Friday, March 27, 2009

Rye beer brings a wry grin

Whenever I go to Telluride, I find myself unable to leave without a growler of Rocky Mountain Rye, made by Smuggler's Brewpub.

Smuggler's is a bit of a hidden gem. Like Carver's, it's a brewpub that does not distribute. So I'll usually amble in there, watch some sports on the flat-screen TVs and take a half-gallon back with me. It's only a few blocks from the Telluride chairlifts.

Rocky Mountain Rye (5.3 percent ABV, 27 IBUs), is a wonderfully fresh-tasting session beer. If you haven't had rye beer, it's a treat. The only thing I can compare it to is wheat beer in freshness and grain quality. But rye, of course, has its own taste.

For you hopheads out there, Smuggler's also makes an Imperial Sky Hop IPA that comes in at 10 percent ABV and something like 120 IBUs.

Smuggler's is just one more thing that makes Telluride about the coolest small town in the world.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Steamworks brings home Aussie medals

Steamworks Brewing Co.
recently earned five medals at the Australian International Beer Awards.

The Durango brewery’s Colorado K├Âlsch and Conductor Imperial IPA earned silver, while Steam Engine Lager, Backside Stout and the seasonal Spruce Goose each garnered bronze.

The contest featured 1,140 beers from 39 countries. The results were announced on March 19.

Congratulations to Steamworks.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Review: Durango Pale Ale (Durango Brewing)

Durango Pale Ale is a welcome contribution to the local roster of light beers.

Durango Brewing Co. just released its pale ale, a spring-summer seasonal. Ska Brewing Co. has a winter seasonal pale ale, Euphoria. Steamworks Brewing makes Third Eye Pale Ale (6.4 percent ABV, 65 IBUs), the only year-round pale among Durango's three larger breweries, and Alberta Peak Pale Ale – a beer that is not only seasonal but difficult to find. Carver Brewing has its Jack Rabbit Pale Ale, but that is available only at the brewpub and in growlers.

Many, perhaps most, breweries offer a pale among their year-round mainstays. There is a bit of a paucity in Durango. Ska’s two most popular beers are a red ale and a blond ale, Steamworks focuses on lagers and Durango Brewing is best known for its amber and wheat beers. This leaves lovers of pale ales in these parts either searching for seasonals (with the notable exception of Third Eye) or buying beers from elsewhere, like Deschutes Brewery’s excellent Mirror Pond Pale Ale (5 percent ABV, 40 IBUs).

Durango Pale Ale (6.1 percent ABV, 35 IBUs) is an exceptional pale that helps fill the void. It is hoppier and more flavorful than most pales. It’s not quite an IPA, but it would stand out in a tasting of standard pale ales. One of the brewers, Damon Scott, likened it to a light IPA. That sounds about right.

Durango Pale Ale pours a light caramel color with medium head. It has the fresh, hoppy smell of other pale ales.

The hop taste is pleasantly assertive. It’s of moderate bitterness and a little fruity, with just the right amount of carbonation. The brewery uses Centennial, Cascade and Chinook hops in the pale. It's really quite good.

Durango Pale strikes a perfect balance: it isn’t boring, but you may find yourself draining your glass in short order.

Durango Pale is available in 22-ounce bottles and also on tap at the brewery, 3000 Main Ave. Give it a try. A-

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Durango Pale Ale returns

Durango Brewing Co. just released one of Soggy Coaster's favorite local seasonals, Durango Pale Ale.

Pale ale is a very popular style, but it's hard to get just right. Some lack character. Yet when a pale ale is done well, it is very, very tasty.

Durango Pale Ale (6.1 percent ABV, 35 IBUs) was a helluva beer last year. Soggy Coaster picked up a bomber of this year's release last night. Expect a full review in a day or two.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Review: The Abyss (Deschutes)

Reviewing The Abyss is the beer equivalent of reviewing Kind of Blue or Hamlet: it is a work of such surpassing mastery that, really, what can you say?

To understate the case, The Abyss is thoroughly pleasant to drink.

Deschutes Brewery first released this wildly popular imperial stout in 2006. One of the first and best breweries to come out of Oregon, Deschutes had already earned plenty of respect with well-made, well-balanced session beers such as Mirror Pond Pale Ale and Black Butte Porter.

But, as Deschutes’ founder Gary Fish said recently in another publication, people were starting to say things like: “Black Butte Porter – that’s my dad’s beer.” So Fish unleashed his brewers to do something special.

The Abyss is an imperial stout. The designation “imperial” is not a mere marketing gimmick. There is much more going on in The Abyss than in a standard stout.

