Monday, November 30, 2009

The new look

I'm fooling with a new template in hopes of eliminating some white space, giving the text more horizontal room and reducing the need to scroll so much. It's not quite where I want it to be yet, but I think I'm on the right track.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

On cask

The Washington Post has an article on cask ales, those delicious beers typically served above 50 degrees Fahrenheit and carbonated only by natural conditioning. It's a good primer on what makes a cask beer different from beer served on standard taps.

I find cask beers much more flavorful that their carbonated counterparts.

In Durango, we're fortunate enough to have a few hand-pulled cask engines around town. Carver's always has its cask dedicated to Cascade Canyon IPA, a consistently solid bet. Durango Brewing Co. and Steamworks Brewing Co. also have casks, but in my experience, they aren't always in operation. Sadly, Ska is cask-less.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Abyss lands in Durango

I arrived at my friend's house for Thanksgiving, and call me the Grinch if he didn't have a bottle of The Abyss sitting on his counter.

The Abyss, an imperial stout made by Deschutes Brewing in Oregon, is one of the best beers you or I will ever have. It's currently rated the fourth-best beer in the world by BeerAdvocate users. It won a gold medal at the 2007 Great American Beer Festival.

Naturally, I proceeded without further ado to Star Liquors, where my friend and I bought several more bottles. I'm squirreling some away to see how this legendary ale ages.

I won't belabor the point (Last winter, I wrote about my difficulty obtaining a bottle, and a subsequent review), but if you don't mind spending $11 for a great imperial stout, I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Ska unveils Snowdown beer and more

Ska Brewing Co has a bunch of beers coming around the corner. Let's get to it:

1. For the brewery's traditional Snowdown beer, Ska will release Hyper Fierce Gnar Gnar Hefe. This unfiltered hefeweizen will be brewed with pineapples and toasted coconut. The good folks at Carver's are letting Ska use their kitchen to toast the coconut, President Thibodeau reports.

"I've never even imagined such a thing," Thibodeau says. "This came out of Head Brewer Thomas Larsen's head. Obviously we have to keep a short lease on that guy, but he got away with one here."

The toasted coconut and pineapples fit in with Snowdown's "Life's a Beach" theme. After Larsen's success along with Avery Brewing Co. in brewing Wheelsucker Wheat, this might be tasty. I can also imagine the pineapple sweetness dominating with a cloying, syrupy taste. We'll have to see how this comes out. Regardless, it's a pretty daring experiment, even for a local release.

Hyper Fierce Gnar Gnar Hefe will be released only in Durango in 22-ounce bottles beginning Dec. 29, Thibodeau says.

2. Right after that, the brewery will release Ska Sour, which the brewery has been working on for most of the last year, Thibodeau says. I'll let the man tell you about it himself:

"If you could give it a style, I might call it a Belgo-American Sour Pale. It was brewed specifically
for the 10th anniversary of Big Beers, Belgians, and Barleywines. Brewed with multiple yeast strains, including Brettanomyces, Ska Sour was aged and generally funked-up in oak casks inoculated with all manner of groovy little bugs. The aroma is decidedly sour with musty Brett hints and hearty notes of dark fruits (black currant, plum). The addition of Centennial dry hops in the casks give this beer a unique Ska hop twist."

Ska Sour will be released at the Vail Festival on Jan. 9, and statewide the following week. It will be bottled in 750ml bottles topped by a cork and cage.

Brettanomyces is the yeast behind some of my favorite beers, including Deschutes' The Dissident. It's an extremely delicate yeast that takes talented, patient brewers to handle.

In a larger sense, this is exactly the kind of beer I've been waiting for Ska to brew. The rush to "imperialize" every style has reached its limit, and it's time for a new trend in brewing. Going back to the roots of continental European traditions, like sour beers from those crafty Belgians, is a promising frontier.

3. Finally, one more limited-release Local Series beer will be out soon. This beer - which apparently still lacks a name - is a cream stout aged in oak casks with orange peels.

"The last time I tasted it, it reminded me of a liquid creamsicle," Thibodeau says. "This is very limited (4 casks) and will only be available in Durango. Look for the familiar Local Series labels on 22-ounce bottles."

Update: Beer #3 is apparently named Oak-aged Orange Cream Stout, per Ska's Facebook feed.

Steamworks releases Spruce Goose

Steamworks Brewing Co. has released Spruce Goose, a winter seasonal brewed with 80 pounds of spruce tips from Molas Pass trees.

Spruce Goose is on tap at Steamworks and available in 22-ounce bomber bottles.

“To some extent, this is a homegrown beer,” Brian McEachron, director of marketing and sales, said in a news release. “It’s a beer that’s certainly not ‘mainstream,’ but definitely worth discovering.”

