"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!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Epic Beer Weekend: Part II

Please read Part I of this epic quest before continuing.

We woke the next day after arriving in Alamosa and readied ourselves for Rails & Ales Brewfest.  Nicole’s uncle drove us to the train station, we picked up our tickets, got wristbanded, and received our commemorative drinking vessel.  At most beer festivals, you receive a taster glass—something small, something that easily fits into a back pocket.  Not at Rails & Ales.  Here you get a whole pint glass!  Down here burly mountain folk drink like lumberjacks, wimpy taster glasses need not apply.  I, myself, was none too pleased to have such a large glass because it is my drinking philosophy to have a little bit of everything, not a ton of a few.  However, as this was an outdoor event, it was possible to pour a little on the ground to stay reasonable.  I made sure to pour some for the homies, too. 

Our transport awaits

The iron horse chugged up to the station blasting steam and black smoke—a factory on wheels.  We sat, waited until we felt the gentle tug as the locomotive slowly built speed until we were blazing across the parched valley floor like a live-action Wile E. Coyote.  We gazed out the window as the dusty, scrubland transitioned into the rocky foothills and into high country forests and meadows.  We watched as cowboy/police officers patrolled the aisles with ten-gallon hats, metal-studded leather gun holsters, and a severe Walker, Texas Ranger delusion (then again, rumor has it that last year there was both a streaking incident and a person jumping from car-to-car while the train was in motion; a little intimidation keeps the rowdies down).  After two hours of lazily watching the world pass and chatting with fellow riders we arrived at our remote, meadow destination.

The train crashed and killed everyone aboard; we just pulled up to heaven’s front door.


Snowcapped 14ers to the left, a frolic-worthy alpine meadow to the right, dense, coniferous forests to the front and back, and the sparkling jewel in the middle: 24 craft brewery tents, reflecting sunlight from their plastic roofs, seducing us like sirens to their hoppy and malty wares.  21 of the tents housed Colorado breweries and 11 of those were from at least as far south as Colorado Springs; this wasn’t the usual crowd you see at typical Denver-based festivals (Great American Beer Festival excluded, of course), this was a chance to taste some rare, isolated breweries of Colorado.

It’s hard to recount any beer festival in a neat, continuous narrative—too much happening at once.  It’s best (i.e. easiest for me) if I write vignette-style—several mini-stories that, when read together, paint an entire scene.  Enjoy these snack-sized stories.



Towards the beginning of the festival we met Mr. Grumpy Pants of the Ourayle House Brewery but, much like The NeverEnding Story, this was an incident of false advertising; he’s actually a charming, soft-spoken individual. 



Cornhole (don’t call it “bags”) is the greatest lawn game to be invented and, to our fortune, AC Golden Brewing Company brought a set themed to Colorado Native Lager.  Nicole and I played two games and lost both and—salt in the wounds—Danny Wang of CAUTION: Brewing Company—who hosts cornhole championships at his brewery and to whom I waxed macho on my bag-tossing skills—witnessed me in poor form.  I’m usually much better, I swear!  Cornhole and beer creates a lopsided bell curve: the more I drink the better I play until I have that one beer that puts me over the edge and shreds my abilities like a duck through a jet engine.



Ska Brewing brought an orange cream stout which they don’t haul out for just any old occasion.  Unfortunately for me, I was one person too late; the old lady right in front of me got the last pour.  However, kind soul that she was, she splashed a little of hers into my glass after hearing my disappointment.



Nicole and I chatted with two gentlemen with ties to Rocky Mountain Brewery in Colorado Springs, one being the father of a brewer.  We talked about how we like Colorado Native Lager but we don’t like how sneaky it is; it’s a Coors product but “Coors” is nowhere to be found on the packaging.  Stop trying to make consumers think you’re a mom and pop brewery, Coors!  We also talked about Colorado Mountain Brewery which is also in Colorado Springs.  Apparently, the Colorado Mountain guy used to work for Rocky Mountain and now there’s bad blood because he basically stole their name and opened in the same town.  Not cool, dude.


       
It used to be that if you were a brewery located in a secluded, mountain town you didn’t need to push the envelope; you could get by with four or five standard styles of beer (a wheat, a pale ale, an IPA, a porter or stout,…etc.) because you were the only brewery for a few hour’s drive.  Technically, that’s still true which, I suppose, means Three Barrel Brewing Company in Del Norte and Revolution Brewing in Paonia deserve even more applause for their forays into off-the-beaten-path beers: a sour beer and an apple juice beer, respectively.  For all my hippie readers who might be wondering, no, Revolution does not plan on making a beer with that famous Paonia product.



After drinking the beer, my favorite activity at beer festivals is collecting schwag.  At Odell Brewing Co.’s tent, they were giving out tin signs but you had to answer a trivia question first.  I was in my element; I love beer and I love Geeks Who Drink pub quizzes.  I was ready.  The question: “Why do we call it 5 Barrel Pale Ale?”  I flashbacked to when Nicole and I visited CAUTION and Danny told us they were brewing on Odell’s old five barrel system.  Needless to say, I walked home with a new Myrcenary tin sign.



