December 12, 2013

Jagged Mountain (hopefully) Brings The Vintage Beer Heat

It’s a little known fact among non-beer drinkers that many beers actually improve with age. Really, no different than a fine wine or a wheel of cheese. This may come as a surprise because, after all, beer has always been touted as a beverage that’s best drunk fresh.  But if a beer has the right criteria, namely high alcohol (at least 8%), or is acidic/sour, it ages at a considerably slower rate than your typical 5% pilsner. In a well designed beer, time enables unique new flavors to emerge, such as sherry, port, amaretto, dried fruit, or even vanilla. So, forget your experience with the skunky old Heineken you found in your garage; these beers evolve into something that can go toe-to-toe with a fine Amontillado or Maderia wine.

And it’s at one of the country’s most respected breweries, Kuhnhenn, a tiny brewery/B&B in Warren, Michigan, that some of these ultra-strong, cellar-able beers are being brewed. Located in a defunct hardware store, their beer is only available locally, but is so popular that beer geeks regularly make cross-country pilgrimages to get it. In fact, it’s so sought after that at one point, its Raspberry Eisbock was ranked the #1 beer in the world on beeradvocate.com. No small feat. And In 2010, their English barleywine, Fourth Dementia, won gold at both the World Beer Cup and the Great American Beer Festival. We’re talking about some serious street cred.

The reason their beer is so exceptional – and most of their customers will agree – is because they typically age them for a decent period of time prior to being served. And they’re brewed with the correct technique and ingredients that allow them to stand up to time in the cellar.

But what does a Michigan brewery have to do with Denver? Well, as Denverites are well aware, we live in one the greatest cities in the world.  So, when Wayne Burns, the brewer from Kuhnhenn, decided to strike out on his own and open a brewery, it’s no surprise he chose our fair city. Along with Michigan-bred friends, RJ Banat and Randy Stinson, he opened the doors to Jagged Mountain Craft Brewery last month much to the excitement and anticipation of local beer buffs.

Housed in an old brick building at the corner of 20th Street and Lawrence (about three blocks from Coors Field), this brewery is a real beaut. With a warm pine bar, plenty of high tops, and windows overlooking the action outside, the location will clearly be a hit. An astounding 20 taps are installed and though only 4-5 are currently being utilized, they’re looking forward to having most of them pouring very soon.

Given Burns’ pedigree, it’s easy to expect him to focus solely on making age-able, high ABV beer, but the strategy is instead to brew a wide range of styles that will cater to the beer-diverse LoDo crowd. And unlike the one-and-done model of many new breweries, Jagged Mountain plans to have a series of “house” beers  available, in addition to rotating “experimental” offerings. The anticipated regular offerings include a black IPA, saison, Scottish ale, American IPA, and a double IPA, and what’s been on offer so far has clearly showcased that their brewing abilities aren’t limited to high ABV bruisers.

That being said, they do expect their niche to be their experimental beer. These will trend toward barleywines, imperial stouts, old ales, and eisbocks; and if Burn’s work at Kuhnhenns is any indicator, they’re going to be huge; upwards of 15-20% ABV. If this were to happen, it would certainly fill a local niche that has been lacking.  The only CO brewery making these kind of beers is Avery, but in extremely limited amounts (not to mention being fairly cost-prohibitive). Time will tell if Jagged Mountain can reach Kuhnhenn’s legendary status, but what’s been put out there thus far is a good sign. Here’s hoping.

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December 10, 2013

North Denver Breweries Win Big at Great American Beer Festival

Anybody who’s been paying attention lately knows that the North Denver brewing scene has grown into a force to be reckoned with. From beer geek darling Crooked Stave to the German beer masters at Prost, the collective has steadily gained a strong following with neighborhood locals across the board. However, after an impressive showing at this year’s Great American Beer Festival, they now have the hardware to back it up. Four of our local breweries earned a combined total of six medals, but it was the SandLot Brewery, located within the friendly confines of Coors Field that stole the spotlight by winning the Large Brewing Company and Large Brewing Company Brewer of the Year honors.

This award may initially cause many to pause. After all, the relatively tiny SandLot Brewery didn’t even eclipse the 3,000 barrel mark last year, which actually puts them on the lower end of the Small Brewing Company of the Year award (1,000-14,999 barrels). However, the Brewer’s Association, the organization in charge of administering the competition, counts not only a brewery’s output, but also the output of any of its “parentage” breweries. In case you didn’t know, SandLot is part of the Blue Moon Brewing Company, which is under the Tenth and Blake Beer Company umbrella, which in turn represents the craft brewing collective arm of behemoth MillerCoors. And considering MillerCoors broke the 60 million barrel mark in 2012, it’s safe to say SandLot’s parentage surpassed the 6 million barrel minimum just a wee bit, placing them into the Large Brewery category. (Interestingly enough, it was actually the SandLot that helped create the parentage rule after it won Small Brewery of the Year award back in 1995. Many cried foul that they had an unfair advantage due to their backing.)

In addition to their overall brewery honors, the SandLot continued their winning streak by bagging three more medals to bring their lifetime GABF medal count to a mind-boggling 43. Gold medals went to their Move Back Dortmunder and Second Hand Rauchbier, as well as a bronze for their Goat Rancher Bock. Happily, the Sandlot has announced that they will remain open the public this baseball off season, Tuesday through Saturday from 2-8 pm. Stop in and see what all the precious metal fuss is about.

Crooked Stave also continued their winning tradition, snapping up a bronze for Hop Savant. Available at liquor stores as well as their new RiNo taproom, this light ale is fermented with their characteristically funky, fruity brettanomyces yeast and then intensely hopped. The twist is that the hops are added at the end of the brew, thereby contributing flavor and aroma, instead of bitterness. Between the fruity yeast esters and these late-addition hops, Hop Savant is a tropical bonanza of grapefruit, pineapple, apricots, and white wine grapes.

Onto Prost, who in only their second year of existence won their first medal and a gold no less. This stellar LoHi brewery specializes in authentic German-style beer so it’s no surprise that their win was for the Keller Pils, a mildly hoppy, unfiltered German lager. Enjoy it for a limited time in their taproom.

Finally, we come to Great Divide who ended their two-year medal drought by taking gold for their Chocolate Oak-Aged Yeti Imperial Stout. Available each spring beginning in April, this bruiser of a stout has both cacao nibs and a dash of cayenne pepper added to it before being aged on oak chips for a sweet, vanilla finish. A great winter treat if you can hold onto it for that long.

Considered to be the most prestigious beer competition in the world, GABF medals are an incredible honor to win. This year alone, 745 breweries entered some 4,809 different beers to compete in 84 beer style categories. Those numbers add up to some stiff competition and our neighborhood should be happy to earn just one, let alone six.  Just for perspective, the entire state of Washington, well known for its beer scene, only won four medals combined. Be sure to get out and enjoy this wonderful beer mecca we live in. It’s truly something special.

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