Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Grocery stores push for full-strength beer

Grocery and convenience store owners are renewing their push to sell beer exceeding 3.2 percent alcohol, Soggy Coaster's colleague in Denver reports.

It would require a change in state law, and a bill is expected to hit the floor of the Legislature next week. As it stands now, grocery and convenience stores are prohibited from selling full-strength beer, leaving it mostly to locally owned liquor stores.

The Colorado Brewers Guild, of which all four Durango breweries are members, opposes the bill.

There are many considerations here: liquor stores provide jobs and some may close if they lose their monopoly on full-strength beer. Some liquor stores have fantastic beer selections and those may also fall by the wayside. On the other hand, liquor stores have an unnatural monopoly that economists would surely scoff at. In essence, state law currently protects liquor stores from competition.

Oregon's example may be instructive. That state has a thriving craft beer industry despite allowing grocery stores to carry full-strength beer. The grocery stores there carry most of the big regional brewers like Deschutes, Widmer and Bridgeport. But good luck finding special releases or smaller breweries in grocery stores. That's where specialty beer stores come in. In cities like Portland and Eugene, beer stores thrive. Belmont Station and John's Market in Portland and The Bier Stein in Eugene offer expansive selections.

If the law passes and Colorado grocery stores do in fact get to sell full-strength beer - a big if - Soggy Coaster isn't persuaded that it necessarily spells doom for Colorado's small beer retailers.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Utah brewpubs

The New York Times discovered Sunday that brewpubs exist in Utah. The article focuses on Wasatch Brew Pub in Park City, the sort of place where wealthy Times readers might deign to vacation.

The article briefly mentions the two Moab brewpubs, Moab Brewery and Eddie McStiff's.

Drinking in Utah is a bizarre experience, full of byzantine, arbitrary rules that interfere with enjoying a pint. This is what happens when a state allows a fundamentalist religion to determine public policy.

Nevertheless, Soggy Coaster enjoys Moab Brewery, where one can sample a wide range of very good beers and be treated like an adult.

Soggy Coaster does not enjoy Eddie McStiff's. The beer is below-par for craft beer. The atmosphere is even worse: if one wants to drink without eating, one is directed to a segregated, cramped alcove that feels like a corner where a teacher would put a pre-schooler on time-out. Essentially, one is treated as a potential deviant rather than as a guest.

Utah's outdoorsy ethic, tourism and critical mass of young, creative people bode well for the future of craft beer there. Inevitably, the state's rules will loosen up as more outsiders move in. Soggy Coaster looks forward to the day.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Ska to release DIFF

Ska is preparing to release its beer for the Durango Independent Film Festival. Ska's DIFF is a Belgian-style wit bier.The brewery will host a release party from 5-8 p.m. on Wed., Feb. 4 at Ska HQ, 225 Girard St. in Bodo. Ten percent of sales will benefit the 2009 film festival. Food from Zia Taquera will be available, and musicians Gigi Love and Michael Coble will play.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

He said beer, she said wine (Snowdown)

Ska Brewing will host a beer, wine and cheese tasting at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 31, at Ska HQ, 225 Girard St. in Bodo.

Wine expert Leah Deane and Dave Thibodeau, president of Ska nation, will pair five fine cheeses from Guido's Italian Market with five beers of Dave's choosing (not necessarily Ska beers) and five wines of Leah's choosing. Attendees will vote on which pairing was best.

Both Leah and Dave will speak about pairing wines and beers with food. Only 30 tickets will be sold and all proceeds will go back to Snowdown. Tickets are $15 each. For reservations, call Holly at (970) 247-5792, or email President Thibodeau at

Semi-related quotes:

"I saw a wino sitting around eating grapes. I was like, dude, you have to wait." - Mitch Hedberg, comedian.

"Let a bunch of fruit sit around and rot, then drink the juice? Never saw the sense in that." - Soggy Coaster's grandfather

The tasting will be held alongside the Osiris Homebrew Competition, a preliminary competition for the Great American Beer Festival Pro/Am event. The winner of the local competition will have their recipe brewed in a local series batch.

