"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, January 25, 2012

DIY at B&B Makes for a VHBG (That Stands for "Very Happy Beer Geek")

I’ve seen a ski rack made of two-by-fours and duct tape strapped to the top of an ‘83 Buick.  I’ve seen mountain shacks shingled with discarded, discolored license plates.  I’ve seen jeans patched with corduroy, wounds dressed with torn t-shirts, and bicycles modified with sidecars, trailers, and bar tops.  For better or worse, Colorado is a do-it-yourself kind of state.

This attitude stems from our history—when Colorado was the real-life version of Frontierland.  When your wagon wheel broke, when your food rations ran low, and when your safety was threatened by wild animals, what did you do?  You didn’t call AAA, you mended that wheel yourself.  You didn’t go to Safeway, you ate what you killed.  You didn’t involve animal control, you wrestled a cougar with your bare hands and let loose a primeval howl thus informing predators you were on the top of the food chain.  That independent pioneer spirit still lives in the Coloradoan’s daily life; “I can do it myself,” is the unofficial state motto and, seeing as Colorado is America’s beer HQ, it’s only natural that the DIY outlook would eventually find its way into the realm of craft beer.  You see, in other states you can order a beer that’s been dry-hopped.  Well, well, well, hello Mr. Rockefeller!  You got somebody hopping your beer for you?  You probably pay somebody you drink it for you, too.  Here in Colorado—at least at Bull & Bush Pub and Brewery—we aren’t completely inept; we hop our beers ourselves.

I speak of Bull & Bush’s Whole Hop Infusion: a process in which customers order a beer, choose a type of hop (currently, Cascade, Crystal, and Chinook are on the menu but Nugget and Northern Brewer are coming soon), and flavor their beer in a French press.  Customers can then wait a little while for a touch of hop aroma and taste or have it sit for a long time (ten minutes is the recommended maximum time), allowing the natural oils of the hop cones to really inundate the beer creating a colossal hop wallop on the nose and tongue.  It’s up to you, the drinker, to decide how long you want those hops to soak in.

Intrigued, I, along with my sisters, made a trip to Bull & Bush.  I had to give this contraption a whirl.  For the first beer, we played it pretty safe—we ordered a Justice IPA with Chinook hops.  The risk was low because it’s already a hopped-up beer—we’d just be adding a little more.  I waited the full ten minutes because I wanted to feel all the aggressive power of the hops.  My watch flashed ten, I gently pushed down on the stem of the French press, and, like a geisha with green tea, gently poured the beer into my stemmed glassware.  I was greeted with a seductive scent—the freshest hopped beer one could possibly hope for.  These grassy, peppery aromas are the stuff of beer geek dreams.  The flavor is, likewise, entrancing.  Certainly, Justice would highlight the hops even without the Whole Hop Infusion but the dry-hopping process imparts a smoky, earthy flavor that I, for one, find hard to top.
Justice with Chinook

Anybody who has read more than a handful of my posts know I’m not one for taking the easy route when it comes to beer; I came to experiment.  Dry-hopping Justice was child’s play; I wanted to dry-hop a style that isn’t known for its hop profile.  I ordered the Big Ben Brown Ale with Cascade hops. *Gasp* Scandalous!  Sacrilege! Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes! Volcanoes!  The dead rising from the grave!  Human sacrifice!  Dogs and cats living together!  Mass hysteria! Even the waitress said, “oh, that’s naughty” when I placed my order.

What’s the hubbub all about?  Simply put, you just don’t dry-hop brown ales.  Browns are all about the malts; they’re nutty, toffee-like, chocolate-y, or molasses-y, but they are not hoppy.  The beer pope may condemn me to beer hell where the only thing to drink is lukewarm Natty Ice but, like Galileo’s run-in with the real pope, I believe history will vindicate my actions.

