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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July 5, 2012

Sandlot Brewery (Blue Moon Brewing Company)

Here’s a trivia question for all you beer geeks: Which brewery, located in downtown Denver, has won the second-most Great American Beer Festival medals ever? They have to know their craft (and know it well), but also has to have been around for some time… Need a hint? It’s not Great Divide. Stumped? Well, (drumroll, please), it’s the Blue Moon Brewing Company at The SandLot. Or simply, the SandLot Brewery, as it was formerly, and still more commonly, known. This little, ten-barrel brewhouse has won an astounding thirty-eight medals since their inception in 1995; a truly incredible feat in the beer world. In comparison, Great Divide has earned an, albeit still very impressive, seventeen medals.

Most who will be surprised by this probably just haven’t heard much about the brewery. It’s understandable considering they’re located within Coors Field and are only open eighty-one days a year. And even then, you have to have a Rockies ticket to gain admission. The other reason is that many are simply not aware of just how many different beers they make. The brewery rotates multiple taps almost weekly, making sure even season ticket-holders won’t get bored. Plus, they tinker with small-batch Blue Moon seasonal brews for market testing. And… though the bulk of Blue Moon is produced at the Golden plant, they crank out small batches for on-site consumption. In the off-season, they stay busy with a variety of “house” beers, brewed specifically for many Colorado’s ski resorts.

Another explanation for the surprise is a general lack of buzz about the brewery. Many “serious” beer drinkers will often dismiss them based upon their parentage, as they are owned by the global brewing behemoth, MillerCoors. However, as anyone who knows much about the brewery will tell you, they essentially operate independently of their familial ties. Regardless, I’m a firm believer that a brewery’s beers should be judged on their merits, and not their financial backing.

But I digress, what about the actual brewery? It sits at the western entrance of Coors Field, underneath the familiar neon ballplayer tirelessly sliding into home, and opens up an hour and half before first pitch. Here’s a quick tip: while ballpark beer sales cease at the end of the 7th inning, here you can still buy beer through the end of the game.  The only catch is that you can’t leave the bar after the 7th, which has forced me, on more than one occasion, to watch the final innings from the bar TV’s. Unfortunately, beers are a still a painful $7.00 apiece, but in the bizzarro-logic of pro-sports concessions, the fact that you pay the same price for Bud Light, somehow justifies it.

The extensive bar with its fifteen taps tends to become a hot spot from the second inning on. As noted earlier, you’re unable to actually see the action on the field from The SandLot, so I’ll often grab a beer and head to my seat. Food is available (though is managed by Aramark), and has nothing whatsoever to do with the brewery. Since I always buy my hotdogs outside the stadium, I can’t tell you whether or not I’d suggest it.

Included on the tap list are some repeats and a few domestics, so you’ll typically end up finding around five SandLot beers offered. You’ll always see Blue Moon and a Blue Moon seasonal, and the rest are their choosing. As of last week, you could opt for Rightfield Red (often available), Hefeweizen, or Dortmunder, along with Farmhouse Red, a beer being test-marketed at Coors Field.

Of all the beers I sampled, the Farmhouse Red made the largest impression on me. While described as a Flander’s Red (sour Belgian ale) blended with a saison, it still had a prominent wheatiness. Flavors like hibiscus, pink peppercorns, and honey mingle for a complex, yet balanced beer. It left a refreshingly dry finish and subtle tanginess (think lemon water), making for an excellent, dog day thirst-quencher. According to head brewer, John Legnard, it’s been well received and might even make national circulation.

And though you’ve surely already had it elsewhere, I’d give SandLot’s Blue Moon a go.  When drank ultra-fresh, many wheat beers will have flavors of rising bread dough and fruit and their fresh-as-you can-get-it Blue Moon is no exception. Try it at the source and I think you’ll find a different beer than what you’re used to.

So at your next Rockies game, head over to see what’s on tap at the SandLot. Who knows, you might even get to try the next GABF Gold medal winner. Either way, I don’t think you’ll leave disappointed and will surely end up with a better pairing for that hotdog than some watered-down lager. Prost!

Blue Moon Brewing Co at the Sandlot

2161 Blake Street (Coors Field)

(303) 298-1587

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