Friday, August 28, 2009

San Juan Brewfest this Sunday

A reminder that the San Juan Brewfest, Durango's annual beer festival, will be held 2 to 6 p.m. on Sun., Aug. 30, on Main Avenue between 12th and 13th streets.

Admission is $20. The event, in its 11th year, raises money for United Way of Southwest Colorado.

Brewers from around the Four Corners, the Front Range and farther-flung locales will pour. A full list is available here.

Soggy Coaster will be out of town on a long-scheduled vacation, so I want your help. After you attend the event, come back to Beer at 6512 and leave a comment. What were your favorite beers and brewers? How did it go overall? How can the fest improve next year?

I probably won't blog on vacation, but I'll get back to it shortly after I return Sept. 6.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Review: Merlo Stout (Ska)

Mmm ... oak.

Ska Brewing Co.'s twelfth Local Series release, Merlo Stout, hit the shelves Aug. 25 in 22-ounce bomber bottles.

Merlo Stout is the creation of Chris Vest, a 50-year-old Cortez man who realized the dream of every homebrewer in having his beer brewed by a commercial brewery.

Vest's stout won the Osiris Homebrew Competition in February. As his prize, Ska brewed Vest's beer for a limited commercial release.

Merlo Stout was aged in oak barrels to mimic the merlot taste in Vest's original recipe. Commercial brewers are prohibited from mixing wine and beer.

Stout, of course, is the king of dark beers. Just about every craft brewer makes a version, but they can differ greatly. There are dry stouts, like Guinness, and imperial stouts like Great Divide Yeti. There are chocolate stouts, oatmeal stouts and coffee stouts. Others too numerous to list.

This is the first time I've heard of a merlot stout.

Merlo Stout is big - 9.6 percent ABV. It pours very dark, with a small, tan head that was actually less robust than I expected.

A strong oak taste is most prominent at first. Initially I was disappointed. I had been expecting a stronger fruity wine note. It tasted almost more like a strong ale rather than a stout.

Ah, but give it a chance. As the glass warmed, that wine note I had been looking for emerged. Malts came into play. My mistake was in serving the bottle straight out of the refrigerator - much too cold.

Take your Merlo Stout out of the fridge at least 10 minutes before you want to drink it. Trust me, this will allow those flavors to come in from the cold.

Given Merlo Stout's strong alcohol content, drinking it with a meal isn't a bad idea, either. Such a beefy stout surely pairs well with all sorts of dishes.

Merlo Stout is deep, complex and tasty. I was hoping for a stronger fruity wine taste, which would have balanced the big body nicely. Nevertheless, an interesting and fairly innovative Local Series beer from Ska. B+

Hop harvest

Deschutes Brewery in Oregon posted this pic on its Flickr account. Each year, Deschutes makes a "hop trip" to get ingredients to brew its Hop Trip fresh hop pale ale, out in the fall.

Incidentally, Ska Brewing did something similar last fall.

Most American hops come from the Pacific Northwest. It's funny to hear hops named after places I've tromped around - Cascade, Chinook, Mt. Hood, Willamette.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sales up at Durango breweries

I wrote a short article for The Durango Herald about rising sales at Ska, Steamworks and Durango breweries.

All three are seeing double-digit increases in sales, even during a slow economy.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Ska's Merlo Stout hits the shelves

And here it is: Ska Brewing Co.'s pro-am Merlo Stout, released as #12 in the brewery's Local Series.

It hit the shelves throughout Durango just today. I found it for $5.29 per 22-ounce bomber bottle at my neighborhood liquor store. I'll let you know how it tastes with a review later this week, but the brewers are enthusiastic.

Merlo Stout - the spelling is intentional - was brewed with Chris Vest, a homebrewer who won Ska's Osiris Hombrewing Competion during the Snowdown festival. It was aged in oak barrels to mimic Vest's original recipe that included actual merlot, and it will be entered in the 2009 Great American Beer Festival's pro-am competition.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Review: Hennepin (Brewery Ommegang)

The tag line for Brewery Ommegang is "Belgian brewing in America." And so it is.

Ommegang, located in the baseball mecca of Cooperstown, N.Y., is best known for its Hennepin saison and Abbey Ale, two Belgian-style beers it brews to perfection. Hennepin is justifiably regarded by many as a world-class beer.

