"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!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Vine Street Revisited

Ah, nostalgia!  The good old days.  Way back when.  The days of yore.  When men were men and women had some modesty, dadgummit!   When a loaf of bread cost a nickel and the schoolmarm wouldn’t think twice ‘bout upsidin’ your head for sass-mouthin’.  We spent our summers down by the crick fishin’ for crawdads and canoodling with our best gals.  Oh, you whippersnappers can’t imagine it what with your MTV and Pac-Man video games.  Why, it was way back in late April of two-aught-twelve when Nicole and I skedaddled down to Vine Street Pub & Brewery for the big hootenanny celebrating the new brewing system.  This past Thursday there was a blast-from-the-past as we had the opportunity to take a private tour of the brewing facility with Denver off the Wagon V.I.P.s PJ and Bess and Vine Street brewstaff John and Paul.

Pre-tour libation: Addiction Coffee Imperial Stout
Full disclosure: a lot of information was put into this woefully inferior brain of mine during the tour and it happened a few days ago because, contrary to my nature, I’ve procrastinated in writing this post.  Plus, the staff was quite generous with their complimentary pours.  For these reasons, I think it is best to forgo my usual, chronological narrative and instead rely on a bulleted list of the bits of information that stuck with me.

●What’s with the delay?  Vine Street’s been around for a few years but only now they’re brewing on-site?  It all stemmed from some very convoluted zoning laws that I didn’t quite understand.  I do know, however, that they had to buy up a lot of other buildings on the block including an old lady’s Victorian house which I think would make for a great addition to the tap room—a cozy, home-y feel much like the drinking space at Golden City Brewery or Yak and Yeti Restaurant & Brewery.  For now, though, it’ll remain largely unused (except during Great American Beer Festival when it’ll serve as a place for weary brewers to crash for the night). 

●The “new” brewing equipment actually came from a Cleveland-area Rock Bottom that was going out of business.  In similar recycling fashion, their overly-industrious mill was saved from the Flying Dog Brewery before they up and left for Maryland.  This contraption may be more heavy duty than a Mack truck but it’s a piece of Colorado beer history that Vine Street rightfully wants to preserve. 

●Before Vine Street existed, the space belonged to a dark and dingy dive bar called the Rhino Room: windows were scarce and the feeling that, at any moment, you would be taken out back and beaten within an inch of your life by crackheads and prostitutes was high.  Vine Street added many of the windows that exist now, they lowered the floor (and added drainage) to accommodate the brew kettles and fermenters, and they pushed up the ceiling to make room for overhead windows.

●We stepped inside the cold storage room where we were gifted a bottle of orange saison.  Can't wait to get a piece of that.

●This new brewery is the biggest of the Mountain Sun family and will be the flagship similar to how Breckenridge Brewery grew out of its original location and had to move a sizeable chunk of the brewing operation to Denver (and then out-of-state thanks to some jerkwad politicians).  Unfortunately, as I mentioned in the last post talking about Vine Street, this personal tour does not contribute to Nicole and I’s list of visited Colorado breweries because it was not the first in the Mountain Sun family—being the biggest only counts for so much.

●Time for a soapbox moment.  I asked about Vine Street’s commitment to experimental brewing and they replied that part of the reason for the expansion was, in fact, to have the time and space to devote to off-kilter concoctions.  This made me a very happy beer geek for I am always pushing for the next new thing in beer.  There are some who say that experimental beers are a fad and that the American beer geek will eventually come full-circle and rely solely (or, mostly) on simple, traditional recipes.  Nuts to that!  Do you know where you go for a traditional beer?  Germany.  England.  Belgium.  You go to those places because their identity is tied-in with beer culture; they’ve made a name for themselves by brewing and perfecting specific types of beer over the centuries. 
Flying Dog's old grain mill

But what of America—a country only two-centuries-plus-change old?  We have no traditional beers because we haven’t had the time to develop them and I’ll be damned if our “traditional” beers turn out to be clones from other countries.  This is America—the land of ballsy innovators not timid copycats (but, if we do copy something you can be sure we’ll claim to be the first and defend that claim to the death or until the opposing party gets tired of our bullheadedness and gives up).  We can’t just brew a simple Pilsner or pale ale and call it “an American tradition”—another country already claims it as their tradition. 