Enough lead-in, let’s get down to the beer.  Like Justice, I waited the full ten minutes and, when I finally poured it out, I was in for a surprise in incongruence; in terms of flavor, Big Ben’s dark malts were too strong to allow much, if any, hope taste to come through.  It is, in essence, the typical flavor of an English brown ale albeit with a slipperier mouthfeel caused by the myrcene.  The nose, however, tells a different story.  The Cascade hops, usually prevalent in beers from the American Northwest, contribute a Deschutes-y pale ale-like smell.  Close ones eyes and smell a Cascade dry-hopped Big Ben and one couldn’t guess it’s actually a brown ale. 
Big Ben with Cascade

Is dry-hopping brown ales the next big thing in the American craft beer movement?  Likely not, but that’s the beauty of the Whole Hop Infusion process; you can experiment and play with different combinations until you hit gold.  Maybe I won’t Cascade hop a brown next time I’m at Bull & Bush but I can guarantee you I’ll come up with some other concoction that’s just as odd.

What do you say?  Are you ready to put a little more input into the beer you’re drinking?  As of now, only Bull & Bush and Table 6 offer this service but this beer geek has a feeling that the trend is going to spread to other Denver establishments very soon.  The craft beer scene in this city, nay, in this state, is too strong to ignore and the beer community demands innovation after innovation.  Colorado must stay on top of its game.  However, until the inevitable influx of self-dry-hopping finds a home in other establishments, go to Bull & Bush, try the Whole Hop Infusion, and be a beer hipster that dry-hopped his/her own beer before it was cool.



Friday, January 13, 2012

The Colorado/Massachusetts War

There’s scarcely any doubt that Colorado is at least among the best places in America to procure a fine, hand-crafted ale or lager.  The sheer number of breweries, the countless beer festivals (including the granddaddy of them all, Great American Beer Festival), and the overall beer-mindedness of the state’s citizens essentially proves that point.  Sure, Colorado has worthy competition in the Pacific Northwest where some of the first microbreweries popped up, in the San Diego-area where the biggest, boldest beers were conceived, in Wisconsin where an increasing number of small breweries seek to reclaim their state’s beer image after the corporate giants ruined it, and, hell, in light of the fact that it won the most medals at the 2011 Great American Beer Festival (also the most gold medals), even Indiana can be considered a leader in the realm of craft beer.  As much competition as Colorado has, there is an even greater number of regions that are so un-evolved in beer culture that they’re just squishy bits of barely-multicellular mold compared to the highly advanced Homosapien of beer that is Colorado.  Among the slimy, unworthy throngs is the bean-eatin’, tax-hikin’, Matt Damon-lovin’, letter “R” un-pronouncin’, chowdah heads of Boston.

Okay, so what’s with the hostility towards the Bay State?  To put it simply and immaturely, they started it! 

NFL fans as well as all Americans not living under a rock know that the Denver Broncos will be taking on the New England Patriots in a playoff game this Saturday, January 14th.  It’s also no secret that, sometimes, the mayors from the opposing teams’ cities make non-monetary bets on the game.  For example, if the Chiefs and the Eagles were to play each other, the mayor of Kansas City would have to send the mayor of Philadelphia a plate of his city’s world-famous BBQ ribs if his team lost and the mayor of Philly would have to send KC some cheesesteaks if his team lost.  Just last week, the mayor of Pittsburgh was forced to “Tebow” in front of the city skyline and, depending on the outcome of the upcoming game, either Denver’s Mayor Hancock will have to wear a Patriots jersey and send Boston’s Mayor Menino a Colorado steak or Menino will have to adorn the Paul Revere statue with a Tebow jersey and send Hancock a lobster dinner.  That’s no problem with all of that; it’s fun, it’s silly, and it stays within the jurisdiction of professional sports.  But then Menino had to keep flapping his jaw.

In an interview with the Boston Globe, Menino said, “I mean, you know, Colorado beer? It hasn't even made it east yet. Sam Adams has made it to the west and Harpoon has made it out there, but Colorado Rocky beer? Uck.

I’ve talked about warring beer factions before.  I’ve talked about Oregon breweries going to battle against Colorado breweries.  I’ve talked about the hubbub surrounding Funkwerks and their Māori King.  I’ve talked about how a brewery in Washington got its panties in a twist over Dry Dock’s Seven Seas.  This is different.  This is some uninformed dirt-bag that will say any rotten thing if it gets the public’s attention; Menino is the Kanye West of the political world.