Deschutes brewed The Abyss with licorice and molasses, aging 33 percent of it in oak and oak bourbon barrels for the better part of a year. The 2008 reserve was released in November.

After a tragicomic quest to obtain a bottle the usual ways, Soggy Coaster broke down and bought The Abyss, which comes in a 22-ounce bomber bottle dipped in black wax, on eBay for almost $30. (See my earlier post, “Chasing The Abyss: A Personal Essay”). A bit crazy, maybe, but why should it be? A lot of people do not hesitate to drop $30 on a bottle of wine.

Soggy Coaster enjoyed The Abyss along with a dinner of potato gnocchi in a tomato sauce with Swiss chard and mozzarella (made with care by Ms. Soggy Coaster). The Abyss would also be fantastic with a steak – you just need something substantial to stand up to the beer.

The Abyss has one of the strongest aromas that Soggy Coaster has ever smelled in a beer: a thick soup of vanilla, licorice, coffee, alcohol. It feels reverential, like the musty smell from a very great and very old book.

The Abyss pours a completely opaque black. A nice, tan medium head lingers for a bit before receding.

The taste keeps the promises made by the aroma. There’s vanilla, licorice, coffee and some hop bitterness in a viscous stout body, ending with a pronounced alcohol kick (The Abyss is 11 percent ABV). Different flavors emerge at different times; one sip will taste strongly of licorice, the next is fumy booze. The substantial alcohol might ruin a lesser beer, but The Abyss is so rich that it blends in perfectly. My notes say: “bottom of the glass had a much sharper licorice taste – the monster hiding in The Abyss.”

Of course, The Abyss is not the only entrant in the category. Soggy Coaster has had the chance to try a decent range of imperial stouts this winter, including Oak-Aged Yeti Imperial Stout from Great Divide Brewing in Denver (9.5 percent ABV, 75 IBUs), Rogue Imperial Stout and Victory Storm King Imperial Stout. All were very good; Soggy Coaster has yet to meet an imperial stout he doesn’t like.

Alone among Durango breweries, Carver Brewing also makes an imperial stout. An unfortunately now-past seasonal offering, Carver’s imperial stout was on tap in January. It was damn good and Soggy Coaster looks forward to its return next winter.

The Abyss does not lack for laurels: it is currently ranked the third-best beer in the world on Beer Advocate, a sort of crowd review site. It also won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival. It has become so popular that its release in Portland literally draws crowds. Stores often sell out of The Abyss the same day they get it.

Few beers come close to matching The Abyss in brewing mastery and complexity. The taste comes in waves, steamrolling the drinker into noticing a different flavor with every sip. Fortunately, the 2009 reserve is already aging in oak barrels. With The Abyss, Deschutes has achieved its masterpiece. Soggy Coaster has no choice but to award his first A+.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Review: New Belgium Lips of Faith Dark Kriek

New Belgium's Dark Kriek comes from the Fort Collins brewery's Lips of Faith series. The limited-edition cousins to New Belgium's core beers are an attempt to "keep the brewhouse a playground" and let the brewers practice their art, as the company's website says.

New Belgium is the third-largest craft brewer in the U.S., according to the Brewers Association. That makes the brewery, for better or worse, easily the largest in Colorado and what most out-of-staters associate with Colorado craft beer.

Soggy Coaster has never been on the bandwagon for Fat Tire, the flagship amber ale for which New Belgium is best known, but he enjoys several of the brewery's other beers, especially 1554 and the Abbey Belgian-style ale. Dark Kriek has received mixed reviews around the Internet, so Soggy Coaster approached the beer with his expectations in check.

Kriek is a Belgian-style cherry beer. New Belgium's version combines ale brewed with cherry juice with ale aged in wood barrels. The ale, 8 percent alcohol by volume, is sold in 22-oz. bombers.

Dark Kriek pours a reddish brown with minimal head. It carries a good amount of fizzy carbonation. The aroma is minimal at first, but the scent of tart cherries comes out as the beer warms.

Dark Kriek tastes of tart or slightly bitter cherries in a well-balanced dark ale. The overall effect is fruity but not sweet. The lack of heft in the ale as compared to a porter or stout makes it very drinkable, and the carbonation is pleasant.

Soggy Coaster found himself enjoying Dark Kriek more than he expected. Good work, New Belgium. B+

Thursday, March 12, 2009

3.2 beer bill falls flat

Soggy Coaster's colleague in Denver has a story in today's Durango Herald about a bill that would have allowed grocery stores to sell full-strength beer. The bill failed in committee.

