"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!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Station 26 Douses the Flames of Beer Craving

What did you want to be when you grew up?  An astronaut?  A truck driver?  A dinosaur wrangler?  Many people aspired to be firefighter.  And why not?  They carry an axe, they drive a rad truck, and there’s a reason many playgrounds include a fireman’s pole on their jungle gyms—they’re fun!  Alas, as time slipped away, dreams of Dalmatians, fiery rescues, and asking motorists to put money in a big, rubber boot faded into the ether.  Next thing you know, you’re crammed in a cubicle with a noose-like necktie and a Machiavellian manager/overlord who’s ready to give you the old heave-ho the minute you miss your quota.  This is your life now.  Somewhere along the line, you traded in a Nomex jacket for a three-piece suit and you traded in firehouse chili for a sad, little bologna-on-white-bread sandwich wrapped in plastic (you write your name on it but somebody still keeps stealing it from the break room fridge!).  The flicker of fluorescents a mocking reminder of the flames you dreamt of dousing.

There’s hope yet.  There’s a chance for you to resurrect your youthful ambition—albeit briefly—and enjoy a nice glass of beer while you’re at it.  I speak of Denver’s newest brewery, Station 26 Brewing Co., built in the remnants of an old firehouse. 

Way out east in the Stapleton neighborhood, Station 26 is situated just off Quebec Street between the tent-shaped Renaissance Denver Hotel and Martin Luther King, Jr. Park.  The exterior remains largely unchanged from its years as an operational firehouse: a wall of garage doors from which fire engines once roared out in pursuit of conflagrations, towers and antennae housing all manner of equipment, and simple, no-nonsense brick walls.  Indeed, if one were to remove the word “Brewing” from the front of the building, the place would look much as it did prior to its suds-slinging days.

Cherrywood-Smoked Golden Ale (the red wall is actually a fire hose)

No heroes will be sliding down this pole

The interior continues the theme although in a more stylized fashion.  For example, the wall on which the taps are attached is, in fact, covered with a deflated red fire hose.  The brass poles countless firefighters have slid down are intact (even if the holes in the ceiling have been filled in) and the under-bar coat hooks are actually industrial-grade pipe faucets.  The communal tables, while not exactly fire-related, look great with their butcher-block tops and the shiny, metal brewing tanks—in full view from the taproom—are an impressive substitute for the laddered vehicles which once idled in the same space. 

While we didn’t have much time to spend, Nicole and I squeezed in a couple of brews including Cherrywood-Smoked Golden Ale, a beer that’s not technically a rauchbier yet still possesses an undeniable smoky quality.  It isn’t the intense, BBQ flavor oft found in rauchbiers.  It’s a subtle smoke, not an asphyxiating one.  Peel off that oxygen mask, you won’t need it with this beer. 

As we took in the ambiance, Nicole and I overheard the bartenders converse about their hopes of drawing in out-of-town cowboys and ranchers from the National Western Stock Show (Nicole and I did pass a lot of horse trailers on our way to Station 26; they’re definitely in the area).  That got me wondering about craft beer’s target audience.  On one hand, I imagine salt-of-the-earth folks drink nothing but the same ‘Merican beer their pappy drank on the old homestead’s front porch, none of that hoity-toity, artsy-fartsy craft beer junk (never minding that many of those craft beers are truly American while most macrobeers are majority owned by foreign interests).  On the other hand, we’re also talking about rodeo riders, here: risk-takers, adventurers, manly-men.  If they got the guts to strap themselves onto a 2,000 pound, horned quadruped with a bad attitude or un-ironically wear a bolo tie in public then what excuse do they have for not trying a different beer from time to time?  I know that Elevation Beer Co., rodeo grounds adjacent, gets a lot of cowboy clientele (of course, they pretty much stick to the 8 Second Kӧlsch, hardly dabbling in the more advanced stuff) so why not Station 26?  Stock Show attendees certainly represent a tough demographic for craft beer to crack but it’s not an impossible endeavor and it’s important to open up new markets so that craft beer can continue to grow.  Now, we just need to wrap about eight rolls of duct tape around Toby Keith’s head so he can never again spout the asinine philosophy that “you sir do not have a pair of testicles / If you prefer drinkin' from glass” thus poisoning the minds of these potential craft customers.

Whether you’re a buckaroo, a wannabe firefighter, or somebody who just plain likes beer, Station 26 is the place to be.  Have a seat, have a beer, and, if you’re lucky, you’ll find the marble in the oatmeal and get to drink from the firehose (don’t ask me to explain, just click the link).



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.



Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Kicking off 2014 with Westminster Brewing and Jagged Mountain

A new year.  A fresh start.  A time of resolutions, a time of self-reflection.  A time of coming up short.  We make promises to ourselves: “I’m going to get into the best shape of my life!”  We delude ourselves: “I’m going to work out at the gym every day!”  We succumb to failure: “Ah, screw it; might as well pack on a few pounds for the winter.”  The key to avoiding a January letdown?  The secret to a successful New Year’s resolution?  Easy—promise yourself something you were going to do anyway.  Every year I resolve to visit more Colorado breweries and—guess what?—I’ve never been disappointed.  Thanks to Westminster Brewing Co. and Jagged Mountain Craft Brewery, 2014 is already shaping up to be a fruitful year.

