Denver is Colorado's metropolis, the biggest thing between Chicago and L.A (besides Phoenix). It's an odd town, sustained largely by massive corporations requiring a way station in the vast American West.
The suburbs have exploded; Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins have metastasized into one sprawling organism. Every time I visit, I wonder: Where are all the weird people?
Fortunately, it is also one of the best beer towns in the United States, right up there with Portland and San Diego. I won't bore you with an exhaustive list of area brewers, but here's some of the heavy hitters: New Belgium, O'Dell, Avery, Fort Collins Brewery, Great Divide.
Soggy Coaster had a few days in the area, but made it to only Avery Brewing, Great Divide and the brewpub Bull & Bush.
Avery Brewing was a must-visit. Founded in 1993 by Adam Avery, the brewery has become known for making big, complex and innovative beers, sort of like a Rocky Mountain version of Dogfish Head. I love their Belgian interpretations and freaky experimentations.
Their brewery reminded me a lot of Ska's old digs: it's buried behind other industrial operations in an anonymous corner of Boulder. It's not easy to find, and when you get there you wonder if you're at the right place.
Inside, a very (Avery?) nice tap room was well-attended with beer geeks. All the regular brews were on tap plus a few special offerings.
The tap room manager led a brewery tour. It was one of the best tours I've been on. He was informative and funny. "It's all about the flavor," he said, among other wisdom. That would make a fantastic ad slogan, certainly better than macrobrew propaganda like "cold-filtered" and "triple-hopped."
We got a look at Avery's barrel-aging room, where 108 wooden barrels that once held cabernet sauvignon, Heaven Hill whiskey and other concoctions are now aging various beers. Each barrel carries a page denoting its provenance and history. Those beers were getting tastier and more interesting before our eyes.
Avery has been a leader in barrel aging with beers like Brabant. Currently aging, among other things, is an ale brewed with Brettanomyces yeast and sour cherries. Tentatively known as Cherry Mess, the beer will be re-named before its release. Interestingly, at least two Avery staffers are former sommeliers.
Back in the tap room over a game of Trivial Pursuit, Soggy Coaster enjoyed two saisons: a Van Diemen and a Sixteen Anniversary Ale.
Traditionally, saison is a yeasty Belgian farmhouse style. Beers within the style can vary hugely.
Van Diemen is a rare concoction, labeled a black saison. As the bartender reminded me, that's not a recognized category.
Avery brewed Van Diemen in collaboration with Mountain Sun Pub & Brewery, also based in Boulder. The bartender claimed it's the first beer in North America brewed with Tasmanian pepper berries.
Poured into a 10-oz. taster glass, Van Diemen was black in color but light in body. A fruity nose gave way to a similarly fruity taste. It carried a certain pleasant tartness. Soggy Coaster enjoyed the strange offering (give it a C+), but thought a thicker-bodied beer such as a stout might have carried the berry flavor better. How about a version of The Czar with Tasmanian pepper berries?
The latest of Avery's annual anniversary releases, Sixteen is the more traditional of the two saisons. It poured a frothy golden color. Honestly, I didn't good a good bearing on it. The taster glass just wasn't enough for me to render a verdict. Fortunately, Soggy purchased a Sixteen bomber bottle for later review.
Avery's last anniversary ale, logically dubbed Fifteen, won a silver medal in the 2008 Great American Beer Festival's "experimental beer" category.
Avery deserves its outstanding reputation. The brewery is flippin' sweet.
Great Divide Brewing Co. is in the heart of Denver near Coors Field. The brewery, best known for its Yeti Imperial Stout, has a tiny tasting room. When I went before a Rockies game, it was packed with locals.
I sipped a Yeti served in a globe glass. (Props to the brewery for serving in proper glassware). It poured that characteristic imperial stout black, with a dark brown head. As everyone knows, Yeti is an excellent, flavorful and complex imperial stout.
I ran out of time to try other Great Divide beers as Ubaldo was about to take the mound. But rain fell, delaying the game for 45 minutes. I took that as a sign that God wanted me to have another beer, so Soggy and compatriots proceeded to Falling Rock Tap House.
I was eager to try Falling Rock. They have a huge array of beer on tap from all over the world, and bottles aging in a refrigerator for someone flusher than I to purchase.
I wavered at the bar before settling on a New Belgium Lips of Faith Biere de Mars, a fruity ale brewed with Brettanomyces yeast. It was smooth, malty and complex, with a bit of lemon and orange flavor.
Another day, we went to Bull & Bush, a Denver brew pub popular with locals. I tried a Hail Brau Hefeweizen and a Stonehenge Stout over lunch. The hefeweizen was totally decent if unexceptional, a nice summer beer. Say a B-. The stout carried a delicious light sweetness that was well balanced with hops. Give it a B+.
Finally, Soggy Coaster and a friend emptied the shelves at Argonaut Liquor. Soggy picked up a few bottles rarely found in Durango, including Deschutes' Mirror Mirror barleywine ale, the legendary Belgian product Orval and an Avery Samael's Ale.
Soggy drove out of Denver while a tornado was developing north of town. Luckily, it missed all the breweries.
Photos by Soggy Coaster and Dustin Bradford