At any festival, the commemorative glass will become quite sullied.  When I went to get an Oskar Blues Brewery beer, I asked if they had any water with which to rinse my glass.  With a wink and a smirk, my server turned to the AC Golden (AKA Coors) rep and asked if he could use some of her beer to wash out my pint.  Hilarity ensued until the AC Golden rep took my glass and dunked it in Oskar Blues’ cooler water.  Eh, whatevs; I’m sure the water's clean enough.



On-mountain entertainment included The Rifters and Chuck Pyle—both of the country/western genre.  I must admit that, while the style of music is one of my least favorite, when the concert’s in this environment, country/western is the only music that makes sense.  I love me some punk rock but the juxtaposition of screeching guitars and unnatural hair color with the Sound of Music setting just doesn’t jive.  It was while sitting and grooving on the honky-tonk that I realized why Rails & Ales gives out whole pint glasses rather than tiny tasters; nobody wants to get up every 30 seconds for a new beer when you’re sitting back, enjoying the show.
The Rifters doing their thing


Aside from a whole lot more beer drinking, that was Nicole and I’s experience at Rails & Ales.  Every time I attend a new festival I always try to rank it in my list of favorites.  I keep Great American Beer Festival at the top because, although it’s impersonal and devoid of live music and scenery, its sheer size trumps all.  I generally put Telluride Blues & Brews Festival in second because of the picturesque peaks and entertainment but, then again, Rails & Ales has that, too.  I suppose the entertainers’ names are bigger at Telluride but the visiting artist has never determined how much I enjoyed a beer festival.  I suppose, also, that the mountains around Telluride are sharper and more dramatic but the festival grounds have easy access to town while Rails & Ales enjoys complete, natural seclusion.  It’s a close call but I have to say that I’ve a new number two.

A thing of beauty (the mountains are neat, too)
We hopped the train and headed back down the mountain.  Rails & Ales may be over but we still had some more beer to drink.  Stay tuned for the conclusion of the Epic Beer Weekend.

Prost!

Chris       



I’m always eager to see what types of beers breweries bring to festivals. I don’t want to have a beer that I can easily buy at the liquor store or a restaurant; I want something unique and exciting. Luckily, many of the breweries at Rails & Ales are from small Colorado towns we haven’t yet visited.

When we got off the train, we had a bird’s eye view of the beer tents in the meadow below. We made a plan concerning which breweries to hit first which included Eske’s Brew Pub & Eatery, Mr. Grumpy Pants, and Odell. Eventually, we made our way to Horsefly Brewing Company’s tent. I had the Jazzy Razzy which, as the name implies, is a raspberry beer. With my glass held up to the sky, I looked at the bright pink liquid—It looks more like a wine cooler than a beer. When I took my first sip, it almost tasted like an Izze soda. This is one of the most refreshing beers one can have on a hot day and probably my favorite beer at the festival.  I wish I had gone back for a second taster come to think of it.

It came to the point where I had tasted enough beer so I found a grassy spot in the meadow and enjoyed the music for a while. When the train came back for us, I mentally prepared myself for two hours of being cramped in a train with a bunch of people sad that their endless flow of beer was being left behind. I was also grateful that the people sitting with us were not the rowdy types. We shared stories of the day as we headed down the mountain.

Nicole


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Epic Beer Weekend: Part I

“Epic” is one of those words thrown around so often that it’s essentially lost its meaning.  To fulfill the definition, something “epic” must involve a hero on a journey; a hero that accomplishes a series of great feats—feats insurmountable for mere mortals.  So, no, that party last night was not epic, it was a couple of drunk college kids playing beer pong and quoting Anchorman.  No, it wasn’t an epic wipeout when you crashed your snowboard, you caught an edge and slipped on your ass.  No, you did not just get back from an epic concert at Red Rocks, it was Dave Matthews.  However, every once in a while, something truly epic—rivaling Homer (the Greek, not the Simpson)—occurs.  Something like the absolutely epic beer weekend Nicole and I just experienced.

The heroics began Thursday night at Do at the Zoo, a fundraising event for the Denver Zoo.  While not specifically a beer event, Great Divide Brewing Co., Wynkoop Brewing Company, and AC Golden Brewing Company kept attendees in good libation.  Extra props to Great Divide, though, because most people would have been satisfied with their ubiquitous line-up (Titan, DPA, and Samurai, basically) but, for true beer geeks, they brought special treats such as Belgian Style Yeti and their new doppelbock, Wolfgang.  I applaud them for not slackin’ even when they totally could have gotten away with it.

That’s not to dis on the other breweries in attendance; Wynkoop may not have brought any rare beers but their three canned offerings always make for good drinking.  Next time you see Wynkoop at a beer festival, grab their new clip-on can handles.  They’re these little plastic handles that snap onto any standard beer can so you can drink it like a mug.  It’s kind of stupid but I thought they were neat.  They didn’t have any extra to give away at the time so I’ll have to come see you again, Wynkoop. 

