Thursday, February 26, 2009

On tap at Carver's

On tap at Carver Brewing Co., as of Wednesday:

Premium beers

X-Rock Bock
Chocolate Lover's Stout
120 Schilling Scotch Ale
Big Grizz Barley Wine
Black Cherry Ale
Cascade Canyon IPA (on cask)


Lightner Creek Lager
Old Oak Amber Ale
Colorado Trail Nut Brown Ale
Jack Rabbit Pale Ale

Soggy Coaster recommends: X-Rock Bock. It just went on tap yesterday, and it's tasty. Chocolate Lover's Stout is a good winter warmer, and Cascade Canyon IPA is well-balanced. The 120 Schilling Scotch Ale has a smoky taste from peated malt than can throw you if you're not expecting it.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Steamworks cans Third Eye Pale Ale

Steamworks Brewing Co. has begun canning its Third Eye Pale Ale, the brewery announced this week.

Third Eye Pale Ale (6.4 percent ABV, 65 IBUs) is now offered for off-premise sales in 12-oz. aluminum six-pack cans, in addition to the 12-oz. bottle six packs. It is the second Steamworks beer to be packaged in a can, alongside Steam Engine Lager.

"For a brewery to begin canning any of its varieties, it is a big step purely because it requires a major investment of time in label approval, and in production and purchase of packaging materials.” said Brian McEachron, Steamworks' director of marketing and sales, in a news release.

Ska Brewing is canning its newest beer, Modus Hoperandi IPA (see below). Oskar Blues in Lyons was the first craft brewer to can its beer, beginning in 2002 with Dale's Pale Ale.

More from Steamworks:

"A complicated design, the Third Eye artwork required Steamworks to employ a new process for the cans’ production – called Iris – which allows for more colors to be transferred on to the can.

"Advance press checks were required before the run of more than 300,000 cans was launched. Initially, Third Eye cans will be available throughout Colorado, Texas and Virginia.

"Third Eye is reminiscent of the English ales that date back to the early 1800s and, in Steamworks’ extensive beer repertoire, is one of the most heavily hopped beers. The larger grain bill does, however, produce a residual sweetness, and the Third Eye Pale Ale features an appealing light, copper color.

“'We’re pleased with the response to the Third Eye Pale Ale,' McEachron said. 'Along with all craft brewers, Steamworks has endeavored to educate the consumer and garner enhanced appreciation of these more flavorful craft beers. Those who enjoy the Third Eye have definitely acquired a sophisticated beer palette. It’s the beer of enlightened patrons in Southwest Colorado.'"

Them's fightin' words!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Review: Modus Hoperandi India Pale Ale (Ska Brewing)

For the first time in years, Ska Brewing Co., Durango’s largest brewer, has introduced a new beer to its year-round lineup. Certainly, a cause for drunken celebration followed by a sober contemplation of the offering.

The Ska boys chose to grace the market with Modus Hoperandi, an IPA that packs a 6.8 percent alcohol by volume wallop, with 65 IBUs.

Ska is following a popular style. India pale ales are distinguished by their hop bitterness and high alcohol content. They were developed in the 18th century by British brewers who wanted a beer strong enough to mask the spoilage that inevitably occurred on the long sail to India, which was a British colony at the time. Or so the story goes, and it makes sense. After a long day of subjugating the natives, an IPA must be refreshing. (Soggy Coaster reading suggestion: pair a Modus Hoperandi with “Shooting an Elephant,” George Orwell’s famous essay on British imperialism).

In recent years, American craft brewers have seized on the IPA, turning it into a pissing match of who could stuff the most hops in a bottle. Dogfish Head of Delaware won that contest with its 120 Minute IPA, an experimental brew bringing 20 percent ABV and 120 IBUs. It tastes like no beer you have ever had. (Star Liquors stocks it, by the way).

Steamworks Brewing has its own entrant in the pissing match: Conductor Imperial IPA (8.5 ABV, 96 IBUs), a way-over-the-top hop bomb that Soggy Coaster finds excessively bitter.

Many beer drinkers love IPAs, and for some, an appreciation of the style sets a true beer aficionado apart from a domestic-sucking ignoramus. Soggy Coaster is not one of these people. Perhaps it is sacrilege, but he prefers good pale ales, strong golden ales, Belgian styles and stouts to the simplistic, bitter aggression of many IPAs.