Part of me hates that I’m giving in to his provocation but I have my reasons.  If the trash talking had been relegated to pro football things would have been peachy; pro sports were invented for that type of talk and, besides that, the worst player on the worst team still makes a butt-load of cash so, really, how badly do words hurt?  But no!  Menino attacked our brewers.  He attacked our small business owners.  He attacked those who help keep Colorado’s economy afloat.  By God, he attacked the very values—the idea that everybody has a right to high-quality beer—that make Colorado great.
Let’s dissect Menino’s quote piece by piece and reveal how much of a blowhard he really is, shall we?

“Colorado beer…hasn’t even made it east yet.”
Really?  New Belgium Brewing is coast-to-coast, Great Divide, despite having to pullout of a few distribution regions, still sends beers east, Breckenridge Brewery is just as widespread, and even little ol’ Tommyknocker goes to states that touch the Atlantic.  These are facts that I learned via five minutes of internet research.  True, I did find that none of the mentioned breweries distribute to Massachusetts but that doesn’t mean Colorado doesn’t share its world-class beer with the rest of America.  Maybe your state just isn’t good enough to have Colorado beer, Menino.  

“Sam Adams has made it to the west and Harpoon has made it out there.”
For this part of my argument, I’m going to contradict myself a bit but that’s inevitable when the original statement is, itself, contradictory.  Menino’s logic is that only good beer is available to the masses when, in fact, most people know that something made for the masses is inevitably terrible e.g. pop music, McDonald’s, sitcoms...etc.

Hancock also made a good rebuttal in the Denver Post: "First of all, we are the microbrew capital of the nation. Some of the best beer in the world is brewed here in Colorado. The moment Sam Adams sells more beer than Coors, then he can come talk to me. Otherwise, he needs to stay in Boston and not talk about our beer."

While I wish Hancock had emphasized the microbrewery aspect more, he makes a great point;  If widespread distribution is what makes a beer great—which Menino insinuates—then Coors beats the ever-living crap out of anything that comes out of Boston.
"Colorado Rocky beer? Uck."

You don’t hold a gigantic beer fest like Great American Beer Festival in a state that doesn’t already have a thriving beer scene.  Furthermore, who’s been winning more medals at said festival?  Eric Gorski, investigative reporter for the Denver Post writes on his Twitter account, “All time @GABF medals for Colorado beers: 491. Massachusetts: 94. @First_Drafts @BostonDotCom @SteveGreenlee @timhoover.”  Suck on that, Menino.

I see that certain Colorado breweries are making game-day bets with Massachusetts breweries.  As a long-time Patriots-hater, there’s nothing I’d like to see more than Tom Brady get pulverized like an overripe banana between two very large Bronco defenders but that really isn’t the point, is it?  A good football team does not equal a good beer scene.  I demand a beer taste-off!  I want my state’s breweries to throw down the gauntlet and challenge Massachusetts to a head-to-head competition.  Patriots win, Broncos win, it doesn’t matter because Colorado has the nation’s best beer no matter what some blabbermouth Masshole has to say.


Sunday, January 8, 2012

Small Brewery, Big Personality

I've never been a supporter of New Year's resolutions.  For one, I've always felt that if you've been meaning to do something then, dammit, just do it; no point in waiting till the end of December to create a positive change.  Also, having been raised Catholic, I already had to contend with Lent.  I could scarcely make myself commit to 40 days let alone 365.  Nonetheless, the spirit of the season possesses me and I decided, for the first time, to make a resolution.  I have heard the secret to a successful resolution is to make one that can be kept and I figure the best way to accomplish that is to make your resolution something you already like to do.  That is why I have decided that, in 2012, I shall visit new Colorado breweries and, on December 31st, the total number will be comparable to the total visited in 2011.  Thanks to Wit’s End Brewing Company, I am 1/13th closer to realizing that goal.