When you have an event at the zoo, major highlights will always include the animals.  Denver Zoo recently opened the Toyota Elephant Passage exhibit and we had the opportunity to meander through and view the new enclosures.  I was quite fond of the fruit bats because I just think they’re rad.  Also, they reminded me of the fruit bat rescue in Cairns, Australia that Nicole and I visited last summer.


Do at the Zoo shenanigans
Not captivated with the epic-ness yet?  Of course not, the journey’s just begun!  The very next day after Do at the Zoo, Nicole and I headed south on I-25 towards Alamosa for the Rails & Ales Brewfest.  That, alone, requires the designation of “epic” but, beer heroes that we are, Nicole and I added a few off-shoots to the main quest.  The first such off-shoot was Pikes Peak Brewing Company in Monument, Colorado.




Located just off the highway, Pikes Peak is at the end of a little office park but, because it’s at the end, it boasts a large, lush beer garden off to the side.  Unlike many other so-called beer “gardens,” this one has actual grass so you can wriggle your toes in the lawn as you put a few back.

Nicole and I entered the rustic, cabin-like tasting room and took a seat at the bar.  As per our norm, we ordered a flight of everything: Rocky Wheat Ale (5.1% ABV), Gold Rush Belgian Golden Ale (7.4% ABV), The Brits are Back (5.1% ABV), Summit House Stout (7.3% ABV), Summit House Barrel Stout (8.8% ABV), Devil’s Head Red (7.1% ABV), and Elephant Rock IPA (8% ABV).  


Back three: Summit House, Rocky Wheat, and Devil's Head. Middle two: Brits and Barrel Summit House. Front two: Gold Rush and Elephant Rock
Rocky Wheat is cloudy, the color of straw, and smelling of bubblegum.  Banana and spices dominate the tongue.  It’s you typical American-style wheat, basically. 

Gold Rush has a pastel yellow body and a yeast-forward aroma.  The flavor is, likewise, heavy on yeast as well as citrus, a touch of sour, and a touch of bitterness.

An English mild, The Brits are Back is a clear mahogany color with an off-white head.  Toffee and the scent of chocolate ice cream tickle the nasal cavities while a coffee and, again, chocolate ice cream-like flavor soothes the tongue.  Brits is rich, creamy, and smooth (I guess that’s another ice cream parallel; will somebody just make ice cream with this beer already?).         

Black with dark red highlights, Summit House, like Brits, also has a toffee and chocolate aroma but a touch of roasted flavor and an alcoholic burn set it apart.  The velvety mouthfeel takes it right back into Brits territory, though.

Summit House Barrel is very unlike its non-barrel’d brethren.  This beer’s nose is all cherry and hard alcohol while the whisky that was the barrel’s former occupant takes over the beer’s flavor.

Devil’s Head is a rusty red with a malty, caramel-y, lightly hopped aroma.  The flavor is also malt-forward with a suggestion of bittering hops.

Elephant Rock is clear and orange like a mountain sunset.  It’s big on pine aroma and flavor and the bitterness sticks to the back of the tongue like resin. 


Pikes Peak interior
Before leaving our eighty-fourth Colorado brewery, I indulged in a little beer cheese soup, Nicole bought a shirt, and we continued down through Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Walsenburg, over La Veta Pass, and into Alamosa where Nicole’s aunt and uncle provided us with accommodations and their designated driving services.
We got an emergency! Somebody's sober over here!
Having partied at Do at the Zoo, visiting Pikes Peak, and driving all the way to Alamosa, you might think we’d be completely bushed and, well, you’d be right.  But we are beer warriors so we headed to downtown Alamosa and had dinner and a beer at San Luis Valley Brewing Company.  I had Valle Caliente, a Mexican-style lager soaked with Hatch green chili thus imparting an ever-so-slight warming sensation—probably the mildest chili beer I’ve had.  They also have a non-chili’d version called Valle Especial if you’re a spice wimp.  I also snarfed the Brewers Smothered Chili Burger which was messier than Oprah in a cupcake factory but about as tasty as it comes.


Also at San Luis was CAUTION: Brewing Company bigwigs Danny and Betty Wang whom Nicole and I met just a few days prior.  We probably would have seen even more of them at the San Luis block party just outside but, hey, we’re heroes not gods; we badly needed sleep after all the beer adventures we’d already had and I can only imagine what the next would have been like if we hadn’t hit the hay early.

But you’ll hear more about that later.  Stay tuned for part two of our Epic Beer Weekend.

Prost!

Chris



Have I mentioned that I love going to the zoo? Growing up in Denver, I have visited the Denver Zoo many times over the years and every time we go I talk about how it’s changed: “this animal used to be over here and that animal was over there.”  On one of our recent visits, Chris’ brother challenged us to find the elusive red panda.  My childhood visits paid off; I led Chris right to it.