Review: Collaboration not Litigation Ale (Avery)

Every once in a while, a beer is so good it reminds you of the possibilities inherent in brewing. This is one of those beers.

Collaboration not Litigation Ale was born of a friendship between brewers Adam Avery of Avery Brewing in Boulder and Vinne Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing in Sonoma County, California. The brewers realized they both offered beers named Salvation. Instead of suing each other over the name, they decided to collaborate. Cilurzo blended his Salvation with Avery's.

What results is a Belgian-style strong ale (8.72 percent ABV, 19 IBUs). Only two batches have been brewed, the first in 2004 and the second in Feb. 2008. Soggy Coaster purchased a 22-ounce second-batch bottle for $6.79 at Liquor World. Profits from the beer go to fund an educational trip for the brewers and some of their brewing friends.

Collaboration not Litigation pours a deep amber with medium head that recedes quickly. The first taste is unmistakably Belgian - creamy, rich and full of complexity. This ale has a nutty, caramel flavor that becomes more assertive as the beer warms, making each sip sweeter than the last. The alcohol fumes infiltrate the nose as lacing follows your progress down the glass. The 22-ounce bottle, poured into a globe, yields two substantial glasses.

Soggy Coaster doesn't plan on giving out a lot of A's, because only the very best beers deserve a mark so high (on the other hand, don't expect a lot of D's or F's, because Soggy Coaster doesn't plan on reviewing a lot of shit beers). Avery and Russian River have both earned a reputation for brewing innovative beers of high quality. With Collaboration not Litigation, they have done something special. An outstanding Belgian-style strong ale. A

Steamworks events

Steamworks Brewing will host a clam bake at Taos Ski Valley on Sunday, Feb. 15. The event from 3-5 p.m. is a fundraiser for the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps. Melanie Moore will spin tunes, then Liquid Cheese will play at 6 p.m. at the Martini Tree (at the ski area). Five bucks gets you a beer and a bowl of clams at the ski area. It might be a good day for Purgatory season-pass holders to use one of their three free days at Taos Ski Valley.

Also, Steamworks Brewing has been invited to participate in a dinner at the James Beard Foundation in New York City. Steamworks co-founder Kris Oyler will help host the Flavors of Colorado dinner March 6. “This is a tremendous honor for Steamworks, Durango and Colorado in general,” Oyler said in a press release. “There will be a few wines included in the multi-course meal, but Steamworks is the only brewery represented."

Foodies are increasingly recognizing that the best American craft beers are just as good as wine at pairing with fine food. (Ska Brewing is putting that to the test, see above).

Desert Sun Coffee Roasters
, the Durango company that provides beans to several local coffee shops, will also participate in the dinner.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

On tap at Durango Brewing

On tap at Durango Brewing Co.

Golden Ale
Amber Ale
Winter Ale
Derail Ale
Dark Lager
Naughty Pine (on cask)

Soggy Coaster recommends: Derail Ale. If a beer wins a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival, it's probably good. This full-bodied golden ale (8.5 percent alcohol, 44 IBUs) lives up to its reputation.

Macrobrewers struggle with recession

Sales for the big breweries are down across the industry. MillerCoors sales, for example, fell 2.3 percent during the third quarter of '08. What does all this mean for our local breweries? It remains to be seen. Given the strong growth in craft brewing in recent years, I doubt the Durango breweries will feel much pain.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Beers for Inauguration Day

Ol' hopey, as Wonkette calls the president-elect, is getting sworn in Tuesday. That calls for a beer to celebrate change we can believe in or to drown your sorrows, depending on which side you're on.

The obvious answer here is Ale to the Chief! from Avery Brewing in Boulder. It's a big, hoppy IPA (8.75 percent alcohol, 65 IBUs) brewed specifically to welcome the new president and released in a brown bottle wrapped in gold. Unfortunately, it's a limited release and may be difficult to find at this point.

Another good choice: Sam Adams (available at Liquor World, downstairs from Camino). Adams was America's brewingest founding father.