Craft brewers opposed the bill, fearing that allowing grocery stores to sell full-strength beer would hurt liquor stores, on whose shelves Colorado craft beer has flourished.

Erik Maxson, co-owner and head brewer at Durango's own Carver Brewing Co., traveled to Denver to represent brewers.

Colorado is one of only five states with a 3.2 beer law. The effects can easily be seen - try to find a square mile in Durango that doesn't have a liquor store. The law has given liquor stores an effective monopoly on full-strength beer that has allowed them to flourish.

Soggy Coaster has no dog in this fight. However, he thinks the predictions of doom and gloom for brewers and liquor stores should Colorado someday approve liberalizing the full-strength beer law may prove overblown.

Look at Oregon or California, both of which have thriving craft-beer industries without restrictive 3.2 laws. Ask Deschutes Brewery, Rogue Ales, Widmer Brothers and BridgePort Brewing Co. in Oregon, and Stone Brewing Co. and Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in California, among others, if they have thrived in those states that allow grocery stores to sell full-strength beer. The answer is self-evident. Is Soggy Coaster missing something?

(The Denver Post also has the story).

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Colorado malted barley

A San Luis Valley company is malting barley grown by local farmers, the Pueblo Chieftain reports.

Colorado Malting Co. hopes the product attracts brewers' interest.

This sounds like something that could catch on; a lot of brewers are intensely interested in using local ingredients whenever possible. The less material that has to be trucked in from elsewhere, the better. It could also add some local character to Colorado beers. The West Coast breweries have their hops. Could Colorado breweries become known for Colorado barley?

(Thanks to Top Shelf for the heads-up).

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Review: Avery Brabant

Avery Brewing has taken a big chance with Brabant, a new barrel-aged dark ale.

Brabant, which was aged in zinfandel barrels, is the Boulder brewery’s latest appeal to beer geeks. The brewery released only 694 cases of Brabant, making it very elusive and very expensive. The ale costs about $7 per 12-oz. bottle.

It is the first beer in Avery’s new barrel-aged series, so expect to see more artisan beers from the brewery along the same lines. Such beers are ingredient-intensive and labor-intensive, serving to justify the high price.

Brabant is brewed with Brettanomyces, a cantankerous wild yeast that can be either very desirable or a complete disaster. Brewers avoid it in other beers; its unexpected appearance can ruin a batch. Some brewers cultivate Brettanomyces, also called Brett, in special beers, as Avery is doing with Brabant. The tradition is chiefly Belgian (the name Brabant comes from a Belgian province), but Deschutes Brewery in Oregon scored a notable hit last year with The Dissident, a sour Flanders-style brown ale. Deschutes used a completely separate brewing system for The Dissident to ensure that the Brett would not infect its other beers. It worked: The Dissident was a huge success and won a gold medal at the 2008 Great American Beer Festival.

Brabant is not Avery’s first go-round with Brett. The brewery used the yeast in its much buzzed-about Fifteen, which won a silver medal at the GABF.

Brett is often used to impart a sour taste and Brabant is no exception. The sourness could be somewhat off-putting to a beer drinker who is not used to it. Personally, I love it. Beers brewed with Brett tend to taste nearer to wine than other beers do. Avery’s decision to age Brabant in zinfandel barrels pushes it further in that direction.

Brabant pours a completely opaque black. A dark ale, indeed. The carbonation is delightful. Brabant retains a modest fizzy head. Tiny bubbles linger throughout the glass.

Brabant’s taste is smooth, well-refined and balanced. It is sour, though not as sour as The Dissident, and the zinfandel influence is evident. I kept thinking of black licorice, although Brabant’s taste is much more subtle than that. A strong aftertaste lingers and the high alcohol content (8.65 percent ABV) sends it right up your nose.

Brabant is a special-occasion beer. It is too expensive, too rare and too strong to drink regularly. This is the kind of beer you pour in your best glass and savor, perhaps with a seafood or poultry dish.

I purchased my Brabant bottles in Breckenridge, but Avery does distribute in Durango, so it may yet show up here.

Avery has done well with Brabant. It is an impressively complex and interesting beer. My only complaint is the decision to bottle it in 12-oz. containers. It simply isn’t enough. A pint is really necessary to get a good gauge on a beer, and a 22-oz. bomber is preferable. I don’t see why Avery didn’t bottle Brabant in bombers. The brewery has a whole roster of interesting beers it puts in bombers.