Do at the Zoo, however, allowed us to explore uncharted territory: Toyota Elephant Passage or TEP to the zoo employees. The highlights of TEP:  taking our picture with Groucho, one of the zoo’s Asian elephants, in the background, watching as Asha, the female Asian small-clawed otter, try to play with the unenthused male, Barry Kirin, and crowding into a hollowed out log for a photo-op. Colorado breweries shared the spotlight with local restaurants that highlighted their delicious food offerings. As we shoved some Steubie snacks and fries from the Steuben’s food truck in our faces, we caught a glimpse of celebrity chef Keegan Gerhard, former host of Food Network Challenge, serving up desserts for his sweet shop, D Bar.

The authors and friend Robin
Before heading out on our journey to Alamosa, I did a little bit of research on the breweries along our route. As we pulled up to Pikes Peak Brewing Company, Chris shared a tidbit about why Pikes Peak is not Pike’s Peak.  The U.S. Board on Geographic Names removed most of the apostrophes from geographic locations in 1891 including that in the brewery's namesake mountain.

My favorite brew at Pikes Peak was The Brits are Back because of its creamy mouthfeel.  Although the brewery serves sandwiches, soups, and snacks, they are not made in house but rather at local Colorado Springs restaurants as the brewery’s “kitchen” consists of a Panini grill, a refrigerator, and warming trays. The beer cheese soup came with a pretzel roll drizzled in butter and I think one of those will be my next cooking endeavor.  I know somebody that will help eat some beer cheese soup and pretzel rolls.

San Luis Valley Brewing Company was among the first breweries that we visited in our quest to hit them all. As I looked through my newly created brewery log to see when we first visited San Luis Valley, it was labeled as brewery #50 where it should not have been.  I didn't see it and thought maybe I didn't include it on the list and that our brewery count might be off by one.  Luckily, I referred to my scrapbook and saw that the only page completed was the one for San Luis Valley, the second brewery that we visited. Their beer list has expanded since our first visit. I didn’t try the Settin’ Sail Kiwi Ale, their seasonal beer brewed with kiwi, but my cousin said it was amazing and I will take her word for it. After recommendations to try the Southwest Chorizo Salad or their burgers.  I ended up with the Smoked Bacon, Cheddar & Mushroom Burger. My meal was completed with me dipping fries in the brewer’s signature red chili that sloshed out of Chris’ burger.

Nicole 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Finding Chaka and Discovering Niwot

For a self-professed connoisseur on the subject of Colorado beer, it would behoove me to do a little research on the history of my state’s breweries—especially the major players.  I’ve made it no secret that Nicole and I are attempting to drink at every brewery in Colorado but there are certain restrictions we’ve placed on ourselves.  Significant to this particular post, the rule that, if a brewery has more than one brewing site, only the first site counts—outpost brewing facilities do not count.  For example, only the Breckenridge Brewery in Breckenridge can be added to the list; although their Denver site produces the bulk of their beer, it wasn’t the first in the Breckenridge family thus Nicole and I do not consider it relevant to the mission.    

This self-imposed rule has caused some frustration lately.  Namely, with Oskar Blues Brewery.  When Nicole and I started this beer-drinking journey a few years ago, Oskar Blues was one of the first we visited.  However, we went to the Tasty Weasel Tap Room which, while boasting a funky-awesome drinking environment, is not the original brewing site (we did not know that at the time).  To rectify the situation, Nicole and I headed north this past Wednesday to officially cross Oskar Blues off the list and to visit a fledgling brewery in the process.

Or so we thought.

It’s kind of embarrassing to mess the same situation up twice.  We went to Oskar Blues Home Made Liquids & Solids because somebody who’s apparently as ill-informed as me told us that it was the first in the Oskar Blues family.  ERRRRNT (that’s my attempt at a buzzer onomatopoeia)!  It was, in fact, Oskar Blues Grill & Brew that claims that honor.  What’s more frustrating is that we “accidently” went to Grill & Brew first but, upon realizing we weren’t at Home Made Liquids & Solids, turned tail.  Fate led us in the right direction but we weren’t perceptive enough to pick up what it was laying down.

It wasn’t a total disaster, though; in fact, some very fortunate events took place as a result of visiting Home Made Liquids & Solids.  We took a seat outside on the back patio which features some impressive landscaping in the form of trees, flowers, a small stream and pond, and a spewing keg fountain prompting Nicole to make the observation that Home Made Liquids & Solids is similar to a miniature Stone Brewing Co. which has a phenomenal outdoor drinking space.  This prompted me to make the joke that they should rename Home Made Liquids & Solids to Pebble Brewing Company.  This prompted Nicole to roll her eyes.

