"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, December 31, 2013

2013: The Year of the Beer

Another year’s about to be put down in the books; let’s reminiscence on the past twelve months, shall we?

·         To elaborate more on the Beer Bloggers Conference (BBC), it was, like Nicole and I’s previous BBC experience, more fun than should ever be allowed.  We met plenty of beer friends both new and old and I had the great honor of meeting Jim Koch and drinking a $190 beer poured by his very hands.  Also, in a beer swap, Zack of Raising the Barstool gave us Sam Adams’ Brewlywed Ale for Nicole and I’s impending nuptials; thanks again, Zack. 

·         I reached a milestone 500 unique beers on Untappd.  At the exact time of this writing, I’ve nearly doubled that with 862 unique beers. 

·         I received a killer pair of authentic lederhosen to wear at German-themed events, beer events, and, if Nicole would allow me, everyday errands and activities. 

·         An article I wrote for Denver off the Wagon (click here) spawned a segment on 9 News (click here). 

And that just about sums up the year, folks; here’s to you and yours and all the new beer you’ll drink in 2014!



2013 was supposed to be the year in which I wrote about my adventures in cooking with beer.  While I did do a lot of cooking with fine, Colorado brews, I never actually got around to writing much about it.  While at the Beer Bloggers Conference, our friend Zack inspired me to start testing recipes and eventually write my own cookbook so I rushed home, found several recipes, and made a delicious beer pairing dinner for our friends.  I took pictures, I took notes, but that was about as far as I got.  Thus, my New Year’s resolution is to sit down and write about the recipes, the beers I used, and the pairings that go with them.  Someday I will get to that cookbook.  Hopefully.


Monday, December 30, 2013

Mini-Beercation: Phoenix

Epic vacations can be memorable, life-altering experiences but quick, mini-vacations have merit, too.  The mini-vacation is much less stressful, easier on the wallet, and offers a glimpse into another world without having to fully immersing oneself into said world—it’s the appetizer to the weeks-long vacation’s main course.  A taste.  A morsel.  A dollop.  It was just such a soupçon Nicole and I experienced in Phoenix, Arizona between Christmas and New Year’s.

The impetus for our southwesterly, weekend excursion was the wedding of Nicole’s friend, Zac.  I knew I wasn’t going to know anybody there, Nicole knew it, and, to entice my introverted, stranger-averse self to the deserts of central Arizona, she hung the carrot of local breweries in front of my face.

We visited a total of four breweries while in the area (most were in Scottsdale); they were all quick visits and consisted of one beer at each location.  Is that enough to obtain a full understanding, a full appreciation of the Phoenix beer scene?  No, absolutely not.  This was a mini-vacation and we were snacking, not gorging.

First stop: Fate Brewing Company.  “Hey, wait a minute,” Colorado beer geeks might say to themselves, “isn’t Fate in Boulder?”  Indeed, but, because the proprietors of both breweries kick ass and don’t get all pissy about trademarks (*cough* Sixpoint Brewery *cough* Strange Brewing in Massachusetts *cough* 7 Seas Brewing), they both manage to eke out a business without besieging each other with lawyers; they’re chill guys and they’re not looking to undercut anybody.  Two breweries operating under the same name might cause an iota of confusion and frustration but, in the end, tis better to endure minor inconveniences than to burn bridges with fellow brewers. 
Fate is nestled in a strip mall and, while the exterior is wholly uninteresting, the taproom is quite quaint with glass lighting fixtures, wooden accents, and a white-washed ceiling reminiscent of a New England beach house.  Their seven barrel brewing system is on full display behind a large pane of glass.  While there, I enjoyed their hoptacular American Pale Ale and a pile of their scrumptious potato-slice nachos. 

Next up: Papago Brewing Co..  Papago, like Fate, is huddled in a strip mall setting.  Unlike Fate, however, which is in a fairly straightforward, normal-looking mall, Papago’s shopping center is so gaudily southwestern it looks like Kokopelli’s timeshare: stucco walls, desert-worn vigas, and a Mexican restaurant color scheme.  You have to blame the site developer for the flamboyancy, though; Papago is just a tenant. 