Avery deserves credit for taking risks. The Boulder brewery is perhaps foremost in Colorado in pushing the envelope with its beers. To my knowledge, none of the Durango breweries has experimented with Brett. It is an expensive and time-consuming brewing process that is high-risk and high-reward. I hope one of our hometown breweries takes the plunge. Until then, we can enjoy beers like Brabant. A-

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Tour de Fat says goodbye to Durango

This is really bad news. Tour de Fat was super fun when it was down at 12th and Main. Unfortunately, all good things really do come to an end. From a New Belgium press release:

New Belgium Brewing announced today that its ballyhoo of bikes and beers, the Tour de Fat, will not return to Durango in 2009. Having outgrown the preferred venue in Durango, logistical challenges made it difficult to return. Tour de Fat has raised more than $64,000 for local non-profits since 2002. In order to help with the budgetary transition, New Belgium will donate $8,000 in 2009 to past beneficiaries, the San Juan Mountains Association and Trails 2000.
“The Tour de Fat has always been about bike advocacy and Durango understands that better than most cities,” said New Belgium spokesman Bryan Simpson. “In order to progress the advocacy element, we have to bring the show to new towns and we can’t add new events without balancing something on the other end.”
Local nonprofits are encouraged to seek future funding through New Belgium’s philanthropy program. The brewery donates 1 percent of its annual revenues to 1 percent for the Planet. New Belgium will also return to Durango as a sponsor for the Single Speed World Opens in September.
“This is not a decision we made lightly,” Simpson said. “We’ve worked hard to secure transition funding for our partnering nonprofits. Durango cyclists will build on the momentum we’ve created together and they’ll continue to grow their world-class cycling community. Meanwhile, take satisfaction in knowing that the message is being spread to new areas where people need a little more help building their scene.”
New Belgium first brought Tour de Fat to Durango in 2002. The event has raised more than $1 million for cycling and environmental nonprofits since its inception in 2000.

Carver's taps Raspberry Wheat

Via Facebook:

Carver's Raspberry Wheat is now on tap, a sure sign of spring.

This American wheat ale is made with almost a pound of real raspberries per gallon of beer, leaving it a beautiful shade of pink, with a crisp refreshing taste and chock full of vitamin C.

Stop in and get some today.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

On tap at Steamworks

On tap now at Steamworks Brewing Co. in Durango:

Lizard Head Red
Colorado Kolsch
Steam Engine Lager
Conductor Imperial IPA
Night Train Black Lager
Backside Stout
Rock Hopped APA
Spruce Goose (only a little left)
McDamnit’s Scottish Ale
Vanilla Stout on the Beer Engine

Brewer Patrick Jose says: "Look forward to Irish Red for St. Patty’s and an old friend in the form of Pittman’s Premium Ale. Also, this Friday I will be tapping a Firkin filled with delicious Vanilla Stout." The Firkin will be tapped around 6 p.m. on Friday, March 6. Thanks to Patrick for the information.

Utah parties like it's 1933

"The Utah House voted 58-2 on Tuesday to allow the sale of full-strength draft beer in bars and restaurants, taking a significant step toward eliminating one of the major complaints about Utah's quirky liquor laws," The Associated Press reports.

A good day's work, I say. This isn't the place for a full-blown rant about theocracy and America's last prohibitionist state, but suffice it to say, this is positive news for lovers of craft beer. I scratched my head at this tidbit from the AP article:

"Utah is also the only state that prohibits bartenders from serving cocktails directly over the counter at restaurant bars. A partition usually made of glass known as a Zion Curtain separates the two."


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Brewings in Breckenridge and Pagosa Springs

Soggy Coaster had the chance to stop by two Colorado breweries last weekend, Breckenridge Brewing and Pagosa Brewing.

The coalition alighted in Breckenridge Brewing's pub in downtown Breck on Friday night, with snow piled up outside and the young, wealthy and beautiful piling inside. I sampled Pandora's Bock and an unfiltered wheat. Pandora's Bock (7.5 percent ABV, 16 IBUs) was good enough, although after recently drinking a Carver's X-Rock Bock, the Breckenridge offering struck me as over-filtered and a bit dull. The unfiltered wheat was also lacking in character. It would be fine after a long, hot bike ride, but in a pub session it underwhelmed.

