"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, May 15, 2014

New Brew Fest showcases Colorado's greenhorn breweries

Brewery oversaturation: a played-out idea.  It’s not real (at least not for another few decades).  There are a thousand reasons why the notion of brewery oversaturation is a crock but I’ll leave you to your own devices on that one; search the internet and find the mythbusting facts for yourself (you can start here).

Since that little alarmist’s cry has been stifled, people have been conjuring up new ways to rain on craft beer’s parade.  Now, it’s not about how many new breweries are opening, it’s about how many new breweries are good.  It’s become a quality issue and, if you talk to Chicken Little, a few bad beers are poised to take down the entire industry.  Again I say, get on Google and search the topic yourself.  There’s no shortage of doomsayer articles.

I’m not writing a treatise on why the quality debate should, like the oversaturation debate, be dropped but I can’t help but make a few points.  First, commercial Darwinism is real.  The strong breweries will survive while the weak wither and die.  I hate to see any craft brewery close but that’s the cold, harsh reality of capitalism.  Paying customers will weed out subpar breweries before they do any real damage to craft beer’s overall public image. 
Whistle Stop Park

Secondly, the definition of “bad beer” is very, very subjective.  Official BJCP style guidelines exist but, in the end, customers drink whatever they want to drink regardless of whether or not it fits a certain parameter.  In Denver, there are breweries most “experts” deem as in need of improvement yet walk by any given weekend and the place is crammed with thirsty patrons.  You can rationalize it, say those patrons are idiots for supporting such a lacking establishment, but it doesn’t change the fact that the brewery is doing good business and people are enjoying their experience.  All due respect to the late Paul Walker but, if it were in my hands, I’d scrub the earth clean of every copy of every Fast and Furious movie because it’s an undeniably insipid film franchise.  But, it’s also a successful franchise and hasn’t done anything to diminish the erudite reputation of Cannes’ arthouse films.  This reality is paralleled in craft beer.  

Lastly, who’s to say good beer isn’t destroying the craft beer industry?  Pliny the Younger and Heady Topper are the Citizen Kane of craft beers, widely considered the top of the heap.  However, would Fast and Furious fans accrue any pleasure from viewing Orson Welles’ masterpiece?  No.  They’ll say it’s boring and then bring up Netflix to order Transformers: Dark of the Moon.  Why should anything different be expected when the man who’s only drank Bud Light his entire life sips an imperial IPA?  Undoubtedly, he’ll hate it and assume all craft beer is as awful and bitter, henceforth eschewing independent breweries.  As a matter of fact, this man should be given a terrible craft beer because it’d be more in line with his usual fare.  Once he’s introduced to the world of craft beer, he can explore further and grow and develop into a more sophisticated drinker.  Bad craft beer is, in essence, a gateway beer to bigger and better things.        

I’m dubious as to how detrimental new brewery quality really is to the industry as a whole.  I’m especially dubious after having attended the New Brew Fest in Niwot this past weekend—a beer fest for breweries five years or younger—where almost everything on tap tasted fabulous!

Sponsored by Colorado Beer Trail and Bootstrap Brewing, the inaugural New Brew Fest was held at Whistle Stop Park, a small, railroad-themed patch of grass on the edge of Niwot parallel to Diagonal Highway and the same freight train tracks running by Sanitas Brewing Co.  Having a locomotive roar past, ten feet from the beer tents, added an extra element of excitement to New Brew Fest; it mixed in a sense of danger and connected back to Colorado’s industrious past.  It’s such a simple thing, a careening train, but it added much to the event’s ambiance.  Click here to see just how close the train got to the festival.

Some stand-out moments from New Brew Fest:

·         Every first-time event has a few hiccups.  At New Brew Fest, the most obvious concern was the insufficient number of port-o-potties.  Indeed, a beer fest could rent every port-o-potty in the world and it’d still be insufficient because every beer festival attendant is a potential Niagara Falls.  Nonetheless, there was certainly room for more stalls and they could have cut the wait time by at least a few minutes. 

Okay, there was one other hiccup. This seems legit enough until...
...I think there's something missing here
·         When a beer fest features live music, to me it’s either white noise or intrusively loud.  However, I have to give it up to the first band at New Brew Fest who performed a bluegrass-yet-rock-n-roll rendition of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.”  My inner “Weird Al” Yankovic fan appreciated the humor of it all.  That wasn't their only great cover, either; Nicole couldn't help but find herself singing along with and swaying to their music.
·         Nicole and I made a concerted effort to visit the breweries we’ve yet to see in person and, because the breweries at New Brew Fest are so new (or because Nicole and I just haven’t gotten around to them), we had a lot to visit.  They included 300 Suns Brewing, 4 Noses Brewing Co., Powder Keg Brewing Co., 12 Degree Brewing Co., Very Nice Brewing Co., and Wonderland Brewing Co.     
·         Some memorable beers from New Brew Fest: the sour and spritz-y Mimosa, a sour ale aged in Champagne barrels with Satsuma oranges, from Powder Keg (their hibiscus saison was also stellar), the fruit-tastic and summery Passion Fruit Wheat from Industrial Revolution Brewing Co., the green-tea infused Lu Yu Golden Ale from The Post Brewing Co., and the New Zealand-hopped Legal Nelson from 12 Degree Brewing Co. 