Having opened but a few months ago, Wit’s End was a component in the 2011 Denver brewery surge.  Along with Renegade Brewing Company, Denver Beer Co., Copper Kettle Brewing Company, and Caution: Brewing Co., Wit’s End has helped make the past year an unusually productive one for craft beer in the Mile High City (I anticipate that TRVE Brewing Company, Prost Brewing Company, Black Shirt Brewing Co., and Black Sky Brewery will continue the growth in 2012).  Yes, with the obvious exception of Tebow Mania, right now is a good time to be a Denverite. 

The first thing you’ll notice about the brewery upon your approach is the fact that you don’t notice it; tucked away in an industrial strip which is, itself, centered in a quiet, unlit neighborhood, you just need to know where you’re going if you want to visit the Wit’s End taproom.  In a weird way, this exemplifies the Coloradoan’s unbridled passion for beer.   A place like Wynkoop Brewing Company, for example, attracts a lot of customers—beer geek or not—because it is in a part of town where there is already a lot of foot traffic; it’s just a matter of luring these passersby through the front door (of course, the reason there’s foot traffic on that street is because Wynkoop set up shop there but that’s another story for another day).  Denver Beer, on ultra-hip Platte Street, and Renegade, right off of the Art District on Santa Fe, enjoy the same perks.  Wit’s End, however, cannot rely on impulse customers because there just isn’t anybody on the street to entice; every customer Wit’s End gets is there because they made a concerted effort to get there.   Like its brothers in isolation Uplsope Brewing Company, Strange Brewing Company, and Elk Mountain Brewing, Wit’s End must count on customer service, the support of rabid beer geeks, and quality of product to carry it through the day.  Fortunately, Wit’s End has all of these qualities in spades.   

We opened the door and walked into one of the smallest possible taprooms one could imagine.  Only Big Beaver Brewing Co. (before the expansion), Three Barrel Brewing Co. (though I heard they expanded, too), and Crystal Springs Brewing Co. can, I think, claim a more miniscule space for imbibing.  No matter, I enjoy a cozy space when I’m sipping my craft beer.  Aside from the overwhelming smallness, the décor of Wit’s End can best be described as minimalistic: a framed collection of drink coasters here, a wall of grain bags stapled there, and that’s pretty much what you get in the way of ambiance.  The feeling one gets when entering Wit’s End is that one is not in a commercial brewery but rather a rec room or a clubhouse where one can shuffle in wearing work clothes, have a laugh with close friends, and sling a few back.  Don’t try to get all fancy on me, Wit’s End; camaraderie amongst beer geeks flourishes in laid-back atmospheres such as the one you’ve created. 

And camaraderie does, indeed, flourish.  After drinking beer, my favorite brewery activity is shooting the breeze with other visitors.  Usually, Nicole and I can strike up five minute conversation here and there but hardly anything substantial.  At Wit’s End, you can’t help but be sociable.  We chatted with almost everybody in the room—brewmaster Scott Witsoe included—and, when we left, we felt as though we weren’t first-time customers but regulars that have been drinking there for years.  Even in other small breweries it is rare to get that experience.  I fully expect that, upon my next visit, the entire room will turn to me and say my name in Cheers-like fashion when I walk through the door. 

Ah, but I’ve yet to get to the most important part: the beer.  We ordered the sample platter (something every brewery needs to offer) which included Jean-Claude Van Blonde (6.5% ABV), Super FL i.p.a. (6.7% ABV), Kitchen Sink Porter (5.8% ABV), Ugly Sweater (forgot to write down ABV), and Green Man Ale (6.3% ABV).  The descriptions of these beers are a little skimpier than usual but that’s because we spent most of our time socializing rather than taking the usual meticulous notes.

Back row, left to right: Jean-Claude, Super FL i.p.a., & Kitchen Sink.  Front row, left to right: Ugly Sweater & Green Man  

Jean-Claude, besides having a goofy name, is straw colored and has strong aroma and taste of coriander.  It isn’t a hefeweizen but it would be hard to tell the difference if one were to drink it blindfolded.  It is crisp, clean, and the flavor loiters on the palate for some time.