The interior of Papago is a mish-mash of styles.  The rough-hewn beams and saloon-style chairs are rustic and frontier, the tap handle decor and big screen TVs scream “sports bar,” the massive bottle collection housed behind refrigerated glass doors makes the place look like a liquor store, and the life-sized statue of a monk greeting guests at the entrance imparts a decidedly Belgian air.  I ordered Elsie’s Irish Coffee Milk Stout which was just about the most decadent and delicious stout you can imagine; it tastes like a cold cup of coffee with a healthy dose of Bailey’s Irish Cream stirred in.      

After Papago, we ducked into Four Peaks Brewing Company or, to be more accurate, we ducked into Four Peaks’ secondary restaurant location which, to the best of my knowledge, does not have an on-site brewing facility but does, of course, serve Four Peaks beer.  Surprise!  It, too, is in a mall.
We asked about their seasonal offerings and were told they had their flagship Kilt Lifter Scottish ale on cask and dry-hopped.  A dry-hopped Scottish ale?  Certainly, traditional ales of Caledonia feature low-to-no hop flavor or aroma but, if you know me, you know I’m ardently against strict adherence to beer traditions.  Traditions kill inspiration and prevent the adventurous brewer from expanding his or her repertoire.  Just because something’s been done a certain way for centuries doesn’t mean it’s the right way; it just means nobody’s had the guts to try anything different.  Please, keep the old styles alive but never, never let ancient ways restrict the progress of the American craft beer revolution.  Anyway, this Scottish ale had a delightfully lemony flavor that you’re definitely not going to find in other Scottish-style beers. 

We called it a night but, since the next day’s wedding was set for late in the afternoon, we still had time the next morning to squeeze in one more brewery: Sun Up Brewing Co.  Sun Up was the only brewery we visited in Phoenix-proper and the only brewery in a stand-alone building.  It was also the most difficult to get to because, just our luck, it’s situated on the Fiesta Bowl Parade route.  With a little fancy maneuvering, we managed to park in a nearby neighborhood and walk to Sun Up all the while taking in the pageantry that marched past. 

A few quick words on the parade: Arizona, like Florida, has the reputation of being the place where old folks go to die.  It’s basically a 113,990 square mile retirement home.  I can’t speak to the exactitude of these assumptions but, when your capital city’s largest one-day spectator event features both scantily-clad all-senior (that being senior citizens not seniors in high school or college) cheerleading brigades and a convoy of past and present Miss Senior beauty pageant winners, well,  you’re not doing much to change people’s minds.  Nicole did thoroughly enjoy the stampede of carts drawn by shaggy, miniature horses, though.

Sun Up
Sun Up’s building—with corrugated tin roof and red brick façade—looks like it might have once been an old prospector’s hut.  It’s cozy and I don’t mean that as a euphemism for “too small”—it’s really very comfortable and intimate.  As the parade rolled past outside, I drank their Trooper IPA on cask with Simcoe hops added.

That was the last brewery we visited on our short jaunt to Arizona.  The wedding was lovely and the reception was raucous but the beer selection was limited to mostly-domestic macrobeers.  That’s the hardest part about being a beer geek—realizing not everybody in the world has the same affinity for beer as yourself.  Most people are able to have a fine time with nothing but Budweiser and Heineken and not think twice about it.  Not me.  If it were my wedding, I’d consider it an utter failure if the guests didn’t have a wide selection of craft beer from which to choose but, hey, that’s my priority for a good party because beer is my passion.  Not to say I didn’t have fun, of course, but good times are made greater when American craft beer’s on tap.  Besides, the beer at the reception helped get me my “Light Weight” badge on Untappd and put me a few steps closer to the “All American” badge.

We can’t tell you much about the breweries of Phoenix but we got a sampling of the Sonoran beer scene.  Experts on Arizona beer we are not but, like parched travelers on the lurching hump of a wandering camel, we espied an oasis amongst the rocks and cactuses; an oasis that—unlike the usual, boring, springs of water—flowed forth from the walls of taprooms.  Good beer in Arizona is no mirage—dive right in.