New Brew Fest wants you to play it safe and ride your bike.
Hold your head high, new breweries; although the current trend is to drag your good name through the dirt, insinuate your poor-quality beer will eventually destroy the craft beer niche that more senior breweries worked so hard to hew out, the truth is it’s all just generational bickering.  The Baby Boomers disparaged the Gen Xers and the Gen Xers thumb their noses at the Millenials just as older breweries put down new breweries.  That’s fine; today’s new breweries will surely continue the tradition of crapping on the new guys when next decade’s breweries roll out.  In the meantime, though, know that new breweries pose no serious threat to the industry as a whole—New Brew Fest made that abundantly clear.



P.S. The gourmet waffle food truck was to die for.  We ordered the caramel apple waffle and it was a glorious pile of whipped cream, sugar, caramel, and everything else that is terrible for the body.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Lagers in Englewood: What CAMRA's Missing Out On

The United States is the premier beer nation.  That’s not ego talking, that’s the truth.  We’ve influenced yeast-forward Belgian brewers to dabble in American hops, we’ve convinced German brewers to revive their trade by giving Americanized craft beers a shot, and we’ve inspired breweries like Scotland’s Brew Dog to forgo tradition and brew big, bold, genre-defying beers.  We’re leading the pack in innovation.     

Admittedly, that’s not always been the case.  In fact, as recently as 15-20 years ago, America was the laughingstock of the brewing world and had been for decades prior.  “How’re American beer and sex in a canoe similar?  They’re both F’ing close to water!” went the joke.  Nowadays—thanks to patriotic beer drinkers eschewing the wares of domestic mega-brands—craft beer is steadily growing, macrobeers are steadily declining, and the U.S. beer industry is the envy of the world.

To what can one attribute America’s rapid rise to the top?  It’d be insincere to ignore the old school brewers of the Old World; without a healthy European brewing tradition, the American craft beer scene would be nonexistent.  Where would New Belgium be without the lessons of old Belgium?  Where would the most popular craft beer style, the American IPA, be if England didn’t invent its predecessor?  Never forget your roots, America.

St. Patrick's Brewing Company
What differentiates American brewers from those across the Atlantic, however, is our spirit of adventure, our straying from the norm.  You can’t knock a solid, traditionally-made beer; they’ve stood the test of time and they’re deserving of our admiration.  For posterity’s sake, I hope the classic beer styles never wither and die.  Nonetheless, brewers need to look towards the future, too.  There’s room at the bar for both new and old.  If attention is focused on the latter, the culture of beer becomes stale, outdated.

The entity shouldering the most guilt in preventing beer’s forward motion is the U.K.-based advocacy group Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA).  I hesitate to compare CAMRA to the America-based Brewers Association (BA) because they’re different in sundry respects but they’re similar in that they both promote (their definition of) great beer. 

Don’t misunderstand me; I believe CAMRA to be a well-intentioned organization.  They’ve done much to pave the way for the current craft beer craze but it’s time to re-write the books and bring CAMRA into the 21st Century.  What’s so obsolete about CAMRA?  Brew Dog wrote an exceptional blog post highlighting the archaic guidelines that define the group (Click here to read the article) but, for this post, I’d like to concentrate on the most obvious limitation: the name is CAMRA, not CAMRAL—they totally discount lagers!

Inside St. Patrick's
The U.K. doesn’t really “do” lagers; I can’t, off the top of my head, call to mind a classic lager style born in that region—none that have survived into the present day, anyway.  CAMRA is, at its core, a nationalistic organization invested in the beers of its own land.  That’s all well and good but—guess what?—lagers still exist.  And they comprise nearly half of all the world’s beer styles.  And they’re just as good as ales.  And there are U.K. craft brewers today making lagers.  And it’s B.S. lagers don’t fall under CAMRA’s umbrella of endorsement because all well-crafted beers should be celebrated. 

Here in America, the BA supports ales and lagers, classic styles and new innovations.  That’s why we’re at the top of the heap.  We never limit ourselves.  After visiting St. Patrick’s Brewing Company, an all-lager brewery in Englewood, I count my sudsy blessings I live in a country where all beer is welcome.