Super FL i.p.a. is a hazy espresso-colored beer (dark brown core with light brown highlights) and smells and tastes of pine needles and cedar chips.  It is technically a black IPA but I think “brown IPA” is more appropriate. 

Kitchen Sink has a dark hazelnut color but, despite the darkness, it is still, when held to a light, a clear beer.  The aroma is similar to that of milk chocolate and the flavor is lightly roasted and nutty.

Ugly Sweater is hazy and brown-orange with little to no aroma.  The story behind this beer is that is basically an English brown ale with a bunch of random stuff thrown in and, of that random stuff, the roasted pumpkin seeds are the most noticeable—especially after a hearty belch.

Green Man was kicked moments after we got our taster and it’s a good thing we didn’t arrive any later because it turned out to be my favorite beer of the night.  Green Man is almost clear with a dash of opaqueness.  It is the color of polished brass.  Upon first whiff I couldn’t help but be taken back: what is that smell?  It was so unusual, so reminiscent of fruit.  But what fruit?  Even Nicole, with a nose like a bloodhound (in terms of ability, not appearance) couldn’t root it out right away but, after a few sips, we realized what it was: pineapple.  Now, Wit’s End makes no mention of using pineapple or pineapple juice in the creation of this beer so I have to assume that it is the hops that impart that tropical smell and taste.  A piney aftertaste follows the initial island-like flavor.

After a little more chatting and some additional short pints of Super FL i.p.a., we left what felt like a friend’s party.  I thank you, Wit’s End, for starting my New Year’s out right and I encourage my readers to have a pint or two in the tasting room.  Sure, big breweries like New Belgium Brewing, Odell Brewing Company, and Great Divide Brewing Co. may have established Colorado’s beer scene but it is the little guys like Wit’s End that keep our native beers funky and uniquely Coloradoan.



The English major in me likes how Scott cleverly imbedded his surname in the logo.

The English major in me dislikes the misspelling of "your." Unless it is written in Mr. T dialect.  It would still be wrong, though, because Mr. T would never say "please."

Friday, we went to one of the newer breweries in Denver—Wit’s End—which opened a few months ago around the time of Great American Beer Festival. Chris always keeps up on the latest beer news in Denver including new brewery openings. Wit's End is tucked away in an industrial complex but easy enough to find if you have the address. When Chris said it was a small brewery I imagined a bar with just enough room for the brewmaster to serve his beer, five or six chairs, and the bartender's buddy. In reality, the brewery had a pretty large bar with seating for about 10 people, 5 or 6 small tables, and a fairly large crowd eager for a beer. We sat down at the bar and ordered a sampler so that we could try all of the beers they had to offer. We started chatting with the people next to us about breweries and some of our favorites in the state. A group of guys walked in and we talked to them for a while about beer and breweries. Then the brewmaster’s neighbors walked in so we talked to them, too. Then a guy that we met a few months ago at Hops & Pie walked in [I also saw him at GABF ~ Chris]. I felt like we were meeting up with friends, not total strangers.

We learned from the brewer that he is going to be in Vail for the Big Beers, Belgians, and Barleywines Festival. This is a festival that we have yet to attend. Since the festival is for Belgian beers and barleywines, he was taking the Jean-Claude Van Blonde which is brewed with Belgian yeast. Thinking about Vail reminds us that we still need to visit the breweries in the Vail/Avon/Eagle area. We can probably accomplish that this summer when we don't have to deal with Saturday morning ski traffic.

We walked into the brewery with the intention of trying new beer and adding another brewery to our list but I didn't realize that we were going to hanging out with a fun little beer community. This place is like Cheers. The brewmaster, Scott, chats with everyone there and is genuinely appreciative that they are there. The art work is framed coasters from other breweries and beers establishments from around the US and around the world. The coaster from Elysian Brewing Company reminded me that we did not visit them when we were in Seattle two years ago. We only heard about Elysian in the past year when our friend used their Jasmine beer as an inspiration for one of her homebrews. So, Chris and I have made plans to go to the new Husky Stadium when it opens for the football season and visit Elysian while we’re there. Hopefully, we will get to try some of the pumpkin beers that they don't sell here in Colorado.