I’ve spoken too soon, I fear; America does have a traditional beer: experimental beers.  We define ourselves by flouting definition.  We limit ourselves to the limitless.  Every edible morsel on this planet belongs in the American brewer’s recipe book.  I don’t care if a beer brewed with bacon and maple was considered the worst beer of 2011, I’m just glad somebody had the guts to do it.  Sure, there are failures in experimentation—it comes with the territory—but if there was one success for every 100 bombs I’d still encourage our brewers to stay the course.  We, as a nation, are bold, brash, and creative and our beers ought to reflect our personality.  By all means, keep brewing simple beers because we all need something familiar from time to time and nobody likes to pay import prices but I hope that we never lose that experimental edge.  With that, I say “kudos” to Vine Street for being true American heroes (where beer is concerned, anyway).

A very big thank you to the folks at Vine Street for having us over to talk beer.  Keep doing what you’re doing and I’ll keep drinking it.



Your brew paddle is a kayak paddle? How Colorado of you.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Beer Not in Colorado: Homecoming II--Electric Boogaloo (Pt. 2)

This is a continuation of the previous post.  If you would like to read Part One of Nicole and I’s 2012 Indianapolis beer adventures, click here.  If you would like to read about last year’s journey into Indy beer, click here.

After visiting Bier Brewery, we headed south towards Flat 12 Bierwerks but made a pit stop at Sun King Brewery.  We’d been to Sun King before but it’s a shame to pass on their beer if you’re in the neighborhood.  Plus, Nicole loves their shirts and wanted to pick up another.

Sun King's taproom

While there I sipped on the classics like Osiris and Wee Mac but also had the opportunity to drink tasters of seasonal beers like Naptown Brown, Cow Bell Milk Porter, and Indiana Landmarks Wit.  Again, like at Bier, the tasters were quite small so it’s hard to write a review as it’s near impossible to get a good read on flavor and aroma.   
The beers were, as always, tasty but my beer geek senses started to tingle when I was called over to the little circle of conversation that consisted of my dad, my aunt Suzy, and a Sun King employee that looked suspiciously like Judah Friedlander’s skinnier doppelganger.  Once I arrived the conversation led to Chaka, the collaboration beer between Sun King and Oskar Blues Brewery.  Chaka had yet to be released to the public at that point but—like a sci-fi geek that’s just caught a 20 second glimpse of Star Wars: Episode VI – How Yoda Got His Groove Back—I had the honor of beholding the blue-and-orange, re-sealable majesties that are the Sun King Chaka cans.  For the uninformed, Chaka is or will be available in both Colorado and Indiana and the beer is the same no matter which state you buy it in but the cans have different logos depending on location.  I’ll get the Colorado cans but I need you, Hoosier friends, to get me the Indiana version for my collection.  Or, remind my mom to get them for me.

We gawked at Sun King’s numerous Great American Beer Festival medals, Nicole bought her shirt (as well as a new Indiana Drinking Team shirt for me which, you may recall from a previous post, was taken from me at a Hops & Pie event; I did have it replaced but the blue was not the same blue as the Indiana state flag which it should have been—now I have a shirt in the true blue), and we headed out for Flat 12 in the Holy Cross neighborhood

Flat 12 is pretty much everything I look for in a taproom: exposed brick walls, exposed wooden rafters, big, sliding meat locker doors, and splashes of color in form of paper lanterns hung from the ceiling and purple wheelchairs made from old shopping carts.  It’s a brewery that emits a sense of industrialization while still maintaining a casual, communal feel.  Plus, the giant wooden deck with corrugated steel accents is something I want in my backyard by yesterday.

I had read in Draft Magazine that Flat 12 was known for their porter variations so it seemed a shame to get anything else.  I ordered the Tangerine Porter (5.5% ABV) which, while very good, didn’t have much in the way of the titular fruit.  I suppose the barely-there fruitiness makes sense since the headbrewer “doesn’t like overt flavors and styles.  He likes well orchestrated subtlety.”  I disagree with this philosophy in many regards—I like strong flavor in my beer.  Go all in, I say, but to each their own.  It’s a good porter at any rate, just not really a tangerine porter.

Regardless of the quality of the beer and of the brewery’s positive porter reputation, it was probably a mistake to order a dark, heavy beer since we were drinking on the deck and sweating like Oprah at a ham sandwich factory.  Life-long Coloradoans just can’t imagine how sticky and wet you can get by simply sitting outside in Indiana springtime.  It was weather that called for a lighter, crisper beer than the one I was drinking.