Saison is among my favorite styles: typically light in color, yeasty and flavorful. It's a perfect summer beer.

One can find Hennepin in Durango; Star Liquors, I believe, stocks it in 12-ounce bottles. I picked up a beautiful 25.4 ounce bottle at Distil, a new liquor store and deli in Farmington, N.M. The bottle had a cork-and-cage top that indicated this wasn't an ale to be trifled with.

Hennepin pours a beautiful golden color with a big, fizzy head that recedes quickly, almost like a soda. It's fairly boozy at 7.7 percent ABV.

Saison is a tough style to master - plenty of American saisons fall short. Among Durango brewers, only Carver's has recently tackled the style with its Saison de Tour, released earlier this summer to coincide with the Tour de France. I enjoyed the taste, but felt Carver's version was lacking in texture and carbonation.

In contrast, Hennepin's carbonation is just perfect. It's bottle-conditioned, and tiny bubbles hang around to remind you of the brewer's mastery.

Hennepin tastes wonderful, and it's eminently drinkable considering its relatively high alcohol content. Hennepin was a perfect complement to a hot August day.

Now is the perfect time to drink Hennepin, while it's still summer. It pairs especially well with pasta, salads, fish and chicken. Grab a bottle before fall sets in. A

(Photo via flickr)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Ska to release "merlo" stout

Ska Brewing Co. will release what promises to be a very interesting beer on Tuesday, Aug. 25: a barrel-aged "merlo" stout.

The recipe comes from a Cortez man, Chris Vest, who won the Osiris Homebrew Competition during the Snowdown festival in February. The prize: Ska promised to brew his beer for commercial release.

Vest's stout originally used the red wine merlot in the recipe. Unfortunately, the feds prohibit commercial brewers from mixing beer and wine (I know, dumb, huh?). So Ska instead aged the stout in oak barrels to get what they say is a similar taste. Ska also renamed the beer "Merlo Stout" to appease the feds.

Merlo Stout is big - 9.6 percent alcohol by volume, according to a news release.

Ska Head Brewer Thomas Larsen said the stout's aromas of "coffee, earthy hops, alcohol and a hint of smoke jump from the smooth blackness of this complex stout. For such a strong stout, the light body makes for a surprisingly quaffable brew.”

Merlo Stout also will be entered in the 2009 Great American Beer Festival's pro-am competiton.

Ska didn't mention it, but if Merlo Stout acts like other imperial stouts, it should age well. You might want to buy a couple of bottles and put one in a corner of your refrigerator for a few months.

Merlo Stout will be released in 22-oz. bomber bottles as part of Ska's Local Series, so it should be in liquor stores around Durango. If you're from outside the area, you're out of luck. And for those who live here, it won't last long.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Three brief reviews

Brief reviews of three newish beers:

Soggy Coaster really enjoyed Stone Sublimely Self Righteous Ale. This full-bodied strong ale (8.7 percent ABV, 90 IBUs), pours very dark, with a big head that recedes quickly. It's got a big hop flavor up front that yields to a nice, subdued smoky note. Sublimely is similar to, but better than, Stone's very popular Arrogant Bastard Ale. The flavor profile is more interesting. Sublimely is available in 22-oz. bomber bottles in liquor stores and, as of last weekend, on tap at Lady Falconburgh's Barley Exchange in Durango. A-

In constrast, Great Divide Brewing Co.'s Belgica was a huge disappointment. A summer seasonal from the Denver brewery, Belgica comes in at an aggressive 7.2 percent ABV. The idea was allegedly to create a Belgian-style IPA. Belgica more or less slams together an abbey ale with a big IPA like, say, Modus Hoperandi. An interesting gamble, but unfortunately the flavors clash in a most unwelcome manner. It tastes like an industrial cleaner - I kept being reminded of Windex, ammonia and powdered soap. Belgica was disgusting, and I struggled to finish a 12-0z. bottle. One of the worst craft beers I've had in years. F

The third newish beer to pass Soggy Coaster's lips lately was Sierra Nevada's Torpedo Extra IPA. Sierra Nevada, of Chico, California, is a well-respected industry elder, having been around since 1980. They're known for their commitment to quality ingredients, using only whole-cone hops, for example. Torpedo is a big, hoppy IPA, coming in at 7.2 percent ABV and 70 IBUs. Although Soggy Coaster isn't a hophead, he recognizes this is a fine example of the style. I prefer slightly mellower IPAs, like Avery's version. But the hopheads among you will love it. B+

Carver's hires new brewer

Carver Brewing Co., Durango's own little restaurant-brewpub, has hired an assistant brewer, according to The Durango Herald.

