal.  It’s an excuse to eat yourself silly, watch football, and slip into a tryptophan-induced coma but, judging by American waistlines, these are hardly rare occurrences.  It’s not like Thanksgiving has a monopoly on bountiful feasts, either; Christmas features a big dinner and you get presents, too.  Thanksgiving is just Christmas Lite.  And you better not argue that Thanksgiving is great because it brings families together, either; who needs a house full of strange relatives?  Try to connect yourself to Second Great Grandaunt Phyllis on the family tree; it’s like navigating the Labyrinth. 

I’ll relent; there are positives to the holiday.  The break from work and school is always appreciated and, as a beer geek, Thanksgiving is one of the best times to crack open and share a big, expensive bottle of fancy beer.  In regards to the latter, I enjoyed a W.W.B.I. from Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Company, the Brettanomyces-centric brewery, as I chowed on my turkey and potatoes and, to the former, Nicole and I put our spare time to good use by visiting W.W.B.I.’s birthplace on Black Friday.

Attempting to visit every brewery in Colorado isn’t a well-defined task.  In a way, Nicole and I already visited Crooked Stave when, on our last journey to Ft. Collins, they operated out of Funkwerks.  However, during that visit, we merely bought a bottle of W.W.B.O. and departed—we stipulate that we must drink at least one beer on premise before we mark any brewery off the list.  Had we actually drank a Crooked Stave beer on that trip we would’ve counted the brewery a long time ago thus making our visit to their new Denver digs unnecessary as per our self-imposed rules.

The brewery, located in an industrial strip, presents an unimpressive exterior and the metal mesh covering the windows gives the impression of being in the bad part of Oakland (i.e. Oakland).  The interior, however, is an intriguing exercise in fashionable frugalness—the most cut-rate, disposable materials are repurposed  given TLC and an artistic flair, and bequeathed functionality in the taproom; the bar is faced with corrugated sheet metal, the bar and table tops are constructed of lacquered particle board, and the coasters are nothing more than squares of cardboard stamped with the brewery logo.  Together, these junkyard finds generate a creative, cohesive, and decidedly un-junky ambiance to the Crooked Stave taproom.

I ordered the Saison aged in white wine barrels and dry-hopped with Simcoe.  It’s a cloudy, lemon/orange-colored beer with the core featuring noticeably deeper hues than at the edges.  The aroma is distinctly wine-like with whiffs of sourness and a touch of pine and citrus peel flavor perceptible on the tip and back of the tongue.

Next, Nicole and I enjoyed L’Brett d’Or, a sour beer aged in Leopold Bros Rocky Mountain Peach Whiskey barrels featuring a color like the eponymous fruit and an aroma akin to the Bourbon slushes my aunts are apt to mix at Christmastime—it’s pleasantly peachy but one can sense the powerful punch of whiskey lying in wait (technically, my aunts’ slushes are made with orange juice, not peaches, but the similarities are, nonetheless, undeniable).  L’Brett d’Or is tingly, effervescent, acidic, and heats the throat with alcohol warmth. 

Our last beer was Cellar Blend: 1, a beer analogous to a Flemish red.  This cloudy brown beer with red highlights looks like muddy water with a fleeting beige-colored head.  The nose roots out a resilient tart aroma with dark fruit esters underneath.  The flavor is much like the smell only reversed: the taste of plums comes first and overrides the tart and sour qualities.
L'Brett d'Or

If you visit Crooked Stave, be sure to peer through the back door and into the barrel room; it is an impressive sight to behold.  I honestly didn’t know barrels came in such enormous sizes!  You could literally park a Smart car in the largest ones.

We weren’t completely beer’d-out at Crooked Stave so, on the following day, in keeping with the spirit of Small Business Saturday, we supported yet another independent Denver brewer—Black Shirt Brewing Co.
Cellar Blend: 1

With friends Robin and Justin in tow, Nicole and I pulled up to and approached the chic little River North joint.  The red door, set amidst a frame of distressed wood which, itself, is framed by a dark, cinder block and brick façade, is a testament to simplicity; there's no elaborate mural or obnoxious/busy signage to distract the eye, just a bold, red door—the same hue as an Old West bordello—directing you inside.

There are numerous parallels that can be draw between the ambiance of Black Shirt and that of nearby Our Mutual Friend Malt & Brew: the color scheme is grayscale, the neighborhood is, too use a euphemism, “developing,” and a hip, young, urban vibe permeates the space.  Beer was already cool but the atmosphere, like an indie music venue, radiating from Black Shirt elevates suds to Miles Davis levels.

If you’re unfamiliar with Red Shirt’s claim to fame, their novelty is brewing red ales and nothing but red ales.  They offer different styles of beers ranging from IPAs to pale ales to saisons and beyond but, while their tastes and smells vary, they’re all as crimson as the main ingress.

My first beer was the BSB Red Ale but, before I delve into tasting notes, a word on Black Shirt’s glassware: all beers are served in Offero Stemmed Omnis Glasses which, in addition to looking swanky, envelope the face like an oxygen mask allowing beer geeks to inhale deeply the caramel-y, toasty, and dank aromas of beers like BSB Red Ale.  The ability to sniff as you sip also engages the taste buds and enhances the caramel, toffee, and slightly bitter flavors thus making for a richer drinking experience.  I wouldn’t say Offero is better than Spiegelau but it’s infinitely superior to a standard pint glass.  I do have one suggestion to the Offero company, though; taper the rim more.  The essentially wide-open mouth allows too much carbonation and aroma to escape; a slightly smaller opening would help trap the goodness inside.

BSB Red Ale
The next beer I enjoyed was the red squash saison which, with clove, allspice, and cinnamon sprinkled atop, smells and tastes like a slice of pumpkin pie.  I also had a the red pale ale but I didn’t take any notes because I was trying to enjoy my time with my girlfriend and two friends, I can’t be jotting down ideas all the time.  Sometimes you just have to live in the moment when drinking craft beer. 

Want to visit Black Shirt?  You’ll have to plan carefully because they’re not open on a regular basis; the doors are only open when they’ve enough beer to go around so keep abreast of operating hours on their Facebook page.  They are upgrading their equipment and should have consistent hours soon but, until then, you’ll need a touch of luck when planning a visit.

Happy Holidays, folks, and be of good cheer beer.



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Cut-rate but cool coasters at Crooked Stave

Gigantic barrels at Crooked Stave
Robin and Justin being goobers at Black Shirt

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