Monday, December 16, 2013

Dark Beer: The Wintertime Remedy

For the life of me, I’ll never understand why people in Colorado bitch about the snow.  For one, this is Colorado; this sort of meteorological phenomenon ought to be expected.  If we were living in Key West and a blizzard blew through then I’d understand the surprise—not so startling when you live in the Rockies.  Secondly, snow brings to the state a ton of tourist ski dollars and, when the white stuff melts, it moistens our trees and bushes thus lessening the impact of wildfires.  Plus, it should be noted that more melted snow equals more water for the breweries to convert into beer.  So, if you wish to see a weak economy, more forest fires, and less suds then, by all means, keep belly-aching.  Otherwise, zip it!  You can’t control the weather, there’s no point complaining about something that can’t be changed, you might as well make the best of it.  I, for one, take advantage of the chilly weather by indulging in decadent, belly-warming dark beers and Nicole and I certainly got our fill this past weekend at Wynkoop Brewing Co.’s Parade of Darks

The weather, though maligned by Colorado’s weaker citizens, was perfect for a festival focused on beers amber-colored or darker.  The short jaunt from the Union Station light rail to Denver’s iconic brewpub was bitingly cold, cutting through the flesh, icing the bones, and freezing the marrow.  My fingertips were turning white and it felt as if a claw of icicles was clutching at my heart.  What kept us going, however, was the promise of aggressive, core-heating Russian imperial stouts.

We burst through the main entrance, a flurry of frigid air swirling behind us like a shaved ice tornado as we took my place in line near the rear staircase, keeping to the side as brewery reps plodded up and down the steps with festival draft systems, logo schwag, and pints of beer in hand, preparing for the grandest spectacle in opaque ale.  The wintry nip that had so inundated our bodies just minutes before melted from anticipation.

Once we reached the top, when we stepped into the English-pub-inspired top floor of Wynkoop, we grabbed our taster glasses and stood in awe of the rows of booths pouring black beer.  Sure, this was our third time at Parade of Darks but a year’s hiatus between each event can give one amnesia; you forget just how impressive it all is until you return and are reminded of its grandeur.  Here are a few highlights from the event:

·         The AC Golden Brewing Company has long been for me a philosophical conundrum.  I am a great supporter of independent craft breweries and have always spoken out against “crafty beer” even before it became a hot topic with the Brewers Association.  On the other hand, I’m also a proponent of quality beer regardless of its source; luckily, 99% of the time that source is indeed an independent brewery, saving me from making a hypocrite of myself.  The Coors-owned AC Golden, however, produces both “crafty beer” and delicious beer thus I find myself at an impasse.  To squirm my way out the corner I’ve painted myself into, I say that the brewers of AC Golden are at the top of their game, leaders in their industry—they just play for the wrong team (although, at least one of them is using his talents and going into business for himself).  The point I’m trying to make, I suppose, is that the Framboise Noir they brought to Parade of Darks is excellent—a very puckering fruit sour ale.  If you, like me, have a hyper-inflated beer conscience, turn off the part of your brain that tells you the beer is technically owned by a mega-corporation and turn on the part that says, “Hot damn, that’s a fine beer!”

·         Twisted Pine Brewing Company was getting creative with some of their offerings; they served up a beer cocktail called Hot Shot—a near-full pour of Big Shot Espresso Stout with a splash of Ghost Face Killah.  The resulting concoction wasn’t unlike Copper Kettle Brewing Co.’s Mexican Chocolate Stout: a rich, dark beer with a peppery finish.  Interesting side note: the coffee beans in Big Shot come from Boulder’s Unseen Bean and they’re roasted by Gerry Leary who’s blind from birth.  Apparently, he can tell when the beans are ready by sound and scent.
·         Just because most breweries at festivals pour out of a Rubbermaid cooler doesn’t mean their draft system needs to be primitive.  Phantom Canyon BrewingCompany, for example, served their Zebulon’s Peated Porter on cask and Our Mutual Friend Malt & Brew had their Winter Warmer randalled with vanilla beans and oak chips.  Don’t let the cooler hold back your creativity, breweries; with enough ingenuity, you can fancy-up your taps for any situation. 
That's one mean-lookin' mutha of a can
·         Man, I thought those 19.2 ounce “royal pint” cans from Oskar Blues Brewery and Upslope Brewing Company were pretty gnarly until I saw Mission Brewery’s 32 ounce monsters.  Honestly, I would never buy a single beer of that size; I have a promiscuous palate and I feel I’d get bored drinking that much of one beer (I guess they’re probably intended to be shared but whatever).  Nonetheless, I can still marvel at the sheer immensity of those glorious mini-kegs.  I’ve seen the Grand Canyon, I’ve seen the Great Barrier Reef, and now I can say I’ve seen a beer the size of a motor oil can.
·         I don’t care what the beers taste like at Verboten Brewing (for the record, I think they taste pretty good), I’ll always order from them if only because of their clever, pop culture-referencing names.  “What Hump?” isn’t just an iconic quote from one of Mel Brooks’ most classic films, it’s also a mighty tasty sour porter
·         The host brewery wasn’t sitting on its laurels, no sir.  Wynkoop came well prepared with Brewjolais Nouveau, a purple, wine-like beer with a bunch of ingredients you probably can’t pronounce e.g. marash chili peppers, cuit la coche, and foch grapes.  It’s a funky intermingling of components and it all comes together in something that challenges the perception of what it means to be a beer.  It’s a good brew, just be prepared for something unusual. 
·         Of course, Parade of Darks isn’t all about beer, it’s also about raising money for those in need.  $14,734 were raised for Metro CareRing based on ticket prices alone.  At the time of this writing, the money raised through the silent auction hadn’t yet been calculated (Nicole won the Grimm Brothers Brewhouse package with a growler, a neoprene growler holder, and two shirts).  Last year, Parade of Darks raised approximately $14,000 so it looks like they’re on pace to breeze past the record!