McEachron credited Steamworks brewer Ken Martin with perfecting the recipe, which purportedly dates to the Vikings.

Spruce Goose is 8.1 percent ABV, and it earned a bronze medal in the 2009 Australian International Beer Competition.

It has been years since I've tried Spruce Goose. When I first drank it, it really threw me off and I couldn't even finish a pint. However, tastes evolve, and I'll give Spruce Goose another shot this winter. Look for a review here in the next week or two.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Steamworks to leave Bayfield

My Durango Herald colleague Dale Rodebaugh breaks some big news on Steamworks Brewing Co. in today's paper. Steamworks plans to abandon its Bayfield brewing facility and retrench in Durango. The article reports:

Steamworks Brewing Co. is phasing out its Bayfield plant, where about two-thirds of its production takes place.

"Our intent is to retrench in Durango, which will be done in phases," co-founder and CEO Kris Oyler said Thursday. "We'll bring most of our operations here."

Sales are not the problem, Oyler said. Month-in, month-out sales this year are up 30 to 40 percent, Oyler said. Myriad cost pressures, including transportation and the price of hops, which has tripled in the preceding 18 months, are the culprit, Oyler said.

This is big and bewildering news. The story of craft beer in this nation since the mid-'80s has been one of continuous growth. It's remarkable to see this dramatic a sign of pulling back.

Certainly, cost pressures for hops and transportation are real, but it's unclear why Steamworks is pulling back. Oyler says in the article:

"We tried to run a restaurant in Bayfield, but our business model didn't work as we had planned."

Please allow me to indulge in some informed speculation: Bayfield is a tiny, working-class town, population 2,024. It's entirely possible that there just aren't enough customers in Bayfield to support a restaurant-brewpub. But that doesn't explain why three brewery employees were laid off, while restaurant staff was unaffected.

This news leaves more questions than answers.

Hopefully, this retrenchment allows Steamworks to survive the tough economy and emerge in a sustainable manner. The brewery plans to focus on its Colorado markets. It doesn't sound as if Steamworks' Durango location will be substantially affected.

One thing it does make clear: Ska is now clearly the dominant Durango-based brewer, with about double Steamworks' production.

P.S.: Check out Beer 'N Bikes take here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Dear Readers: What do you want?

Beer at 6512 is closing in on its first anniversary. The 'ol Durango beer blog is nearing 8,000 all-time hits and has logged 160 posts.

I enjoy doing it. It's fun learning more about craft beer and sharing it with you.

But the damn thing has yet to bring in a dime. (Google Adsense doesn't pay until you reach a certain threshold, which at this rate, is years away). And sometimes, writing on the Internet feels like mumbling into an abyss.

So I think the time has come for a little check-in with you guys, my readers. What do you like? What do you want to see more of? What's a waste of time and space?

At the bottom of the blog, if you'll scroll down, there's a reader poll. Click on whatever you want to see more of. Also feel free to leave a comment or e-mail me.

I want Beer at 6512 to be relevant to you and worth my time, too. Please let me know how I'm doing and what you want to see.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Review: Steamworks Ale Diablo

A while back, I complained about the relative lack of Colorado-brewed Belgian styles. Ale Diablo is a notable exception to this prevailing condition.

Clearly, Steamworks put a lot of thought, effort and money into this Belgian-style golden ale. The fall seasonal was bottled in 24-ounce wine bottles, topped by a cork and cage. I purchased mine for $9.99 at a local liquor store.

Brewers Ken Martin and Spencer Roper devised a recipe that incorporates juice from Riesling grapes, which create the white wine of the same name.

“Typically, Belgian double blonde ale is the style we brew for the Diablo,” Martin said in an August 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.”

Ale Diablo (8.5 percent ABV, 33 IBUs) pours very pale, even compared to most golden ales. Some fizzy, white carbonation lingers.

The taste is largely to style: a bit sweet, a bit funky, a bit delicious. The Riesling grapes do lend a fruity taste reminiscent of white wine. Ale Diablo is very dry.

It is a strong beer, and the alcohol provides a pleasant warming sensation throughout. It might not be a bad idea to share your bottle with another, as I did.

Ale Diablo compares well with other Belgian goldens available in Colorado, including Ska's True Blonde Dubbel and Avery's Salvation. They're all very good, and I'd love to see which would come out ahead in a blind tasting.

Belgian goldens seem celebratory, like something one could drink at a wedding. They also go damn well with all kinds of food. Ale Diablo is an angelic Belgian beer. A-

Friday, November 13, 2009

Thanksgiving beers

Thanksgiving is a fantastic beer-drinking holiday. I know I'm looking forward to having the day off for the first time in years.