The ambiance was great, to be sure, but my eyes widened like a schoolboy with his first Playboy when I noticed they were still serving Chaka, the collaboration beer between Oskar Blues and Indianapolis’ Sun King Brewery.  When I read the press release for this beer I knew I had to get my greedy paws on it.  It represents the two states in which I’ve lived, it represents two breweries that I love, and, even though you get the same beer whether you order it in Colorado or Indiana, the design on the artillery shell-shaped, re-sealable can is different.  If, for example, you buy Chaka in Colorado then you get a blue-and-orange can with the mountain design found on Oskar Blues products except, if you look close, the sun shining down on the peaks is the same angry Aztec face found on Sun King beers.  The Indiana cans, on the other hand, are also blue and orange but with the Aztec face front and center—I’m not sure if there’s an Oskar Blues allusion on those cans or not.

I poured my Chaka (8% ABV) into a glass and admired its dark, ruby color—like a blood orange.  Thin, off-white head holds in a fruity, apple-like aroma with hints of plum and wood.  There’s no detectable hop character in the nose.  The flavor is yeast-forward and sweet with more hints of plum and a warming, alcoholic quality noticeable in the throat.  It’s quite the tasty beer but I think it might have been better to release it in the autumn rather than the summer—that seems like the more appropriate season for this type of beer.

Our waitress was kind enough to wash out our Chaka cans so that I could take them home and add them to my collection.  Now, I just need somebody in Indianapolis to pick me up the Sun King version before they sell out. 

We finished up at Home Made Liquids & Solids and headed for Niwot, Colorado.  “Where the hell is Niwot?” you may ask.  Personally, I’d never heard of it, either, but, surprisingly, it’s quite close—just outside of Boulder, in fact.  Believe me, it would have remained as unexplored as Atlantis if it weren’t for the fact that Bootstrap Brewing recently opened shop in town.  So recently, in fact, that Nicole and I were there on the first day for paying customers!  We got in even before the grand opening and were probably the 8th or 9th customers to walk through their doors.  I’d like to say we were the first to purchase a beer but some of the local beer geeks bellied-up before I could.  I was, however, the first customer to take a leak in their bathroom so that has to count for something.

The locals waiting for Bootstrap to open

This is how far I was from being the first paying customer



We ordered Backfire Chili Beer (4.5% ABV), a hazy, light yellow brew that smells like those little red pepper flakes you shake on pizza.  It’s no Ghost Face Killah when it comes to the burn but it’s spicy enough to put you in your place.  It’s somewhat similar to Una Mas at Renegade Brewing Company and I’m sure that, like Una Mas, it would go great in beer cheese soup.

Backfire Chili Beer
I’m not sure when the grand opening is set to occur but I encourage you to check out Bootstrap next time you’re in the Boulder-area—it’s really not too far out of town.  Niwot may be a speck on the map but the brewery isn’t in the most obvious location so write down the address and use a GPS if available.  Be on the look-out for the burgundy logo that reads simply “BS.”  It’s perhaps not the most well thought-out acronym but, then again, their full logo features a stamping bull so methinks there’s a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor going on in Niwot. 

Nicole and I are currently sittin’ pretty with 83 breweries under our belts.  Unless, of course, you want to dock us one because we technically haven’t been to Oskar Blues’ original facility.  I figure we tried to go there twice and, in the process, went to two different Oskar Blues watering holes.  That’s like getting two half points which add up to one full point (at least, that’s how my mind justifies it).  I think we can fudge the numbers a bit and keep it at 83 for the time being.

Prost!

Chris  

Nice touch, Bootstrap

Recycled beer bottle bar top at Bootstrap

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The CAUTION/Venus Flytrap Connection

CAUTION: Brewing Company: an inverse analogy to the Venus flytrap.  To the insect, the flytrap appears to be a mere, harmless plant.  More than harmless, actually, since the sweet nectar of the flytrap fools the bug into believing it’s about to indulge in a mighty feast.  But then—SNAP!—the hungry little bug becomes a meal himself.  An unassuming exterior hides a sinister plot.  Consider, then, CAUTION: Brewing Company.  What connotations are associated with the word caution?  Danger.  Trepidation.  Basically, you don’t want to be near anything labeled with that word.  However, unlike the flytrap, this brewery’s exterior betrays its true, benevolent nature; there is little to be wary of once you’re in the tasting room unless, of course, you’re afraid of good beer.

Before CAUTION, Nicole, her parents, and I visited the Denver Botanic Gardens for a Father’s Day jaunt and pretty much every thought that went through my head was “that trellis would be great for my hop plants.”  We’ve noticed a lot of fruit flies buzzing around our kitchen lately so, before leaving, we stopped by the gift shop and purchased the aforementioned carnivorous plant.  We’ve been asked more than once “what’s his name?”  Well, I suppose the cliché name would be Audrey II but then I got to thinking that the best name for a Venus flytrap would be no name at all.  Because it’s a plant.  It’s not going to come when you call it, people. 

CAUTION is, unless my geography is incorrect, the easternmost brewery in Denver; the last one to hit before arriving at the airport (or the first one to hit when you fly back).  Driving out as far as you do you’d think you were in Aurora but, no, Peoria and I-70 is still, technically, D-Town.