Silent auction at Parade of Darks

Fully fortified, we left Parade of Darks and embraced the glacial winds that whipped past, futilely attempting to make us shiver and curse our supposed misfortune for living in such a frigid city and state.  Nuts to that!  With numbed nose, foggy sunglasses, and a snifter of barleywine, we laugh in the face of the elements and we count my blessings because, while dark beers are wonderful, they’re impossible to enjoy in balmy weather.  Who ever thought a porter would hit the spot on a sweaty day on a California beach and who ever had the notion that a quadrupel would pair well with a sweltering Fourth of July BBQ?  Nobody, that’s who.  Wintertime is black beer time and, by God, we’re going to enjoy it!   



At Black Bottle Brewery's table: that's just inappropriate  

That might be a little more inappropriate  

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Catching-Up with the Breweries of Boulder

It’s been awhile since Nicole and I visited a new Colorado brewery and we’ve been playing catch-up.  While our fair state continues to add more and more places to grab house-made craft beer, we’ve been lagging, falling behind.  How can we ever expect to visit every brewery in Colorado when we fail to keep up with all the new openings?  We needed to remedy the situation and, on a recent trip to Boulder, remedy we did when we visited three new breweries: FATE Brewing Company, BRU Handbuilt Ales, Wild Woods Brewery, and, while technically not a new brewery by our standards (we only count original locations), the new Upslope Brewing Company facility in Flatiron Park.

FATE was the first place on our list and, if you can find the front door through the windy, labyrinthine business park roads and parking lots, you’ll be greeted with a rustic façade complete with a wooden fence, a wagon wheel, and rusted metal paneling that’s quite the contrast to the surrounding corporate offices, law firms, and other such blandness.  FATE is a little bit of the rough-and-rugged mountains set down amidst a sea of suit-and-tie city folk. 

The interior of FATE has a less pastoral vibe but leans more towards rural modernism: stark concrete, knotty, dark wood accent pieces, and more oxidized metal paneling.  Our waitress seated us and, because Nicole is quite the fan of pumpkin beers, we ordered Pumpkin Saison with Chai SpicesSmoked Imperial PumpkinAle, and Nitro Cascadian Dark Pumpkin.  Pumpkin Saison features a light, pumpkin pie spiced aroma but the Belgian yeast is more noticeable.  It is a pale, clear, straw-yellow color and it tastes mostly of chai spices.  Smoked Imperial Pumpkin is slightly opaque and coppery orange.  The aroma and flavor are both lightly smoked and the pumpkin flavor is minimal.  With a thick, tan head and a deep mahogany body, Nitro Cascadian Dark Pumpkin smells and tastes chocolate-y and, true to the nitro style, features a creamy mouthfeel.   

Left to right: Smoked Imperial Pumpkin, Nitro Cascadian Dark Pumpkin, & Pumpkin Saison

When you visit FATE, know that it’s quite the gastropub, too; the menu is artisanal yet hearty and their breakfast grits are the second best I’ve ever eaten (after the shrimp and grits plate at Jonesy’s EatBar, of course).  Come to FATE both thirsty and hungry and you won’t be disappointed.

