"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!

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.).