Republicans, of course, will want to drink Coors and drunk-dial Sarah Palin.

Review: Royal Embalming Fluid (Ska)

Soggy Coaster approached this review with some uneasiness: What if Ska's new Snowdown beer sucked? That would put Soggy Coaster in a no-win situation: either sacrifice the goodwill of the fine folks at Ska by criticizing their new beer, or insult readers by praising a beverage tasting of Nile River water.

Happily, Ska made it easy on Soggy Coaster by releasing a genuinely enjoyable lager worthy of his praise.

Royal Embalming Fluid is Ska's 874th release (approximately speaking) for Durango's annual Snowdown festival, an excuse for locals to drink to excess and dress up like idiots before vomiting on the snow and earning a ride to Detox.

To aid this process comes Royal Embalming Fluid, a honey lager brewed with dates and figs, sold in 1 pt., 6 fl. oz. bottles, and also on tap at Ska HQ in Bodo Industrial "Park"(ing lot).

Put simply, this beer is a winner. Ska resisted the temptation to brew a bizarre or overpowering beer. This release gives a nod to Snowdown's Egyptian theme without sacrificing drinkability. The lager is light, so too much of anything would have easily fouled things up. Ska struck the right balance, resulting in a beer neither boring nor off-putting.

The honey is the dominant note. It's not too strong, but it's there. The dates and figs could not be discerned by Soggy Coaster's untrained palate, but no matter.

Royal Embalming Fluid is a Tut-worthy beer for Snowdown. B+

On tap at Carver's

On tap as of this writing at Carver Brewing Co., where you can sip a good beer and actually hear yourself think:

Premium beers

Black Cherry Ale
Big Grizz Barley Wine
Celebration Strong Ale
Imperial Stout
Oatmeal Pale Ale
Cascade Canyon IPA (on cask)

Somewhat less premium beers

Red Letter Ale (new)
Lightner Creek Lager
Old Oak Amber Ale
Nut Brown Ale
Jack Rabbit Pale Ale

Soggy Coaster recommends: the Imperial Stout, a beer so dark, complex and full-bodied that it makes Guinness seem vulgar. Carver's effort is an exemplar of the style. Just watch the alcohol content, it sneaks up on you.

Steamworks pale available at Wolf Creek

Alberta Peak Pale Ale from Steamworks is again available at Wolf Creek Ski Area due to the blessed partnership between the two organizations. Soggy Coaster loves a good, hoppy pale ale, and Alberta Peak fits the bill. Try a bomber bottle while you rest your legs.

Coming soon from Ska

Watch out for Modus Hoperandi (7 percent alcohol, 70 IBUs) coming soon from Ska. The IPA will be available in cans, President Thibodeau says on his blog.

Modus Hoperandi debuted as #11 in the Local Series some time ago. Sounds like it was succesful enough to warrant further releases. Stay tuned for info on the release date and a review as soon as it hits the shelves.

Soggy Coaster also hears rumors of an upcoming Ska chocolate stout. More on that as the info becomes available.

Finally, Ska's new brewer has been putting some weird, innovative beer on tap at Ska HQ to free up the kegs. Soggy Coaster enjoyed a Hopless Dancer at Ska HQ last week. Soggy Coaster doesn't pretend to know anything about this beer (pictured), but it was sweet, flavorful and not at all bad.

Buzzsaw Brown is back

Buzzsaw Brown (4.8 percent alcohol, 30 IBUs), a winter seasonal from Deschutes Brewery in Oregon, is back on the shelves in Durango. It's only available from January until March, so pick up a six-pack (about $8) while you can. An easy-drinking brown ale, Buzzsaw is a fine seasonal.