Our next stop, BRU, was just about a mile away down Arapahoe Ave. and, much like FATE, it’s a brewery stuck in the middle of an inconspicuous business complex.  Unlike FATE’s countrified exterior, BRU’s outward  appearances do little to set itself apart from the rest of the units in its building; to the nonchalant customer, BRU, at a glance, might as well be just another jazzercise gym or dingy massage parlor of suspicious repute.  Once you walk inside, though, it becomes abundantly clear that the outside betrays the wonderland lying within.  The best term I can think of to describe the interior of BRU is “hipster’s antique shop.”  Look inside the tin-roofed brew room and see the walls lined with shiny tin tiles usually seen on the ceilings of Old West saloons.  Look behind the bar and see the tap handle pulls made of garage sale items like old-timey whisks, potato mashers, waffle irons, and ice cream scoopers.  Look on the walls and see weathered, metals letters spelling “BRU” and a funky little flip-book thingy near the restrooms where, if you crank the handle, you’ll see a running horse.  The BRU taproom is eclectic, artistic, and the polar opposite of its exterior.

The beer, likewise, is interesting and fun.  We enjoyed a flight of Sour Mash Abbey Brown, Osito Stout, Sasquash Pumpkin Porter, Loch Wee Heavy, and Roasted Apricot Trippel.  Sour Mash reminded me of cherries both in aroma and flavor.  It has a puckering finish and is the color of a shiny penny.  Osito is a coffee stout and—no surprises here—drinking Osito is akin to drinking coffee.  It’s black with a chocolate-brown froth and, while it looks like a straight, black cup o’ Joe, there isn’t an intense roasted malt bitterness; there’s something in it that cuts the bite.  Sasquash is a black beer with red highlights.  It tastes roasted but with traces of pumpkin flavor; it’s mostly porter with pumpkin acting as back-up.  Russet brown with a caramel and toffee aroma, Loch Wee Heavy features a complex, earthy, malt backbone.  The Roasted Apricot is goldenrod yellow and the eponymous fruit is obvious on both nose and palate.  It finishes with a Belgian spice aftertaste. 

Left to right: Sour Mash, Osito, Sasquash, Loch Wee Heavy, and Roasted Apricot
After another short drive (less than half a mile; the area around Arapahoe Ave. has become quite the Boulder brewery hotspot), we arrived at Wild Woods which, keeping with the apparent theme of the off-Arapahoe brewing scene, is located deep in the heart of an unremarkable-looking industrial complex.  Yet, like BRU, the taproom décor does much to make patrons forget their physical location, putting them in a wilderness frame of mind with green paint, landscape photos of canyons and mountains, cabin-like wood walls, and an enormous, well-glossed, thinly-shaved section of tree trunk serving as a communal table.  A little sprucing up (in the case of Wild Woods, literally the coniferous tree) can do wonders for even the dullest of spaces.

While there, we sampled Campfire Red, Smores Stout, and Ponderosa Porter.  Campfire Red appears as a clear, red-copper liquid and wafts scents of toffee.  It tastes mildly smoky and peaty.  Smores Stout is dark as oil but with exceptionally faint red highlights when viewed with a strong light source.  In general, roasted flavors and aromas dominate this beer.  Ponderosa Porter was your typical, everyday porter but with some wonderful vanilla flavors swirling about.   

Smores on left, Campfire on right
To cap off our Boulder brewery tour, we headed a mile or so north to attend Upslope’s 5th anniversary party in their newest location in Flatiron Park.  Surprise!  Upslope is also situated in an industrial strip!  Many of these breweries truly are destinations.  Yet, once again, the taproom interior proved much more interesting than the outside appearances suggested.  Heck, the inside of Upslope is downright chic!  There’s a cool, concrete bar top with taps suspended from the ceiling in silver tubes, there’s a blown-up graphic organizer of beer styles adorning one wall, and the large windows looking out on the brew floor gives customers a glimpse into the inner workings of a brewery (of course, for the anniversary party, Upslope had the brew floor open to the public so attendees could really get a feel for the equipment).

