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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September 7, 2012

Prost Brewery

In 1516, the German region of Bavaria passed a law  that would forever alter the course of brewing and beer. This law, called the Reinheitsgebot (pronounced rhine-heights-gee-boot), required that all Bavarian beers be made only from four ingredients: barley, water, hops and yeast. The Bavarians believed so strongly about the Reinheitsgebot that during German unification in 1871, they would not agree to join unless it became German law; which it did until 1993.

Enacted mainly for various (now meaningless) economic reasons involving bread, the law also to ensured that hops alone were used as the preservative ingredient. Prior to 1516, it would not have been unusual for brewers to use soot, mushrooms or even stinging nettles in lieu of hops. Over the centuries though, by eliminating rye, wheat, sugars, spices, fruit and various other “specialty” ingredients, the law drastically reduced the types and styles of beers that German brewers could produce. It’s almost akin to reducing your spice rack to just salt and pepper. While that may seem boring, it gives flaws nowhere to hide; demanding perfection.

Okay, so what in the world does this have to do with the North Denver beer scene? Well, a little piece of Bavaria has just sprung up in our neighborhood in form of the Prost Brewery. Their plan: brew solely German beers, all in accordance with the Reinheitsgebot. The folks at the helm are betting that balanced, easy-drinking German beers will be the next big thing. Time will tell, but it’s a good wager considering the pedigree of their head brewer.

Heading brewing operations is Bill Eye of Dry Dock Brewing fame. While at Dry Dock, Eye made a name for himself creating stellar German-style beers, notably the Dry Dock Hefeweizen. But with Dry Dock’s expansive style portfolio, the German lagers that Eye loved to brew made up only a small percentage of their beers. So when the opportunity for a 100% German beer focused brewery arose, he leapt at the chance.

The tap list at the brewery is planned to be limited to four beers at any given time: Prost Pils (German pilsner), Wiessbier (hefeweizen), and Dunkel (dark German lager), plus a rotating seasonal beer (currently a dunkelweizen). While keeping at only four beers may seem a bit unusual for a Colorado brewery, this is the norm (or even more) than you would expect at a legitimate German beer hall.

The layout of Prost, however, is where things really shine. They definitely aimed for an genuine beer hall feel and, while maybe a bit smaller, the traditional beer tent flags, huge steins and antique beer signs adorning the walls hit the mark. Long, community tables made from Colorado beetle kill pine, fill the space, encouraging easy conversation with friends; both present and future.

The brewery, however, is the pinnacle of authenticity of the whole project. Eye and his partner’s sourced all of their brewing equipment from a now-defunct Bavarian brewery. Having been disassembled, shipped across the Atlantic, and reassembled here in Denver, the gleaming copper kettles are a thing of beauty.

So, while the brewing equipment and taproom load the bases, it’s the beer that really hits a home run. Each is just as a good as what’s being poured in German beer halls, yet doesn’t require a $1000 plane ticket. And having a chance to drink these beers fresh allows the intricacies of these delicate styles to truly shine.

For those looking for a hoppy beer, go with the Prost Pils. Crisp and bitter, it has an almost spicy, floral hop finish. Dark beer fans should love the toasted-bread crust complexity of the Dunkel and its supreme drinkability. Anybody who enjoys the wheaty, clove and banana combination of a hefeweizen will certainly be happy the Wiessbeir, an excellent example of this South German style.

Beer are available in either half-liters ($5) or full-liter steins($10-$11) also known as a mas. Food is limited to pretzels in the taproom, but various vendors are planned for the outside patio.

In German, Prost means “cheers” and given the great beer, authentic beer hall atmosphere and community mindset, I couldn’t think of a better name myself. With Oktoberfest just around the corner, I’m giddy with excitement. Next time you’re out for a beer, head down to Prost, order a mas-sized stein, and perfect that Reinheitsgebot pronunciation.

On a side note, Great American Beer Festival tickets sold out in a record five minutes this year, truly showcasing craft beer’s rise in popularity. In case you got shut out, be sure to enter the various ticket contests around town. Radio station KBCO (www.kbco.com), Denver Highlands-based band, Lost Caravan (www.lostcaravan.net), and beer-centric app Beergram (www.beergr.am) are all giving away tickets to this can’t-miss event. Prost!

Prost Brewery

2540 19th Street

(303) 729-1175

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