Bootleggers Society wins Chamber award

The Durango Bootleggers Society, the consortium of local brewers, won the Outstanding Contribution to the Community Award from the Chamber of Commerce on Jan. 15. Congratulations, guys.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Santa Fe Brewing Company

Your intrepid blogger was in Santa Fe recently, where Santa Fe Brewing Co. is the dominant local brewery. I had three of their beers: a seasonal java stout, a nut brown (5.2 percent alcohol) and a pale ale (5.5 percent alc.). The java stout and nut brown were both very good. I was less impressed by the pale ale. It didn’t have the hoppy flavor that I’ve come to expect from the style. Maybe it’s the “pilsner-like maltiness” the brewery touts. Santa Fe beers can be had at Star Liquors, if memory serves.

Review: La Folie (New Belgium)

Seventeen bucks for a beer! Yes, and in this case, it's probably worth it. La Folie - meaning "crazy" or "insane" in French (surrender monkey) - represents a huge effort from New Belgium. It is a Flanders-style red, aged in French oak barrels for one to three years before being hand-bottled, corked and numbered (my bottle was 07-3152).

It takes substantial resources of any brewery to release a beer like La Folie. It's good to see New Belgium, the third-largest craft brewery in the country, according to the Brewers Association, using its resources for good and not for evil.

La Folie comes in a green wine-type bottle (1 pt., 9.4 oz). Soggy Coaster bought his at the Wine Merchant in the Nature's Oasis building.

Part of the fun of an "event" beer like La Folie is the aesthetic pleasure of uncorking the bottle, letting in warm slightly and pouring it out like some sort of sommelier.

La Folie pours a reddish tan with very little head. At first sip, it is intensely sour, and the sourness never goes away. It is well-balanced, not overly alcoholic (6 percent ABV) and enjoyable.

Soggy Coaster is a sucker for Flanders-style beer. The best in the category is The Dissident, a Flanders-style brown from Deschutes Brewery in Oregon that deservedly took home a gold medal in the 2008 Great American Beer Festival. La Folie lacks the complexity of The Dissident, falling short of the extremely high bar set by the Deschutes crew.

La Folie is a very good beer that aims for greatness and just misses. A-

Oregon beer

Western Oregon is one of the great beer meccas in the United States. A trip back there around Christmas proved the perfect opportunity to sample some of the Beaver State's much-ballyhooed craft brews. Unfortunately, a huge snowstorm kept Soggy Coaster from trying several pubs, but he did his best.

Soggy Coaster embarked to Deschutes Brewery’s cavernous new restaurant-pub in Portland ’s oh-so-trendy Pearl District. Deschutes is the seventh-largest craft brewer in the U.S. , according to the Brewers Association, and one of Soggy Coaster's favorites. They started in Bend in 1988 and opened the Portland pub only last year.

Unfortunately, they were out of The Abyss, their ridiculously good Russian imperial stout. Soggy Coaster opted instead for a spiced, high-octane version of their Jubelale winter seasonal that turned out to be sickly sweet.

Another day, Soggy Coaster went to Rogue Brewing's headquarters on the docks of Yaquina Bay in Newport . The big winner there was an imperial stout. Rogue’s maritime setting can’t be beat; you can see the docks from the tasting room.

Deschutes and Rogue beers can both be found in several Durango liquor stores. Soggy Coaster recommends Deschutes' Mirror Pond Pale Ale (in six packs) and Rogue's Hazelnut Brown Nectar (bombers).

Other notes:
* Strangely enough, the standout beer Soggy Coaster had in Oregon was from a California brewery. A bottle of Russian River Damnation, a Belgian-style strong golden ale (7 percent alcohol, 25 IBUs) from the Sonoma County, Calif., brewery, was outstanding. Sadly, Soggy Coaster has not seen Russian River beers around Durango .

* Ninkasi, a brewery founded in Eugene in 2006, seems to be everywhere in the Willamette Valley. They don’t even have a tasting room yet, but the brewery is generating considerable buzz in that area. Soggy Coaster enjoyed a Believer, a double-red ale (6.9 percent alcohol, 60 IBUs).

* Soggy Coaster poured a 2007 Saison du Pelican, an expensive, hand-numbered bottle from the Pacific City brewery. Unfortunately, as even the brewery admits, the saison lacks character. It was especially disappointing for such a compelling style. Hopefully, Pelican will improve this beer in coming years.