The next stop took us to the Fountain Square neighborhood; an area best described through comparisons to Denver’s RiverNorth (RiNo) neighborhood or LoDo 20 years ago: gritty but tragically hip and undergoing a renaissance.  Like the mentioned Denver ‘hoods, Fountain Square owes some of its revitalization to craft beer—namely, Fountain Square Brewing Co. 

I have a number of points to make about the Fountain Square taproom and I’ll start with what’s praiseworthy.  First, I love the corrugated scrap metal ceiling—very cool, very edgy.  The open spaces, couches, and metal-and-cinder-block work on the bar where also a nice touch.  There was, however, one aspect of the space that really irked me—the artwork screamed, “I’m trying too hard to be cool!”  I liked the painted logos of the beers on tap; they were funky, psychedelic, and worthy of any man-cave.  The rest, though, was faux-rebellious; I hate to be so Internet-hip but it  has Condescending Wonka meme written all over it: "Oh, you have an American flag made of tampons hanging in your taproom? You must be so counterculture."

The same can be said for the out-of-focus picture depicting what appeared to be a certain oral act (if it’s not a certain oral act and I’m mistaken then Freudian psychology would have much to say about me and this assumption).  Give it a rest, Fountain Square; too many people erroneously lump the unpretentious craft beer culture with the pricks of the hipster movement and your overly trendy art isn’t doing anything to change their minds.  But, to be fair, I did giggle at this misogynistic piece of work found below:

You tell me what's going on here

On a positive note, the beer at Fountain Square is quite nice.  I forget the name of it and said name isn’t on the website but I had the pale ale.  I’d describe it as an Anglo-American pale ale—it’s mildly bitter like an English pale ale but the presence of citrus hops makes it an all-American.

Pale Ale
After Fountain Square, we caught some minor league action at Victory Field where the Indianapolis Indians defeated the Louisville Bats (I’m guessing the Bats were in town due to the fact that Louisville was likely a cluster due to Derby-goers).  More importantly, I got a taste of Sun King’s Victory Lager—a special brew made for the Indians.  I’d describe it much the way I’d describe Genuine Cooter from Bier: redneck beer made for the craft-minded.  It’s simple, straightforward, and a great drink for watching the game but made to a higher-standard than typical ballpark fare.

That pretty much summed up the beer portion of our Indy trip.  We also visited the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis (bigger and cooler than most adult museums) where I must have sounded like a nostalgic old man to Nicole: “When I was a boy, they used to have a mummy here.  That whole front area we walked through?  That’s new.  Hey, where’s that T. Rex statue they used to have outside?  I used to love that thing.”

Go, Indians, go!
Look at this ballpark line-up; the MLB stadiums could learn a thing or two from the little guys

We’ll be back for the Beer Bloggers Conference, Indy, and I can’t wait to get back.  You’re an under-the-radar beer Mecca and more people will realize this in time.  Until then, keep churning out that liquid gold.



The humidity hung around just long enough to cause people to pass out during the race and make it almost unbearable to sit on the patio at Flat 12. As Chris sipped his porter in 80 degree weather, I enjoyed people-watching which included a hipster dude wandering around in some incredibly short shorts that made the middle school teacher in me want to tell him to call home for a change of clothes. I also noticed the meat market across the street (the beef and poultry kind, not the Thunder from Down Under kind) which reminded me that I needed to find a local market when I got home. My students are reading the Omnivore’s Dilemma which has me thinking 24/7 about what goes into our food. Does organic beer exist? There has to be a market for that, right [Indeed!  Boulder’s own Asher Brewing Company ~ Chris]?

The drive from Flat 12 to Fountain Square Brewing Co. revealed a neighborhood that looks like it has stories to tell. I don’t know why but old theater marquis fascinate me and this neighborhood was rife with them. When we got to Fountain Square Brewing Co., I was relieved to feel the air conditioning. As I sunk into the couch, I did a double take at the American flag that hung in front of me. It was made with some non-traditional materials which made me wonder how someone even conceived of using feminine hygiene products in making a flag. I did like the painting that used the periodic table to spell out the name of the brewery.  That’s the science geek in me.

Luckily, the humidity moved on so that we could enjoy a pleasant night at the ballpark. We watched the Indianapolis Indians take on the Louisville Bats. This was probably the highlight of my trip. I love baseball and enjoy the opportunity to visit different ballparks. Even though this was a minor league game, it was still a fun experience.