Jeff Albarella will help Carver's head brewer Erik Maxson. Albarella recently graduated from the Siebel Institute in Chicago, which is, to quote "Anchorman," kind of a big deal.

Maxson, who also owns a chunk of the brewery, is a Durango native in his 11th year at Carver's.

It'll be interesting to see what Albarella brings to Carver's. Stay tuned.

(The Herald posted a photo of Albarella here, but the page is somewhat of a disaster).

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Steamworks brews ale with Riesling

Steamworks Brewing is working on its Ale Diablo, a fall seasonal.

Ale Diablo is going to be dramatically different this year, with a new and innovative recipe from brewers Ken Martin and Spencer Roper that incorporates the German white wine Riesling.

“Typically, Belgian double blonde ale is the style we brew for the Diablo,” Martin said in a news release. “But we’ve used juice of Riesling grapes during fermentation, plus a Belgian strong golden yeast strain for the first time this year. The aroma of the beer is more spicy and peppery with hints of clove and fruit. On the palate the beer will have a light, soft malt character with slight green apple tartness and a hint of citrus.”

Unfiltered, this fall seasonal brew will have an ABV of roughly 8.6 percent, be pale golden in color and feature a bright white head. Steamworks will bottle it in 750 ml. bottles instead of 22 oz.. bottles, with a cork instead of a cap.

“The Diablo will go great with lighter proteins such as chicken and fish,” Martin said. “Fresh salads with citrus fruit components will be complemented very nicely as well.”

Sunday, August 16, 2009

True story

Some guys will just never embrace craft beer. My neighbor Al is one of these.

Al is 55-60 years old. He spends most of his time hanging out in his garage with his buddies, drinking beer. Their beverage of choice is Milwaukeee's Best, as evidenced by the stacks of cans in his garage.

The other day, I went over to his place to throw some horseshoes. He offered me a beer that turned out to be Ska's Mexican Logger. Mexican Logger is Ska's lightest-bodied and easiest-drinking beer. It's only 4.2 percent ABV and 18 IBUs, a summer seasonal intended for gulping around the barbecue.

He handed me the bottle with a frown. "I don't like it," he said. "It's too dark."

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

San Juan Brewfest set for Aug. 30

Durango's annual beer festival, the San Juan Brewfest, is set for Sun., Aug. 30.

This year it will be held on Main Avenue between 12th and 13th streets.

Soggy Coaster has attended this excellent little event twice. The first time, in 2006 or 2007, ticket-holders were given a nice pint glass with a cool San Juan Brewfest logo. The following year, he was crestfallen to find the organizers had switched to tiny, plastic mug-shaped cups.

Sure, there are logistical and safety concerns to handing out pint glasses. But their elimination killed one thing that made San Juan Brewfest better than most fests.

Fortunately, according to the event's website, attendees this year will get a "collectors edition beer tasting glass" with their $20 admission. This is wonderful news. I was concerned they would downgrade to sippy cups.

Does anybody know when the Brewfest moved from Purgatory to downtown? This is news to me.

The website lists the following breweries as pouring at the Brewfest:

Carver Brewing Company
Durango Brewing Company
Ska Brewing Company
Steamworks Brewing Company
Alaskan Brewing Company
Big Sky Brewing Company
Blue Moon Brewing Company
Bristol Brewery
Boulder Beer Company
Eske’s Brew Pub
Herman Joseph’s Private Reserve
Leinenkugel Brewing Company
Palisade Brewery
Silverton Brewery

Update: Check out the comments section for more info from Tim Walsworth, who is organizing the event.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Temptation in Denver

This one's for my Front Range readers: Fermentedly Challenged reports that Russian River Temptation will be pouring Thursday, Aug. 13, at the Falling Rock Tap House in Denver.