Once you exit the highway—good luck; CAUTION isn’t in the most obvious place as it’s tucked deep inside a warehouse/office park.  That’s not a unique place to put a brewery—consider Strange Brewing Company, Upslope BrewingCompany, et al—but, in this case, you can’t even see CAUTION from the road.  Make sure you do a little Google Maps research before visiting this particular brewery. 

Yep, there's a brewery in there
The taproom is sparse.  There’s a burgeoning sticker collection plastered on one wall, the bar is lovely with diamond plating and a veneered wood top, they have a TV screen with live Facebook and Twitter feed along with live temperature reads on the fermenting tanks, and the stickman logo is painted on the other side of the room but, beyond that, be prepared for stark ambiance.  I mean that as neither praise nor criticism—merely fact.  True, I do appreciate a little flair found in the rec room-stylings of Crazy Mountain Brewing Company but the vibe can also be overdone thus imparting an impersonal and inauthentic restaurant-like feel to the place.  CAUTION, you’re doing fine in the ambiance department.  Maybe hang a few more things from the wall if you got time but no rush—I prefer underplayed to overplayed.


Nicole and I ordered the sample platter which consisted of Lao Wang Lager (5.1% ABV), Wild Blonde (4.6% ABV), Honey Matrimony (5.9% ABV), Hippity Hops (7.5% ABV), and Toaster Bat Black (8.5% ABV).

Left to right, back to front: Lao Wang, Wild Blonde, Honey Matrimony, Hippity Hops, and Toaster Bat.  Also, a Venus flytrap.
Lao Wang Lager is CAUTION’s flagship beer.  It is also the house beer of Lao Wang Noodle House—owned and operated by brewmaster Danny Wang’s parents and brewmistress Betty Wang’s parents-in-law.  On one hand, this pale yellow lager is simple and clean.  On the other hand, the wild rice and “secret Asian spices” add just enough twist to make a unique brew.  There’s a certain spiciness that’s not unlike Great Divide Brewing Co.’s Samurai which makes me think that, since both contain rice, it must be this rice that imparts such flavor.  Then again, maybe it’s those “secret Asian spices.”  It’s probably just me but when I hear the phrase “secret Asian spices” all I can think of is that classic Calgon commercial.

Me: How do you get your beer so spicy, Mr. Wang?
Danny: Shh, secret Asian spices.

Cut to: backroom

Betty: My husband, some hotshot! Here’s his secret Asian spices: baby panda dandruff!  Baby panda dandruff help Lao Wang Lager get up to 30% spicier. 

Betty pokes head into front room

Betty: We need more baby panda dandruff!
Me: Secret Asian spices, huh?

Danny points cocked gun at my head

Danny: You know too much.

End Scene

Wild Blonde is a rich yellow with light-to-nearly-nonexistent aroma.  It’s  flowery and sweet like nectar and is a great, straightforward beer for summertime imbibing.

Honey Matrimony’s a brown ale with a deep ruby-caramel color and an off-white/beige head.  This is a malt-forward beer and is reminiscent of typical Scottish-style ales albeit with sweet undertones courtesy of the honey adjunct.  A touch of roast flavor rounds out this brew.

Brewed with chrysanthemum and Chinese rock brown sugar, Hippity Hops isn’t your grandpa’s IPA.  The color and aroma are one in the same: orange.  This hazy beer is a little pine-y, a little citrusy, and a little bitter but not overt in any category; it’s very well-rounded.

The oil-black beer that is Toaster Bat features a rich brown head and a smoky aroma that reminds one of cooking bacon.  This robust porter is big on roasted flavors making for a campfire-like taste.

The best thing CAUTION has going for it is the fact that all their beers are at the same time unique and approachable.  They each have a little extra something, be it chrysanthemum, honey, or “secret Asian spices,” but they’re also well-balanced and very drinkable.  They are smack-dab in the middle of the spectrum between Rogue Ales’ über-experimental and utterly unpalatable VooDoo Doughnut Bacon Maple Ale and the throngs of unimaginative, boring, but easy-drinking beers offered by the big names in domestic beer.  CAUTION walks the experimental/drinkable tightrope quite expertly.

While at CAUTION, we overheard that Hogshead Brewery—a new Sloan Lake-area brewery—was in its soft opening stage and that we could visit them, too.  We pulled up to their parking lot and, despite the fact that their website says they’re open, they most certainly were not.  And that’s the annoying part—please do not post hours unless you are serving at said hours (at the time of this writing, they have taken their hours off the website).  I popped my head in anyway and the guy behind the bar was either rude or their English accent just made them sound uppity; yeah, dude, I do see that the sign says “closed” but I also see people drinking inside, I see the hours on your website, I see that the “closed” sign says you’ll be open at 12pm (it was well after 12 at the time), and some folks at CAUTION said to check you out so that’s four things that say “open” against one thing that says you’re closed.  Don’t be a d-bag; it’s unbecoming to craft beer culture. 