While there, Nicole and I enjoyed samples of many a sundry beer including a session peach ale, a bourbon-barrel pumpkin ale, a Thai-spiced IPA, and an IPA aged in a cabernet barrel.  The show-stopper, however, was undoubtedly their 5th Anniversary Ale—an imperial stout aged for three months in Dancing Pines Distillery bourbon barrels.  It was, to say the least, a powerful beer and, since Upslope was the last stop on our grand Boulder tour, I could only drink a little before pouring the rest out; it’s a fantastic beer but, damn, all the beers from the previous three breweries had been taking kidney shots on me all day and, thoroughly weakened, 5th Anniversary was about to go for the knock-out blow.  Passed out on the floor is no way to end a lovely day of touring breweries so I was forced to leave 5th Anniversary Ale largely un-drank.   
5th Anniversary Ale

Our trip to Boulder helped get us back on track but, as each new day ticks by, more and more breweries open across the state.  Even right in Boulder there are three Nicole and I had neither time nor endurance to visit (Sanitas Brewing Co., The Kettle & Stone Brewing Co., and J Wells Brewery).  It’s the nature of the beast—I highly doubt we’ll ever be able to visit all the breweries in this fine, suds-soaked state of ours but darn it if we’re not going to have a lot of fun trying.




Saturday, November 9, 2013

Class-Up Your Drinking Experience with Beethoven & Brews

Craft beer pairs well with lots of things.  The most obvious pairing would be with food (see: Bridgewater Grill’s Colorado Beer Tour, Denver Bacon & Beer Festival, Chef & Brew Festival…etc.) but, from time to time, craft beer is paired with something a little more imaginative.  For example, beer’s been paired with curling, with trains, and, the focus of this post, with classical music.

This weekend, the Colorado Symphony hosted Beethoven & Brews at The Magnolia Hotel ballroom where Ludwig’s soaring notes, played in a chamber setting, harmonized with wafts of hops and malts from OdellBrewing Co.’s 90 Shilling, Mountain Standard, IPA, and Isolation.

If you’re reading this blog, you probably have an affinity for beer be it a burning passion for suds or merely a passing interest.  Regardless, you’ve been to a brewery or a beer festival and you’ve seen the people in attendance; they’re usually a little scruffy, a little dressed-down, and always a bit boisterous.  In short, they’re not what you might consider “high society.”  What is considered high society entertainment is a classical music concert.  Was Beethoven & Brews destined to be a disaster or an event where members of “both sides of the tracks” could complement each other?  Could the “slobs” hang with the “snobs” without conflict?  The answer: yes—to an extent.

The beer geeks tried to dress up the best they could; that usually meant a clean pair of jeans, an un-tucked, button-up, plaid shirt, and their “nice” Merrell slip-ons.  The beer geeks tried to respect the music with their undivided attention but there was a constant din when fingers met keyboard and bow met string, a mild annoyance to the musicians, I’m sure.  The beer geeks tried to learn a thing or two about Beethoven’s life but, when the pianist mentioned the next piece was a “sublime movement,” I heard somebody whisper that they had a sublime movement earlier that day (P.S. that person was me; Nicole rolled her eyes and told me she couldn’t take me anywhere).

Not every mixing was so oil-and-water, though; both beer geeks and music aficionados both left with a little more knowledge of the other side.  Try as they might to resist, boorish beer folk left the ballroom more cultured than when they came in and the appreciators of classical music left a little more craft savvy.  For example, when waiting in line for a sample of Mountain Standard, one of the more musically inclined guests was talking to the Odell rep.  The rep asked the guest what beer’s he liked to which the guest replied, with some trouble finding his words, “light ales.”  Of course, the beer geeks know that’s an exceptionally vague answer—many, many styles of beer might fit that definition.  If a music aficionado asked me what my favorite instrument was and I said “string instruments” he would have said, “So, what?  Violins?  Violas?  Cellos?  Mandolins?  Harps?  Bouzoukis?”  Then I would have answered “Bouzouki” because that’s a rad-sounding name.  Anyway, the Odell rep guided the guest towards a beer he’d probably enjoy and, in the process, gave the guest a little education on craft beer.

Beethoven & Brews is akin to half of all romantic comedies ever made: a person from one part of society meets a person from the opposite part of society, they fall in love, the parents get mad over the arrangement, but, in the end, both sides rub off on each other and the film ends with everybody having a deeper understanding of how the other half lives.  It’s a learning experience for all.

If you, too, wish to class-up your drinking experience, Beethoven & Brews will be back February 7th (featuring Funkwerks) and May 9th (featuring Denver Beer Co.).



Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Great American Beer Festival 2013

Saturday night session attendees start to pour in
There’s no convincing me that Denver is anything less than the greatest beer city in America.  While “greatest” may technically be a qualitative, unsubstantiated designation, in my mind, it’s a scientific conclusion.  On many levels, Denver ties for greatest beer city; there are other cities with as many (or more) breweries, there are other cities that have renowned, influential breweries, and there are other cities that have their public image tied-in with beer.  It’s all give and take; where one city lacks, another excels thus presenting a dead heat.  Until, of course, you consider the tie-breaking element which shatters the “everybody’s a winner!” mentality like a beer bottle in a bar brawl: the biggest selection of American craft beer in the world, the Super Bowl of brewing competitions, the envy of all other beer cities, Great American Beer Festival (GABF)!

San Diego, Portland, Asheville,…etc.: you can crow all you want about your beer scene and, honestly, I agree; you all have wonderful beer.  Nonetheless, if you want to prove yourself to the beer-drinking nation, you got to come to Denver—to GABF!  Here are a few highlights from the most epic beer festival to grace this earth.

·         It has become my custom in recent years to attend both the Thursday and Saturday night sessions.  Thursday is essentially the Saturday afternoon members-only session except with non-members: people are a little more serious about the craft, they’re there to talk, sip, and savor fine beer, and there’s much less puking, shoving, and yelling “Oooooooh!” every time somebody drops a plastic tasting cup on the concrete floor.  Saturday, on the other hand, is composed mostly of people that give beer geeks a bad name: machismo frat bros, skanky-looking girls, and people slamming craft beer with complete disregard to the art and history that went behind its creation.  Thursday is for beer geeks, Saturday is for beer chuggers, and I find the dichotomy of the two nights endlessly fascinating.

·         Since Nicole and I received media passes, we were admitted early entrance.  During the Saturday night session, as our friends waited in line outside, we witnessed a very different GABF than most people are used to seeing: the transition from one session to another.  The members-only session had ended and the convention center staff and GABF volunteers where frantically cleaning up the place—picking up broken glass, mopping vomit, and riding their Zamboni-esque vacuum cleaners—only to have it befouled again once the Saturday night attendees arrived.  It’s an unearthly experience too see GABF so quiet, un-crowded, and well lit.  It’s like a ghost town; the booths are all set-up and ready but there’s nobody jostling for a sample.  Eerie.    
·         One piece of advice I can impart upon a GABF newbie is that, if you’re looking to sample from a popular brewery, move fast!  I’m native to Indiana and, on the Thursday session, I really wanted to try some Hoosier-made beers.  While I didn’t necessarily rush to get to Three Floyds Brewing Co., I didn’t put it off until the end of the night, either.  Yet, amazingly, all of their beers were tapped out within 90 minutes of the doors opening!  We managed to get a few tastes very early Saturday night but, if you’re only attending one session, plan your time accordingly.  

·         Each year, I find one or two standout beers from the most inconspicuous of breweries.  This year, my hat goes off to Very Nice Brewing Company in Nederland, CO and their Greener’s Gruit Ale.  Gruit ales—hop-less beers of Scottish origin that balance the sweetness of malts with herbs and spices such as rosemary, berries, and spruce—are a rare find in the famously hop-headed U.S.  It makes a Colorado beer geek proud to see such a niche style being made at a tiny brewery in a secluded mountain town; most breweries of Very Nice’s size and location wouldn’t bother with such esoteric beers but, in Colorado, everybody’s an adventurous brewer.  Quick history lesson: it’s not just gruits, most beers from Scotland have little to no hops.  Why?  Even though contemporary Scotland and England are both under the U.K. umbrella, the two regions share a bloody history (remember Braveheart?) and the centuries-old conflict has left residual resentment.  In England, hops are prolific while Scotland’s northern climate prevents any such crop from growing meaning that, if a brewery in Scotland wanted hops, they had to do business with the English.  A traditional Scottish brewer would refuse to “taint” his beer with the plants from those minky basturts down south.

·         I noticed that Sixpoint Brewery was in attendance and—cheeky S.O.B.s—they brought Righteous Ale; the beer for which they gave Renegade Brewing Company so much headache (click here for the story).  I had to give it a try, see what the fuss was all about.  I walked up to the booth, bit my tongue hard as the brewery rep poured my sample, and gave it a sip.  I’m not just saying this because I think the Sixpoint executive team is composed of a bunch of d-bags, I actually, truly, honestly think that their Righteous Ale is swill when compared to the once similarly-named IPA from Renegade. 
·         I’m a fan of sour beers and, as a proud German-American, I like to get my hands on a good Berliner Weisse whenever possible.  As much as I love Berliner Weisse, I’ve never had it the true Berlin way: with Himbeere (raspberry syrup) or Waldmeister (woodruff syrup) to cut the acidic tartness.  Woodfour Brewing Company let me experience what I’ve been missing out on all these years.  While they didn’t have woodruff, they had a squirt bottle of raspberry syrup which they put in the glass prior to pouring the beer.  It’s an interesting way to drink a Berliner Weisse and not altogether unpleasant but, if I order a sour beer then, dammit, I want it to be sour!  The syrup is a cool gimmick but I’ll take my beer straight, thank you very much.  

