"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, January 11, 2014

The Great SandLot Debate: VISIT DENVER's January Travel Writer Reception

Oh, what do you do with a problem like The SandLot?  It presents a philosophical conundrum to the ardent craft beer supporter.  On one hand, it’s well known that this tiny, ten-barrel brewhouse is, in fact, a single tentacle on the Cthulhu that is Coors.  While this miniscule brewing facility nestled into the northeast corner of a baseball stadium accounts for but a fraction of Coors’ overall production and profit it still, nonetheless, serves the master of R'lyeh

On the other hand, damn, their beer is exquisite!  Blue Moon Belgian White—the most famous beer to have been created at SandLot—is often derided but, if we’re being honest with ourselves, it’s a fine beer; it’s expertly crafted and holds its ground when compared to other beers of the style.  Furthermore, while that particular witbier may be the best known brew to have originated at Coors Field, it’s certainly not the only.  In fact, the tap list at SandLot is vast, ever-changing, and full of boundary-defying, experimental beers the likes of which are rarely seen outside of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery.  They don’t do boring at SandLot, no sir, and, believe it or not, they have a lot of Great American Beer Festival and World Beer Cup medals to prove their worth. 

One might call SandLot a “crafty” brewery and, while the “craft v. crafty” debate is a fairly new controversy, it’s gotten so much internet play that it seems as though we’ve been talking about it forever.  The conversation may have been discussed to death but, in my opinion, it should never be outright ignored; there’s still a problem with the world when beers owned by mega-corporations can masquerade as mom-and-pop products.  I find it unnerving that the consumer can’t see the word “Coors” on a Blue Moon label.  Nowadays, any beer geek who’s been a part of the craft community for a few months or so knows who owns who; when they want to support a small, local business, they know where to turn.  I do still worry about those who are just getting into the beer lifestyle—people who are well-meaning advocates of small businesses who simply don’t know who’s benefiting from their purchases.  I imagine the number of people deceived into buying macrobeer is, with today’s easy access to information, quite small.  “Small” is not a synonym for “nonexistent,” though; anytime anybody unwittingly buys MillerCoors or Anheuser-Busch when they think they’re supporting an independent business is a problem. 
Nice spread in front of the brewing equipment
Take note: I don’t claim macrobrewed beer is bad.  Oftentimes, it is bad (e.g. Bud Light Platinum, Keystone Ice…etc.) but other times it’s really, really good (e.g. pretty much any of AC Golden Brewing Company’s sour beers).  For me, it’s not about flavor but about honesty.  If you intend to buy macrobeer, that’s fine—do what you do.  If you intend to buy craft but were duped into buying otherwise, well, that gets my hackles up.  If you choose to support a small business then it’s devious for a corporation to pull the wool over the consumer’s eyes, trick them into buying their product instead of what the consumer actually wants. 

Now that I’ve aired my thoughts and concerns, I can get to my point; Nicole and I were invited by VISIT DENVER to attend the January Travel Writer Reception, an opportunity for people who write about and promote Denver to eat, drink, and mingle at SandLot.  Of course, Beer in Colorado has a broader focus (all of Colorado, not just Denver) and Nicole and I, obviously, keep our posts centered on beer but, if you think about it, we’re travel bloggers as much as we are beer bloggers.  We don’t just write about beer, we write about visiting breweries, the journey to and from taprooms, the people we meet along the way, and the other non-booze related activities that occur on our trips.  Yes, we are beer evangelists but we’re also Colorado (and Denver) evangelists.

John Legnard speaks to the crowd

The event was also a chance for the Coors Field staff to show off their new “Rooftop Deck Project” which will soon house a CHUBurger and the 5280 Craft Bar (with those two establishments in development and an active brewery already in place, is Coors Field, in fact, the most craft-centric stadium in the MLB?) as well as to showcase their in-house beers and meet head brewer John Legnard. 

Here are a few highlights from the night:

·         Legnard explained some of the more curious aspects of the brewery.  For one, SandLot, while housed in a baseball stadium, is actually in a building older than the stadium itself.  Before the Coors Field era, that part of town was dotted with early-20th-Century brick-and-mortar warehouses (it still is although most of them have been transformed into condos, art studios, and restaurants by this point).  The SandLot sits in one such building.  In keeping with the adage “they don’t build ‘em like they used to,” urban legend claims the warehouse was so well constructed it couldn’t be torn down—the developers were forced to build the stadium around it.  When you’re at the bar, look to the garage doors on the north wall and notice how you’re standing on higher ground—about as high as the back end of a tractor trailer.  You’re standing on the former loading docks. 
Hangin' with Legnard

·         Ownership of SandLot is very much a gray area.  There is a corner of the taproom devoted to brewing operations where all the equipment is situated safely behind floor-to-ceiling glass.  Everything within that glass box is owned and operated by Coors while everything outside is owned and operated by the Colorado Rockies organization.

·         Legnard talked about the many weird and wonderful beers made at SandLot including the beer/wine hybrids Golden Knot and Crimson Crossing (both of which I sampled and enjoyed).  The brewers made sure the recipes for each featured 51% malted barley and 49% grape juice so as to keep the libations technically classified as “beer” and to avoid the high taxation of wine.   
Golden Knot

·         The other beers I tried were Tongue Thai-ed (noticeable lemongrass flavor), Short Straw Farmhouse Red (a touch sour in the finish), Move Back (short for “Move back to Chicago, local Cubs fans, if you think Chicago is so great,” a name with which any Denver sports fan can relate), Pine in the Neck (piney, as you might expect), Valencia Grove Amber (a hint of orange citrus flavor), and Clueless Beer Writer which, I think, is a bit confrontational but, then again, when you’re brewing tasty beer all the while being harangued for your corporate ownership, I can see how the brewers could get a little sensitive. 

·         I tried to press Legnard on how much of the “competition’s” beer would actually be served at the new CHUBurger and 5280 Craft Bar (the name on the building does say “Coors,” after all; I can see how there might be territorial issues).  He claimed to be out of the loop on such insider knowledge.  I guess we’ll have to wait until opening day to find out.

·         The artist’s renditions of the Rooftop look phenomenal!  Aside from great burgers and (hopefully) great beer on tap, this new deck will have the most killer view of the ballpark, the mountains, and the city skyline; it’s going to be a crowded spot on fireworks games.  The renditions did raise a few concerns, though; if you look closely, many of the stock image spectators look like d-bag hipsters or mean girlfriends.  Plus, I think the graphic designer may be from Arizona because the Jumbotron shows a Diamondback player with his hands raised in victory.  This designer better not curse us with his futuristic vision—unsavory clientele and divisional losses could put a damper on even the best views and brews.

Look at this tool in the highwaters
This doofus, too, with the ironic bowtie
Why's she being so pissy?
Why would they show the D-Backs on the big screen?

We thank VISIT DENVER for the invite and we hope to stay on their radars for future events.  I’ll leave you with a call to action: never stop drinking the beer you love.  If you want a Blue Moon, by God, have yourself a Blue Moon!  I do ask, though, that you remain an informed consumer.  Know where your beer comes from, be skeptical of advertisements, and don’t get hoodwinked by savvy marketing.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong—morally or flavorfully—with drinking a Coors product so long as it’s your choice to do so.  I do urge you, however, to never forget the small brewers; support them, too.  There’s room for everybody in the Colorado beer scene.



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