First, allow me to air one, single gripe about St. Patrick’s: that is one awful name for a craft brewery.  It comes packed with negative connotations; it sounds like a tourist pub in Boston or Dublin, not a pioneering nanobrewery in a south Denver suburb.  A place called St. Patrick’s serves green beer on March 17th, not stellar lagers year-round.  I’ll go to a bar named St. Patrick’s to have intoxicated frat bros vomit on my shoe, not to meet people with an affinity for the art and science of craft beer.

Plus, despite the uber-Irish appellation and logo, the specialty at St. Patrick’s isn’t beer from the Emerald Isle.  They brew Pilsners in the Czech, German, American, and Japanese style.  They brew bocks and schwarzbiers.  They brew Austrian and California lagers and lagered versions of saisons, dubbels, barleywines, and wits.  Hell, it seems they brew beer from every country except Ireland (there’re one or two exceptions).  This brewery suffers from an identity crisis. 

Midnight Mocha Lager
What’s in a name, though?  Not much because, even though I’m irked by the poor branding, the beer speaks for itself.  It speaks volumes, in fact.  This is world-class beer, folks; seriously, it’s a no-brainer to put St. Patrick’s on the top 10 list of best Colorado breweries and it’s not inconceivable it might break top five, either. 

Patrons driving up to St. Patrick’s taproom—on the backside of an office park so bland it’s almost flamboyant—might think they’ve arrived at a dentist’s office.  The interior does nothing to dissuade the oral hygiene vibe; the tiny taproom is decorated in the style of a waiting room and the “bar” is nothing more than a square hole in the wall where, in another incarnation of the space, a receptionist would check in patients.  The focus here is solely on the beer, not on feng shui. 

Everything St. Patrick’s makes is either a perfect replication of a classic lager or an insane, creative twist the likes of which most beer geeks have never drank.  St. Patrick’s does it all and they do it with expertise.  I ordered Midnight Mocha Lager (5.7% ABV) and HellEdel Helles (5.2% ABV).      

As the name suggests, Midnight Mocha is midnight-black in color and features a mocha-hued head.  Chocolate aromas permeate but they’re not overly powerful.  Relatively light in body, this beer is, in a nutshell, like cold, mildly-flavored cocoa.

HelleEdel and a taster of Luminosity Oak Reserve
HellEdel Helles, slightly hazy with a sunset orange color and white, fluffy head, sends off wafts of orange blossom honey.  Until I started writing this review and double-checking stats on the St. Patrick’s website, I had no idea there was actually orange blossom honey literally in the beer; an expert beer assessor I am not but I’m pretty proud when I’m able to rummage around with my nose, sniff out specific ingredients.  HellEdel is somewhat thick and creamy and tastes of the aforementioned honey along with light, malty sweetness. 

The beauty of St. Patrick’s—they provide free samplers.  Believe me, you’ll want to take advantage of the offer.  The beer is much too enticing to call it quits after only two.  Get a sip of them all because there’s not a stinker in the bunch.  The other beers I sampled include Red Lager (6.1% ABV), Luminosity Lager (5.8% ABV), Luminosity Oak Reserve (5.8% ABV), Saison Apple Lager (7% ABV), and Chocolate Peppermint Lager (7.3% ABV).  When at St. Patrick’s, let your palate explore; it will discover wondrous things!  

Right now, St. Patrick’s is relatively obscure but they deserve to be a part of the Colorado beer conversation and, indeed, the national conversation.  Please, check them out and give them your money.  I want them to expand and make their beer more accessible; Englewood is too far a drive to get my lager fix.

If you buy glassware at St. Patrick's, they give you this little snake thingy, too
The dreamer in me hopes St. Patrick’s future success will somehow, in some small way, influence CAMRA’s stance on lager beers.  St. Patrick’s is one in a legion of great lager-makers but perhaps, as a whole, the lagers of the world can convince the passé organization to see the error of its way.  Do I honestly believe CAMRA will ever make that major paradigm shift?  No, not really.  Their raison d'etre from the very beginning was to revive the old styles of Great Britain, shun modern advancements (whether said advancements are detriments or improvements), and basically ignore the practices of foreign brewers.  That’s fine; CAMRA will be CAMRA.  Thankfully, their influence is localized; their opinions don’t affect American brewers.

So, to those beers spurned by CAMRA, I welcome them to our shores saying:

Give me your lager, your beer, 
Your huddled masses yearning to drink free.
The wretched refuse, the object of CAMRA’s leer.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.
I lift my glass beside the brewery door!


P.S.  After St. Patrick’s, I went to CAUTION: West where I received my “Extraordinary” badge on Untappd; that’s 1,000 unique beers!  

Look at this stud (and ignore the quality of the photograph)!