·         To give myself a plan rather than wander aimlessly about the convention center, I tweeted out to the world asking for recommendations from each region of the United States.  It is, of course, the Great American Beer Festival and I wanted to know the best of the best in each corner of the nation.  I came fairly close to tasting all the recommendations and, while I won’t be specific, some folks are lucky to live near such fantastic beer.  In regards to the other folks, well, if that’s the best beer from your area then, good God, your craft beer scene has some catching up to do.

Cool German/Colorado hybrid; I wish they were das Boot-sized, though

·         GABF is more than just a giant tasting event, it’s also a competition.  I admit, I put very little credence into beer judging; I think people’s palates vary too widely for anybody to say with any certainty that one beer is better than another.  That said, I still like gloating over how Colorado is better than everybody else so here’s a few quick statistics from the 2013 GABF results.  Including all medals (gold, silver, and bronze), California won the most with 52, Colorado was second with 46, and Oregon was third with 25.  If you only count gold medals, however, Colorado is first with 19, California is second with 16, and Oregon is third with 10.  Celebrate your 36 silvers and bronzes all you want, Cali, it just means you came in second and third a lot.  Colorado focused on the medal that really counts; we have the most champions!  It’s said that it’s not about quantity, it’s about quality, but, with more gold medals than any other state, Colorado actually has the highest quantity of quality. 
Some beers run out quicker than others
And so another GABF has come and gone, the out-of-towners have shuffled home, and Denver is in detox mode.  It’s always a bit of a let-down, the days following GABF, like the day after Christmas; there’s a big build-up and then, suddenly, nothing.  There’s frantic activity followed immediately by the calm.  It’s depressing.  However, that depression is easily overcome in America’s best beer city, where beer festivals are as common as BBQ in Kansas City, Taxis in New York, or mopey musicians in Seattle.  GABF is over but the beer still flows!  I’ll see you at the next event, Denver.



This year was the third time I attended GABF; the first year was overwhelming, the second year I mapped out the must-have beers to better utilize my time, and this year I concentrated on pumpkin beers.  When people in our group scattered about the room to find their next sample, I walked from booth to booth, read the signs, searching for new pumpkin beers (or old ones I already knew I liked).  Occasionally, I’d try a sour, an IPA (usually only if I liked the name), or something experimental and reminiscent of a holiday dessert.  Two of my favorite beers of GABF come from Ohio’s Rivertown Brewing Company meaning that, unfortunately, I can only find them at GABF or on a summer road trip.  I lover their Roebling Imperial Robust Porter which tastes like a fudgy brownie topped with vanilla ice cream as well as their Pumpkin Ale.  I enjoy a good dessert so it only makes sense that I would like these sweet, decadent beers.  Along those lines, another stand-out was the Gingerbread Stout from Buffalo Bayou Brewing Co.  I think I had five or six samples of this beer alone; I enjoyed it that much.

I’d like to give a shout-out to Weasel Boy Brewing Company in Zanesville, OH—my godfather’s hometown.  I tasted their Snow Ermine Honey Vanilla Porter just so I could tell him I had a beer from his hometown.  It tasted like Christmas in a glass and I had to get several re-fills because I don’t know the next time I’ll pass through Zanesville.

One of my favorite breweries for pumpkin beers is Elysian Brewing Co., from Seattle.  They brought Dark O’ the Moon which puts a very spicy, cinnamon-y twist on the pumpkin beer style.  The next time I pick up this beer, I’m using it to make homemade chocolate ice cream.

It wouldn’t be GABF without some of the most popular, domestic beers.  Until this year, I had never tried Coors Banquet and, to keep with the macrobrewery theme, I also had some Miller High Life and Budweiser.  I’m not going to buy these beers so I might as well sample them when they’re available; they’re still good for Untappd credits.