Temptation (7.25 percent ABV) is a blonde ale aged in French oak chardonnay barrels with the souring yeast Brettanomyces. The beer has earned rave reviews from just about everybody who has been lucky enough to try it, and Russian River, from Santa Rosa, California, has a superb track record.

If Soggy Coaster lived anywhere near Denver, he'd be there early. The party begins at 5 p.m. and Natalie Cilurzo, wife of brewer Vinnie, will be on hand. Don't miss this one if you can possibly attend.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Review: Wheelsucker Wheat Ale (Ska/Avery)

It was a good and lucky thing that Ska Brewing Co. joined forces with their brothers to the north at Avery Brewing Co. to brew a collaboration beer.

Some of the best beers in the country have resulted from collaborations - Collaboration Not Litigation (Avery and Russian River Brewing) is a notable Colorado example. And Ska and Avery are both excellent breweries.

The brewers settled on a wheat ale, a good choice for a summer release. Wheat beers easily take flavors, most often orange peel or coriander, but one of the best I've had recently was a prickly pear-flavored hefeweizen from Santa Fe Brewing.

There was never any question that Wheelsucker Wheat Ale would be more than a typical wheat. Avery's involvement ensured that. The brewery's special releases are almost always amped-up, or "imperial," beers containing at least 7 percent alcohol, and sometimes more than twice that.

Adam Avery and his crew came to Durango July 1 to brew Wheelsucker along with Ska head brewer Thomas Larsen. Wheelsucker was released July 24 in 22-oz. bomber bottles. It is also available on tap at Ska and, I hear, Lady Falconburgh's Barley Exchange.

Wheelsucker pours triumphantly, a cascade of bubbles rising to form a substantial creamy white head. It quickly settles down, an indication of the beer's strong alcohol content (around 6.6 percent).

The mouthfeel is very full; it's almost a little bready. It reminds me somewhat of an orange smoothie.

Flavor comes in waves, first a full wheat taste, and then a moderate orange note. It goes down exceptionally easy. This is a beer one could drink in substantial quantity if not for the assertive presence of alcohol.

In short, I loved it. Wheelsucker tastes great and mixes easily with Sprite or syrups to create a Radler, a traditional German drink. It's a refreshing summer ale and a notable accomplishment for two breweries that, despite their excellent lineups, have little experience with German styles.

Soggy Coaster would also like to make note of the price. Wheelsucker is available around Durango for about $4 plus sales tax per 22-oz. bomber bottle. That's cheaper than most of Ska and Avery's own bombers, not to mention expensive out-of-state breweries. It's as good or better than beers more than twice its price. Get it while you can.

Wheelsucker is the best wheat beer I have ever drank. Nevertheless, the style lacks the complexity of say, the best saisons, abbey ales and imperial stouts. Even the best wheat ale cannot measure up to the very best beers in the world. Yet Wheelsucker accomplishes all a wheat ale can be, and Soggy Coaster heartily recommends it. A-

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

MillerCoors fined for alleged safety violations

The Denver Post reports that MillerCoors, Colorado's largest brewer, has been fined by federal regulators after one worker died and two others were injured at the Golden plant.

It's worth remembering that brewing giants such as MillerCoors are huge, industrial operations, with all the trappings of any other heavy industry.

In my four years in Durango, I haven't heard of any workplace injuries at Durango's four breweries. Which doesn't necessarily mean it hasn't happened, but there doesn't seem to be any history of problems.

Some of those guys lug around a lot of weight, in addition to electrical dangers. So it always pays to be careful.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A little round-up

Soggy Coaster has unfortunately been too busy lately to write some posts that need writing. The big event recently was the release of Wheelsucker Wheat Ale by Ska Brewing. The full review that the beer deserves is percolating somewhere in my cranium. Also, I intend to drink and review Durango Brewing Co.'s new Motivator in coming days.

Briefly, Carver's has returned its Oatmeal Pale Ale to the taps. Soggy Coaster needs to try that one, too.

And, finally, the Beervana blog out of Portland has a beautiful meditation on that author's favorite style, the saison. Carver's brews a version of the venerable style; its Saison de Tour is now on tap.