Breckenridge Brewing seems more committed to offering accessible session beers than to going out on a limb. Even its small-batch 471 Series, offering a double IPA (9.2 percent ABV, 70 IBUs) and an ESB (7.8 percent ABV, 55 IBUs), strikes me as playing it safe. Those beers are essentially stronger versions of very popular styles offered by a long list of other Colorado breweries. Ska Brewing, for example, brews both a double IPA and an ESB. Certainly, Breck offers some good, well-brewed session beers - its Vanilla Porter (4.7 percent ABV, 16 IBUs) is a favorite of mine - but the brewery is not doing anything unique. Its beer can be found in most Durango liquor stores.

We broke up the long car ride from Breckenridge to Durango with a stop at Pagosa Brewing. It's situated behind the newer City Market on the western edge of the town's haphazard highway sprawl. A gate leads visitors in to a sawdust-covered front yard. The pub itself is cozy, with no more than a dozen tables.

The small brewery has an impressive cast of brews: nine staples including a cream ale, a wheat, a pale ale, an ESB and a stout. A large roster of seasonals is also on offer.

I started with an Alpine Abbey 8, a seasonal Belgian-style dubbel. Unfortunately, it was lacking in that yeasty funk I enjoy in other Belgian-style dubbel ales such as New Belgium's Abbey. It was completely drinkable, but ultimately uninteresting.

For the second round, I chugged a Powder Day IPA. I really liked this one: Powder Day is a very enjoyable IPA, with plenty of well-balanced hop character.

Pagosa Brewing pints cost $5. Growlers are available to go. It's not cheap, but you're paying for the local character. Small brewpubs like Pagosa Brewing and Carver's simply don't have the efficiencies of scale that a largish brewery like Ska or Steamworks can use to keep prices low. The small brewpubs may cost more, but they don't lack for innovation. I'd highly recommend a visit to Pagosa Brewing. If you want cheap beer, there's always PBR.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Guest review: Katie Mullen's Lager (Steamworks)

Steamworks Brewing has brewed a house beer for Katie Mullen's, a new Irishy pub on Denver's 16th Street Mall. Steamworks may have thought it could escape Soggy Coaster's hawk eye by debuting a Front Range-only beer. No such luck. Soggy Coaster assigned a Denver buddy, Dustin Bradford, to review it for Beer at 6512. We are everywhere. Many thanks to Dustin for the review (and a hat tip to Beer Run Blog for the initial word). Without further ado, Bradford's review:

DENVER - When we walked into the 11,000-plus square foot Irish-themed bar occupying the 16th Street Mall-facing side of a large downtown Denver hotel, we thought we had entered some sort of strange time warp. Over a hundred middle-aged and above folks, all wearing green shirts, hats, and beads appeared to be getting drunk early on Saturday afternoon ... about two weeks before St. Patrick's Day is typically celebrated. One woman who must have been able to see the confusion written across our foreheads came up and explained that the group was responsible for planning Denver's St. Patrick's Day Parade, and was on a one-stop pub crawl, at Katie Mullen's.

We managed to find two empty bar seats next to each other, which was a feat given the size of the crowd. Katie Mullen's apparently has four bars (I saw two but the restaurant is arranged in a large loop). On tap, next to Harp, Smithwick's, and Guinness, was Steamwork's Katie Mullen's Lager.

What came out of the tap was a very clear and even maple-colored pour with little head that quickly disappeared. The first few drinks of the crisp lager seemed pretty complex, with a quickly changing flavors and a dry finish. The carbonation was evident, though pleasing - the keg I drank from was fresh.

I'd estimate the ABV to be substantial, because I found it hard to focus on the intricacies of the taste after the first have of the large glass. The flavor remained pleasant, and for me more enjoyable than the similarly-flavored Killian's Irish Red lager. I took my time with each of my two glasses, and the flavor was enjoyable to the end. I give the beer a solid B, for its crisp drinkability, relative complexity and beautiful color.

It would be hard to stay with Katie Mullen's Irish Lager for more than a couple glasses while perusing a "Guinness Blacklist," which is the bar's menu of variants on Guinness, from the well-known "Black and Tan" to the lesser known "Midnight" (Guinness with a dash of port), or "Snakebite" (Guinness with cider). However, I've got to hand it to Katie Mullen's for even attempting to offer a "house beer." Kudos to the restaurant and to Steamworks for pulling it off. B

More reviews coming ...

Soggy Coaster's beer fridge overfloweth with new purchases. Expect before too long reviews of Avery's promising and very limited Brabant barrel-aged wild ale, New Belgium's Lips of Faith Dark Kriek, Alaskan's 2008 Smoked Porter and Deschutes' The Abyss imperial stout, with a plethora of comparisons to its Colorado cousins. Spring is springing, so it's time to down these hairy-chested winter brutes.