It also represents a chance to stretch your beer-pairing skills. This Seattle beer blog has some good suggestions, focusing on Belgian styles. But personally, I want to go another route. It's just too damn cold to mess with saisons.

I'm thinking two dark beers: one big, assertive beer, and another I can drink a few of.

For the big beer, the obvious choice has been aging in my fridge for months: Deschutes Black Butte XXI, a massive 11 percent ABV super-porter that was brewed with coffee and chocolate nibs and aged in whisky barrels. I'm eager to try it.

For the smaller brew, I'm considering a few choices. Durango Dark Lager (5.8 percent ABV, 20 IBUs), Full Sail's Session Black and Deschutes Obsidian Stout (6.4 percent ABV, 50 IBUs) would all work well.

There is a so much selection out there that it's difficult to narrow the choices. Nevertheless, it's a good problem to have.

What do you think? Surely I've overlooked some good turkey-pairing beers.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Halfway to Helles

Durango Brewing Co. has a new German-style pale lager on tap.

Halfway to Helles (you just knew there had to be a pun in the name somehow) is a project by Damon Scott, who works under Managing Brewer Scott Bickert.

It comes in at 6.1 percent ABV and 30 IBUs. The lager was brewed with pilsener malt as a base with dark and light Munich malts, bittered with Mt. Hood hops.

I had one last night at the brewery and really enjoyed it. Sometimes it's just nice to have a classic beer brewed to style.

Monday, November 9, 2009

A little boosterism

Two quick odes to Durango beers:

1. Steamworks Brewing Co. has a superb Imperial Mole Stout on cask (at least as of Nov. 6, at the Durango brewpub). The spice adds a unique flavor that I found reminiscent of vanilla. There's also some chocolate and a mellow spice kick to it. Serving it at cask temperature allows the flavors to come out right away. It's really a very complex, interesting stout. Some imperial stouts have a "me too" quality to them. Not this one. It ought not be missed.

As an aside, props to Steamworks for offering 10- and 20-ounce beers. Sometimes, as with a heavy, strong imperial stout, 10 ounces is perfect.

2. The more fresh-hop beers I try, the more I think Ska's Hoperation Ivy is an excellent example of the style. I tried a Left Hand Warrior IPA (6.6 percent ABV, 60 IBUs) on Sunday and came away disappointed. It wasn't bad, but it seemed less flavorful than Hoperation Ivy. So add the Longmont brewery's entry into the fresh-hop category as another beer that Hoperation Ivy exceeds, along with Deschutes' Hop Trip and Sierra Nevada's Harvest Ale.

There are so many fresh-hop beers brewed on the West Coast that it's hard to know how Hoperation Ivy stacks up. But it blows away most others I've tried.

This post has been edited from an earlier version.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Review: Durango Brewing Ghost Train

Perhaps if Charlie Brown (correction: Linus) ever turns 21, he will just sip a Ghost Train instead of waiting all night for the Great Pumpkin to show up.

A new seasonal release from Durango Brewing Co., Ghost Train was brewed with pumpkin spices. A 22-ounce bomber bottle cost me $3.99 at a local liquor store. It’s also on tap at Durango Brewing.

This is the third year Durango Brewing has made Ghost Train, but the first time the brewery has bottled it.

The label is terrifying. A flaming jack o’ lantern forms the head of a train conductor. It’s like something out of a childhood nightmare.

Ghost Train (5.8 percent ABV, 21 IBUs) pours a fair-sized grayish head with a dark body. The carbonation sticks around for a while.

At first taste, Ghost Train has a strong, slightly sweet malt profile. The pumpkin spice kicks in second. Ghost Train is not a hoppy beer. Malt flavors and spice carry this lager.

Ghost Train is based on Durango Dark Lager – in my opinion, the best of DBC’s longtime lineup and among the best year-round beers brewed in Durango. So it’s no surprise that Ghost Train is tasty.

After fermentation, the lager is spiced. “We’re able to dry-pumpkinize it,” said Managing Brewer Scott Bickert, who had some experience brewing pumpkin-spiced beers at Four Peaks Brewing in Arizona.

“No one else I knew was doing one in town,” Bickert said.

Durango Brewing Co. keeps improving, as consecutive years taking home GABF gold medals attests. The brewery’s still-fairly new tap room has given it a visibility and a culture it previously lacked.

Ghost Train is a fine seasonal release, a taste of pumpkin pie in a bottle. It’s too sweet to drink regularly, but that wasn’t the brewery’s intention. Bickert brewed seven barrels of Ghost Train, and only about two barrels remain. Ghost Train ought to go nicely with Thanksgiving dinner - if you can save some. B