At any rate, we were unable to procure a drink.  Nicole and I will still go back, of course, for the sake of the mission (CAUTION being number 82 in the Colorado brewery count) and maybe they’ll win me over yet but, then again, you know what they say about first impressions.

You won’t need to twist my arm to go back to CAUTION, though; they’re out in the prairie but the beer’s worth it.  Plus, they hold cornhole tournaments (thank you for calling it by the proper name, CAUTION; those who call it “bags” ought to be shot).  I look forward to having some more of their beers at the upcoming Rails & Ales Brewfest in Alamosa.  We’ll see ya there, Danny and Betty. 

The former Odell 5-barrel system now the CAUTION system 
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Prost!

Chris    


Friday, June 15, 2012

Cerveza en Colorado

Most times, when a new brewery starts up in or around Denver, Nicole and I are there within a week or two of the grand opening.  Renegade Brewing Company and Denver Beer Co.?  We were there just a few days after their doors opened.  Arvada Beer Company?  We got there before the grand opening and drank at the soft opening.  I pride myself on keeping abreast of new taprooms however, every once in a while, it takes an embarrassingly long time for Nicole and I to hit a “new” brewery—like five years.  We’ve remedied the situation, though; we can finally add number 81 to the list of visited Colorado breweries: Del Norte Brewing Co.—purveyors of Mexican-style lagers (Yes, they’re located in Denver, not Del Norte; the one in Del Norte is called Three Barrel Brewing Co.)

There is a brewery in there, believe it or not
The delay’s not all our fault, though.  In fact, we tried to drink at Del Norte two years ago but we ran into a little snag.  According to brand manager Aaron Jones (whom we met at Brew at the Zoo), Del Norte reversed the natural order of upstart breweries: they hit distribution hard and then concentrated on creating an on-premise tasting room.  On Nicole and I’s first attempt, there was no place for the public to drink—just a small space at the far end of a loading dock in an area of town that’s not exactly known for its law-abiding citizenry.  Driving down the long, industrial lot to Del Norte feels like you’re about to meet a mob boss rather than visit a brewery.    We didn’t stay long on that first trip lest a boulder from the nearby rock-crushing factory (I don’t know what they really do but crushing rocks is what it looked like they do) crumple our car or a transient meth-head gut me for the $3 in my pocket. 

We're either headed for a brewery or a mugging.  I can't tell which.
We never forgot, though, and finally made it back this past Friday to get ourselves a little Mexican liquid love.  But first, a tangent: I don’t like it when American brewers claim to brew “Mexican-style” beers because, in my opinion, there’s no such thing.  A typical Mexican beer is really an attempted imitation of a German or Bohemian Pilsner.  PacificoCorona?  Those flavors—save for the acrid piss adjunct—aren’t unique to Mexican beers, they’re just (poorly) copying the beers of the Old World.  It drives the point home when you take into account names of certain Mexican and Latin American beers like Bohemia and Costa Rica’s Pilsen and Imperial which features a German war-hawk logo (okay, maybe it's not a "war-hawk" per se but all German insignia looks pretty intimidating)—their names scream “Europe!”  Thus, when American brewers make “Mexican beer” they’re really just emulating an emulation.  This goes for you, too, Mexican Logger from Ska.

Never mind the minutiae, let’s get back to the story.  Driving up to Del Norte you can really tell their emphasis is on bottling and distribution and not on-site drinking.  The roadside sign is hand-painted on what appears to be plywood—the kind of craftsmanship usually reserved for signs reading “Garage Sale,” “Free Couch,” or “Bobby Jay & Susie Mae’s Weding Ree-sepshun.” 

The tasting room is cozy and resplendent with signage and awards from all the beer festivals Del Norte’s attended.  Nicole and I grabbed a table and ordered El Guapo, a Bohemian Pilsner, because it was the only Del Norte beer I’ve yet to drink.  A word of warning to those planning a visit: bring cash.  Credit cards are not accepted.  The bartender informed me of this as he pointed to the wall as if to indicate a sign that said as much.  I saw no such sign—I think he was just pointing to the air to confuse me.

El Guapo is, besides an allusion to one of my favorite movies, a clear, goldenrod color with an off-white head and a light, sweet aroma.  There’s hint of noble hop bitterness in the flavor but it’s but a touch.  El Guapo is also a bit yeasty and tasting of a pretzel. 

As we drank and assessed El Guapo, we were met by a fellow named Martin Noreke who owns a business called FirkinSense.  From what I gathered, his company creates software systems for small breweries so that brewers can focus on making beer and not on inventory, cash flow, sales, and things of that ilk.  They’re trying to win a $250,000 grant from Chase and LivingSocial and—guess what?—you can help them out!  Go to www.missionsmallbusiness.com, login via Facebook, search for “FirkinSense,” and vote.  They only need 250 votes so get cracking on it.
El Guapo

Before we left I took the quickie tour of the facility i.e. the bartender opened the door to the back and I walked around for a few minutes admiring the shiny tanks.  You can tell just by looking that Del Norte’s focus is on distribution—they have a lot more equipment than the average Colorado brewery.

