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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October 4, 2013

Crooked Stave Grand Opening at the Source

Crooked Stave’s had their grand opening at the Source Marketplace today. Well attended, but chill crowd. The space is beautiful, there is a koelchip in full view, and the beers were just as good as you’ve come to expect. Really, what more can you ask for?

Tap List:

  • Hop Savant
  • Vieille
  • St Bretta Fall
  • Nightmare on Brett
  • Origins Batch #2
  • Surrette

 

Various industry folks were there including Troy Casey of AC Golden and Gabriel Gordon of Beachwood Brewing, who just finished installing the super sweet tap system. Who knew a man could make killer BBQ, run an brewery and make artistic tap systems on the side? Not this guy, as Gabriel can attest. A couple of photos:

Crooked Stave Taproom

Crooked Stave Taproom

The tap system designed and installed by Gabriel Gordon of Beachwood Brewing & BBQ

crooked stave sour beer

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October 1, 2013

2013 GABF Strategy Guide

It’s that magical time of year again. The days get shorter, the crisp air nips at your nose, and the trees begin to show off their brilliant colors. Most importantly though, it’s the time that all beer geeks look forward to most, the Great American Beer Festival; our Christmas in October. Tickets sold out in a ridiculous few seconds this year, so hopefully you are one of the lucky few to obtain them. I will note that if you got shut out, tickets can often be had at face value or less from disappointed scalpers, around 30 minutes or so after the festival begins. I’ve never actually done this, but have heard about it from multiple sources.

With over 3,000 different beers being poured, a game plan is a must and each year I spend the weeks leading up planning out my strategy. To me, the best thing about GABF is getting access to beers that aren’t available for purchase in CO. If you think about it, there’s not much point in paying $80 to drink beer you can buy at your local liquor store.  With that in mind, here are my choices for top breweries to seek out at the 2013 GABF:

Snake River Brewing: A perennial GABF favorite, their cherry-infused Flander’s red ale, Le Serpent Cerise (8% ABV), is a blend of cherry pie and vanilla, and finishes with a refreshing acidic tang.

La Cumbre: Located in nearby Albuquerque, their Elevated IPA (7.2% ABV), with its masterful balance of malty richness and hop intensity, wins my vote for best IPA in the world. No kidding.

Three Floyds: This brewery makes just about every style of beer and does them all excellently. I personally think their best beers are their hoppy ones though. Check out their citrus-intense pale ale, Zombie Dust (6.4% ABV), and their ultra bitter, tropical fruit-laced double IPA, Arctic Panzer Wolf (9.0% ABV). Be sure to take a look at their fantastic label art.

Pelican Brewery: Probably the best brewery in America you’ve never heard of. Their Mother of All Storms barley wine (14.0% ABV), is aged for a year in bourbon barrels and is an absolute legend in the beer world. It’s never been served at a festival before. A must try.

Lost Abbey: Ok, they do distribute in CO. However, there beers are none-too-cheap and they always bring tons of goodies to GABF that you can’t buy off the shelf. Founder Tomme Arthur is a genius when it comes to creating Belgian style ales.  Don’t leave until you’ve tried everything.

Russian River: Brewmaster Vinnie Cilurzo, beer geek’s Golden Child, has the Midas touch. Like Lost Abbey, they too distribute in CO, but they are just so good you still have to check out everything they bring. Their Hoptime Harvest Ale (6.8% ABV), is made with this year’s fresh hop crop and will win over hop lover’s hearts; while their Framboise for a Cure (7.5% ABV), a Belgian blonde ale aged in chardonnay barrels with heaps of raspberries, is sublime.

Cambridge Brewing Company: Their Shadows & Light (10% ABV), is my most anticipated beer of the fest. Made from various vintages of barrel-aged barleywines that have been stressed to the max (temperature fluctuations, sun exposure, and more), the resultant blend resembles a fine Maderia or Amontillado more than it does beer. There is nothing else like it in the world.

The Brew Kettle: Best known for their White Rajah (6.8% ABV), a fruit-forward (mango, pineapple, grapefruit) yet still bitter IPA. Their booth is well worth seeking out.