Nicole and I’s first brewery visit of 2014 took us to the city of Westminster and the brewery bearing its name.  Nicole usually does the in-metro driving while I helm the wheel for longer trips and, when we visited Westminster Brewing, I was glad I wasn’t navigating.  There are no landmarks in that town (okay, there’s one—the Westminster Castle which adorns the brewery’s logo—but one impressive spire doesn’t do much for sight-guided course-plotting).  While it may seem a critical statement, it’s true to say our drive to the brewery was decorated with the scenery of architecturally-identical shopping malls, tract housing, and open prairie; there’s just not much a-doing in that ‘burb.  It’s a testament to craft beer that Nicole and I would willingly set aside time to journey into the heart of such a place for the sole purpose of wrapping our hands around a nice glass of beer because, quite frankly, I can’t envision myself in Westminster for any other reason (Kokopelli Beer Company will likely be the reason for our next visit).

The exterior of Westminster Brewing doesn’t do much to catch the eye what with it being located in an unremarkable beige-and-tan, plaster-walled commercial strip which, itself, is located in fairly featureless, semi-rural area.  The inconspicuous spot is, essentially, Westminster in microcosm.

The interior, though hardly extravagant, is a little more jazzed-up: local artwork hangs from the wall,  red glass light fixtures sway above the tables, and distressed wood accent pieces liven the place up a bit.  It isn’t exactly Pee-Wee’s Playhouse but, then again, the focus of any brewery ought to be on the beer, not on feng shui.  For a brewery, Westminster Brewing’s taproom is everything it needs to be and nothing it shouldn’t.   

We ordered a flight of six beers: 12 Apostles German Ale (5.4% ABV), Shiva Extra Pale Ale (4.6% ABV), Irish Ale (5.1% ABV), Moses Chocolate Porter (5.8% ABV), 1066 English Bitter (4.7% ABV), and American Pale Ale (5.9% ABV).

Left to right: 12 Apostles, Shiva, Irish Ale, Moses, 1066, and American Pale Ale

12 Apostles is exceedingly clear and vaguely pale, straw yellow in color.  With bready and floral smells and flavors, it’s a delightful, crisp refresher of a beer. 

A light copper color with faint whiffs of hops, Shiva tastes of toffee and caramel with bittering hops playing a supporting role.

Brew equipment at Westminster Brewing

Irish Ale features a brown body with hints of red highlights.  It has a toasted aroma with a suggestion of molasses and it tastes of a complex malt make-up.

Moses, a black-with-brown-highlights beer, features a roasted flavor with chocolate-y sweetness in the aftertaste. 

1066 is much like Shiva in appearance—a bright, coppery color—but features a more pronounced hoppy bitterness.  It shares the same toffee-like flavor, too.

The American Pale Ale is essentially a marginally darker version of 1066 or Shiva.  It packs the most hops out of any of the other offerings but is expertly balanced with a malt backbone.   

Cask handles at Westminster Brewing
The heart-and-soul of Westminster Brewing is in their cask beers but, because the brewery is so new, they weren’t yet able to serve on that option.  In weeks to come, expect to find some traditional, hand-pumped beers.  I’m usually of the mind that good beer is made great when served on either nitro or cask and, based on what we had at Westminster Brewing, I predict their cask ales will be quite phenomenal. 

Our next stop was a brewery in a building far removed from the steppe-laden surroundings of Westminster Brewing.  Instead of a quiet, pastoral setting, it’s situated in the hustle and bustle of downtown Denver yet, despite its urban setting, the taproom décor is a visual ode to the wild, rugged, Colorado frontier.  I speak of Jagged Mountain Craft Brewery.

Once a shelter for off-duty horse-drawn carriages, the Jagged Mountain brewery is on the busy intersection of 20th and Lawrence, a few blocks from Coors Field, and on the way for many fans walking to catch a Rockies game yet it retains a rustic flair with Edison filament bulbs, large-format photographs of sweeping, spiky mountain ranges, and climbing gear embellishing exposed and weathered brick walls.

Saddled up to the bar, Nicole and I ordered Redpoint (9% ABV), a “Belgo-American Red Rye Double IPA,” and Spearhead (8% ABV), a saison.

Left to right: Spearhead and Redpoint

Redpoint is a murky, brown/red with a touch of tan in the foam.  Its piney hop aroma preambles the flavor which is spiced up front and hoppy and bitter in the finish.

Spearhead is a clear, bright yellow.  It boasts fruity scents and a peppery spiced flavor.
Brew equipment at Jagged Mountain
With about 40 minutes left on our meter, Nicole and I also ordered the Zero Gravity saison and the Acute Malted Scottish ale but didn’t take the time to take detailed notes. 

If you’re feeling trapped in the urban jungle, if you hear the call of the wild, and if you yearn for the peace and solitude of the high country yet find yourself trapped in a high-rise prison of glass and steel, then brave the noisy streets of downtown Denver and find your mountain oasis in the desert of civilization at Jagged Mountain.  While there, be sure to donate to their “The Jagged Pack Project” and give a local homeless person a leg-up.

2014, you’re already proving to be a great year and here’s hoping we can keep these good times steaming on all the way through 2015; with so many new (and old) Colorado breweries yet to visit, I’m confident we’ll have taken yet another sizeable chunk out of the local brewing scene.