After visiting Del Norte, my thoughts on the brewery are pretty much the same as before because I’ve imbibed most all of their beers—just not where said beers were birthed.  They make solid, traditional beers that are great for quenching a mid-summer thirst but, if you’re looking for any unique beer interpretations, look elsewhere—Del Norte’s all about the clean and simple.

Prost!

Chris     



Thursday, June 7, 2012

Porch Beers to the Extreme

To be a craft beer mecca, one must, of course, have great beer.  There’re other factors that go into the creation of a beer hotspot, though.  For one, you must have the support of the people.  It’s a chicken-or-the-egg situation in Colorado: do we love beer because there are so many breweries or are there so many breweries because we love beer?  Whatever the reason, we’re packing our state full of ales and lagers and—greedy little beer geeks that we are—we keep asking for more.  Decent weather is also a major plus.  There’s something romantic about drinking a strong, dark beer beside a crackling hearth as a rainstorm rivaling Noah’s deluge falls outside—it’s just so classically English to drink in such situations.  However, given the choice, I’ll take shorts, sandals, a porch, and a sunburn with my beer.  Colorado has all the makings: great beer, great support, and great weather.  The new Lowry Beer Garden, located on the old Lowry Air Force Base, has wisely capitalized on all of these assets.



Last weekend, Nicole and I visited my brother and his family and, considerate people that we are, kidnapped their oldest child and whisked her off to the playground so that her parents might have a few hours to rest, work around the house, and dote upon the new baby.  After much swinging, sliding, climbing, and failed ransom attempts, we returned their daughter and celebrated the reunion with a trip to the week-old (at the time) Lowry Beer Garden located next door to the Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum.  Generally, I’m not an aeronautical aficionado but there’s something awe-inspiring about sipping suds in the shadow of a stationary (but nonetheless intimidating) giant, silver cargo plane.  Or is that a bomber?  I don’t know—It’s a big, flying thingy; that’s the extent of my aircraft knowledge.    

I don't know what kind of plane that is, I just know it's badass

On the other side of the Lowry Beer Garden is an old hangar that’s been converted to storage units.  Being surrounded by aviation history, the Lowry Beer Garden has picked up subtle inspirations from its environment.  Take, for example, the gently curved roof that mirrors that of the neighboring hangar.  Let me just say that, when I make my millions, I’m building an overhang just like that at Lowry Beer Garden; it’s huge, it’s beautiful with wooden beams, and it just looks like a great place to throw a party.  If Colorado were a rainier state, it would be nice to sit under that immense span and listen to the rain pitter-patter on the roof as one stays warm and dry underneath with a finely-crafted beer in hand.  But, Colorado is pretty darn dry so the aforementioned situation will be a rare occurrence.

We entered under a bold and sturdy gateway, showed our IDs, and stepped into an open expanse populated with picnic, patio, and ping pong tables.  Before we could enter, though, my brother had to put the kids’ stroller back into the car as it was considered a fire escape impediment.  This didn’t make much sense to me because, hey, we’re outside; the only thing keeping us in the beer garden is a waist-high decorative chain.  If a fire comes ripping through this joint, I’m not lining up single file and heading out the front gate—there’s three completely open sides to this square.  I’m hoppin’ the nearest chain and getting the hell out of there.  The law’s the law, though, and Lowry Beer Garden has to follow the rules even when they don’t make sense. 

I ordered the Dortmunder from Copper Kettle Brewing Company and took a look at the food menu.  The choices are essentially limited to brats, burgers, and snacks (including one big-ass pretzel) but there are many choices within those two categories and they’re all pretty much awesome.  I had a burger with chili and a fried egg that made my eyes roll back into my head when I bit into it.  I’m looking forward to the elk and jalapeno brat on my next visit.  A heads up to the newcomer: a server will take your beer order and bring it to you at your table but you have to go up to the counter to order and pick up food. 

Lowry Beer Garden is not a brewery but it supports Denver’s status as craft beer capital not by making its own beer but by providing a stellar environment in which to imbibe fine beers from Colorado, the U.S., and the world.  Plus, it encourages communal drinking.  When we went it wasn’t too crowded but I can only imagine how many new drinking buddies one could make on a busy night or—good Lord—during Oktoberfest.
  
When the weather’s nice, head out to the Lowry Beer Garden and soak up some sun as beer soaks into you.  When the weather’s not so nice, still, head out to the Lowry Beer Garden and find a seat under that big, curved overhang.  Anytime you want a porch beer brought to the extreme, Lowry Beer Garden’s got the ticket.  Check them out next time you’re in the neighborhood.

Prost!

Chris   

I'm building this in my backyard as soon as I win the lottery