"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