And here's a bunch of pictures I couldn't fit anywhere else:

I don't know where this is but I want go there
I'm pretty sure that's in the Bible

If you recognize this, you attended an Indiana middle school and went on at least one field trip

More impressive than the blue bear at the Denver Convention Center

Chihuly art at the Children's Museum

Underneath Chihuly

At the head of the Indianapolis canal system

Make new friends...

...but keep the old (stay classy, Indianapolis)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Beer Not in Colorado: Homecoming II--Electric Boogaloo (Pt. 1)

Last year I travelled to Indianapolis, my homestate capital, to sample some Hoosier-made beers and write about my journeys in The Crossroads of America.  It was in that post I made the somewhat extravagant prediction that, one day, Indiana would be considered a major hub for American craft beer; maybe not as big as Colorado, the Pacific Northwest, or San Diego County but still right up there with the big boys.  It turns out I missed the mark.  Indiana is not becoming a top five craft beer hotspot.  In my opinion, what with Sun King Brewery totally owning at the 2011 Great American Beer Festival, some great wins at the 2012 World Beer Cup, and the Beer Bloggers Conference (which Nicole and I will be attending) being held in Indy this summer, Indiana has already planted itself firmly in the fourth-place position.  And it keeps getting better. 

Like last year, the main reason for Nicole and I’s visit to the Circle City was to race in the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon (or, “the Mini” to keep it simple)—the country’s largest half marathon.  It may only be 13.1 miles to a full marathon’s 26.2 but it’s still a competitive race and it’s in one’s best interest to prepare for the stress and strain that the body will experience on the course.  A good training program helps, certainly, but so does carb loading: stuffing one’s gut with carbohydrates.  Pasta is usually the food of choice for carb-loading athletes so Nicole and I ate at Iozzo’s Garden of Italy, Indy’s oldest (and perhaps best; seriously, go there if you’re spending any time in the city) Italian restaurant.  But do you know what else has carbs?  Beer.  That’s why, before heading out to Iozzo’s, we had a brief stop at Tomlinson Taproom.

Tomlinson Taproom (or TomTap to the locals) is located on the upper level of the historic Indianapolis City Market and prides itself on serving Indiana beer and only Indiana beer: 16 taps of ever-rotating selections. 

We weaved our way through the ground level chaos of vendors and retailers, ascended the steps to the mezzanine area, tried to avoid eye contact with the crowd of Jedi warriors (it was Star Wars Day), and made our way to the narrow ledge that is TomTap.  TomTap has a great drinking environment.  The exposed brick and metalwork in the historic building adds a lot of character to the space while its location perched above the ground level like The Lion King’s Pride Rock provides sanctuary from the hustle and bustle; only a handrail separates TomTap from the bedlam of City Market but being up high and tucked into a corner makes for a slower-paced atmosphere.    

Hoppy Hoosier
The beer was, as one might assume coming from this up-and-coming beer state, delectable.  My first pint was of Hoppy Hoosier IPA (5.5% ABV) from Bee Creek Brewery in Brazil, Indiana (unfortunately, I just learned that Bee Creek will be ceasing operations soon).  Hoppy Hoosier may be an IPA but it doesn’t smack you around like many of the same style.  The IBU is only 38 making for an approachable—but still hoppy—brew.  My second beer was not so kind to the palate.  Where Lizards Dare India Pale Ale (6% ABV) from Figure Ei8ht Brewing in Valparaiso, Indiana is only four IBUs stronger than Bee Creek’s beer but that’s apparently all it takes to create a bitter hop wallop complete with a woody, chewing-on-chopsticks flavor.  Where Lizards Dare is not quite so approachable as Hoppy Hoosier but it’s definitely a must-drink for the hop head. 
Where Lizards Dare

This was my first trip to TomTap but I assure you that it will not be my last (my confidence coming from the knowledge that the Beer Bloggers Conference will be taking us there for dinner).  With TomTap’s constantly rotating beer list, I know can have a new experience each time I come in for a visit. 

After TomTap and Iozzo’s, it was time to hit the bed; we still had a race to run in the morning and no amount of carbs could justify my drinking more beer.  This was my fifth time running the Mini and each time I'm reminded why I love this race so much; the crowd energy is great, the on-course entertainment is great (I always love the Circle City Cloggers and the bagpipe man but I was scratching my head over why there were so many death metal bands composed of eleven-year-old kids this year), and I finally took the time this year to “kiss the bricks” at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  I finished the race with my second-best time of 1:34:56.  Not too shabby; I beat the high school version of myself. 