Shorts Brewing: A mad-scientist sort of operation, famous for their creative, unusual ingredients. Check out Gone Commando (4.5 % ABV), a Vienna Lager brewed with black currants, and Bourbon Woodmaster (10.0% ABV), an imperial brown ale fermented with maple syrup and toasted pecans, then aged in bourbon barrels.

Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery:  This Minnesotan brewpub serves world class beers of all styles. Be sure to ask for Cherry Eye of the Storm (10.0% ABV), a barleywine brewed with buckets of MN honey and aged on local cherries.

Live Oak Brewing Company: Their Hefeweizen (5.2% ABV), is better than most of the “authentic” ones being brewed in Germany. Seriously.

Logsdon Farmhouse Ales: David Logsdon, the original brewmaster at Full Sail, opened this little brewery in the midst of cherry orchards in the Hood River valley. The beers are Belgian-based and delectable. Try both the Seizoen (7.5% ABV) and Seizoen Bretta (8.0% ABV), the same beer but the latter spiked with brettanomyces (a la Crooked Stave).

Jack’s Abby: A lager-only brewery, their Hoponius Union IPL (India Plae Lager) shows just what those clean crisp lager notes can do when paired up with expertly selected hops. Unique and delicious.

Have fun, drink plenty of water, and be sure to thank the beer gods that the world’s greatest beer event happens every year right in our backyard.

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September 5, 2013

Diebolt Brewing

Diebolt

Brewing has long been a family tradition the world over. Even in the US, just look at the Coors’ lineage in Golden, or the Yuengling empire out in Pennsylvania. Nowadays, though, the familial succession of many of our breweries is based more upon the younger generation’s business prowess than any sort of inherited brewing knowledge. Call me crazy, but I don’t think you’ll find Pete Coors stirring a mash tun or Dick Yuengling suggesting they up the late hop additions.

However, there was time when the secrets of brewing were passed down from parent to offspring (mother to daughter in many cases). In Belgium, the country that has best maintained traditional brewing practices, many breweries still do this; it’s not unusual to find two generations brewing side by side, the elder passing down knowledge to produce better and more creative beer. Unfortunately, here in the States, the mass popularity of dull, pale lagers has led to monopolistic family businesses that instead focus on creating larger profits and bigger distribution.

But there is still hope…With Denver sitting amidst this new wave of craft breweries, we have yet another unique arrival to add to the list; one that brings with it the hope of an artisan-minded brewing family: Diebolt Brewing Company. Pronounced [DEE-Bolt], this little Sunnyside brewery located just off 38th Ave on Mariposa, is primarily made up of father and son team, Dan and Jack Diebolt.

Opening their doors only a few weeks ago, there are currently only three beers on tap: the Standard Porter (5.7%), Mariposa Pale Ale (6.0%), and the Sunnyside Wheat (4.3%).  More should eventually become available as a saison and an IPA were conditioning in the fermenters during our visit. Diebolt’s focus appears to be balanced, drinkable beers, rather than boundary-pushing brews, but time will tell where their niche will truly end up.

When you visit, you’ll find their taproom industrial, yet intimate. Concrete floors and high, exposed ceilings meet warm woods and elegant metal working to breathe life into the space. The real charm, however, are the Diebolt’s themselves. On a weekend visit with friends, before even stepping foot inside, we were greeted by Mrs. Diebolt who graciously offered to let us park our bikes in the brewery since they hadn’t been able to install a bike rack yet. Once inside, Dan, the senior Diebolt, welcomed us as his son, Jack, described and poured the beer. As the brewery filled up throughout the afternoon, the process repeated with each patron, allowing everyone to feel at home as soon as they walked in.

Back to the beers, the definitive favorite was the Wheat, with an impressively clear yeast profile and a wheaty mouthfeel that was perfectly present, but not overwhelming. The Pale was enjoyably hoppy,  not too bitter, and immensely drinkable. The roastedness of the Porter was almost coffee-like up front and while I like my porters bit chewier in the winter, the low carbonation and fairly dry finish made this dark beer an enjoyable drink on a hot summer day.

After a spontaneous tour of the brewery, in which Dan proudly showed off the setup that he and his son had largely put together themselves, you couldn’t help but feel proud of them. Here’s hoping that their familial approach churns out beer for generations of Sunnyside residents to come. Drop in and get to know them.

 

Diebolt Brewing Company

3855 Mariposa St

Open Thursday through Sunday





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