Although the race had rendered my legs as flexible as an iron rod dressed in a suit of armor, I wasn’t about to let a little leg pain stop me from enjoying Indiana’s breweries.  First stop after the race: Bier Brewery.

Bier is a microscopic brewing operation whose taproom—with its decorative steins, mounted boar’s head, couches, and sports banners—looks more like your uncle’s rec room than a bar but, as I’ve said in many previous posts, I always enjoy simplistic and familial taprooms over the decked-out, restaurant-style taproom.  I like a taproom that says, “stay awhile” not one that says, “drink, pay, and get out.” 

Regrettably, Indiana has some very antiquated liquor laws.  The folks at Bier weren’t allowed to sell us full-pours of beer; the only options were growlers for take-out and free, Dixie cup-sized tasters.  Growlers were uneconomical for our current situation and I never pass on a free beer even if it’s just sample-sized so the bartender poured us Special KÓ§lsch (4.9% ABV), Genuine Cooter (5.5% ABV), Persephone (4.9% ABV), Roggenschnizzel (5.8% ABV), Witbier (5.6% ABV), Belgian Blonde (6% ABV), Dred Brown (5.6% ABV), and Rye Pale (6.2% ABV).

All the beers were honestly quite tasty but, since they were in small containers and because there were so many to taste, it was hard to write an assessment with any semblance of accuracy.  I would like to mention a few standout observations, though.  First, “Genuine Cooter” is an awesome name for a beer especially when the bartender asks you, “How’d you like that Cooter?”  It’s also an awesome beer because it is, essentially, a crappy MGD-style beer brewed to craft beer’s high standards; they elevated the white trash beer to something beer geeks can enjoy.  Also, the rye in Rye Pale comes through with more strength than any other rye beer I can remember.  Beyond that, you’ll just have to go there yourself and experience what Bier’s beer is all about.

We moseyed about the taproom admiring the impressive amount of accolades this tiny brewery has earned (not to mention the recent World Beer Cup awards which coincided with our Indy trip) and commenting on how our friend Robin, who hates cutesy bathroom door signs, would hate the way Bier has labeled theirs Stouts and Blondes.  I mean, both men and women can be blonde and both men and women can be fat, right?  I assumed I was a Stout.  I hope I was right.   

Nicole and I also chatted with an employee who had lived in Denver for some time.  We talked a bit about the Rockies and how Bier and Colorado’s own Dry Dock Brewing Co. are interstate buddies in the craft beer world; they share beer with each other and generally support each other’s businesses any way they can.  So, next time you’re in Aurora, go to Dry Dock and mention Bier’s name—you’ll look like a person with insider information.  Also, if you see some Bier stickers plastered around Colorado, I probably put it there because they gave me a stack the size of a dictionary before we left.  

The story doesn’t end here, no sir!  Stay tuned for the rest of Nicole and I’s Hoosier beer adventures.



I thought that running a race at lower altitude would give me a boost but the high humidity proved me wrong. When we walked off the plane I was instantly hit with a wall of humidity. I have to admit, it was nice at first having come from a semi-arid desert but that thought was fleeting once I realized that it would mean my race time wouldn’t be what I’d hoped for.

Chris and I carbed up for the race at Iozzo’s. I was skeptical as to whether or not we’d actually get to eat there because our reservation time came and went and we were still waiting to be seated (slow eaters). They had a special four-course meal for the Mini which included some delicious-sounding choices. I kept it simple with a Caesar salad and spaghetti and meatballs. It was an excellent choice as the meatballs were delicate and flavorful. I hope Chris and I can go back when we visit Indy this summer so that I can try some of the other dishes—especially their tiramisu.

The race was exhausting (even more so for the people I saw passing out along the course because of the heat and humidity) but we were able to recover with some post-race beers. When we walked into Bier Brewing, I was drawn to the t-shirts featuring the Bier logo—the name of the brewery shaped into the state outline of Indiana. My favorite beer at Bier was the Dred Brown. It had a sweet malty flavor that was light enough to enjoy on a hot day.  The people at Bier were extremely friendly and proud of their product. Talking to the bartenders, I felt like I had known them for years rather than minutes.


Neat wood engraving at TomTap

Boar's head at Bier

The Bier brewing equipment