Which brings us to Modus Hoperandi. It is a major effort from Ska, and it will be found wherever Ska beers are sold. Durango beer drinkers can buy it now; Ska fans on the Front Range and other states will get it in coming weeks. Ska opted to can Modus Hoperandi as well as bottle it, a curious decision given the IPA’s aggressive profile. Typically, brewers can more approachable beers. A six-pack of Modus Hoperandi cans retails for $8.39 at Ska HQ: not cheap by any means.

The first thing one notices is the can’s graphics. Ska has distinguished itself with tattoo- and comics-inspired art from day one. Modus Hoperandi advances this grand tradition with a fantastic design: a dark green background with three fellas in suits (one a skeleton) strolling out of the Ska logo, which is itself adorned with green hop flowers. It is perhaps the coolest beer can in America.

Modus Hoperandi – the name is also excellent – is perhaps best enjoyed straight from the can or a pint glass. It pours a light amber color. A minimal head recedes quickly.

The taste is exceptional for the style. It is bitter, but less so than other IPAs. A nice, hoppy floral aroma greets the nose. A slightly fruity taste – those hops again – is evident. Soggy Coaster found himself liking Modus Hoperandi despite his general aversion to the style. Modus Hoperandi will be a great beer for spring and summer.

The bottom line: people who enjoy IPAs will love Modus Hoperandi. People who generally do not like IPAs will tolerate and perhaps even like it. Soggy Coaster predicts Modus Hoperandi will find an eager market and stick around in Ska’s lineup for a long while. It is good, and only Soggy Coaster’s general aversion to the style keeps it from earning a higher grade here. B+

P.S. Obviously, a new year-round release from Ska is a big freakin' deal in the context of Durango brewing. Opinions will differ. Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Guest Review: Old Viscosity Ale (Port Brewing Co.)

In an experiment of reciprocal reviews, Soggy Coaster's friend the Grizzly Growler, a talented wordsmith who runs a beer blog of the same name from Montana, has written a guest review for Beer at 6512 readers. Grizzly Growler chose Old ViscosityAle, a big, blended beer from Port Brewing Co. in San Marcos, California. Here it is:

This is not a get-home-from-work-and-slam-a-cold-one beer. This is not even an enjoy-a-pint-or-two-with-buddies beer. No, Old Viscosity from Port Brewing Co. is a beer enjoyed under very exacting circumstances.

First you must search out this beer in finer stores. In Durango, Colorado, I'm told only certain liquor stores might carry a beer of this size and strength. The bottle says, "This is not your dad's 30-weight." At 10.5 ABV and with the mouthfeel of Pennzoil, this beer is not light and not taken lightly.

If you can't find it at a local store, you can try ordering it online at Liquid Solutions.

After your bottle has chilled, remove it from the fridge or your beer cellar and let it stand in the bottle for 20 minutes. Take a bowl-shaped glass made for any of the Belgian varieties, or, if you don't have a good beer glass, try a big wine glass, and pour your beer in so that it forms a good half-inch-thick head.

This should provide a good setting for the contemplative nature of this complex beer.

I did it all wrong, but then again, the last time I had this beer, somebody put a scoop of vanilla ice cream in it. I'm not saying it wasn't good that way, but I wanted to try it all on its own.

Everything was going well up until the point I let the beer warm to the proper temperature. My mistake was trying to watch "24" while sipping on an Old Viscosity. Watching Jack Bauer thwart the plans of yet another heavily armed and incredibly well-prepared terrorist holding the entire U.S. military and FBI at bay is just not the best time to contemplate the rich, dark chocolate and toasted wood notes that come off the beer when you swirl the glass. It's lucky that I write about beer for a living, or I might not have taken the time to Tivo "24" and spend some time in this beer.

The silky mouthfeel puts this beer strongly in the stout category but other subtle flavors released as it warms tease the boundaries of porters, old ales and barley wines. Not one style stands out above the rest, but the sheer darkness and intense nature of this beer reminded me most of a big, imperial stout.

Though I really like big wood-aged beers with lots of alcohol heat and woodsy characteristics, blended beers like Old Viscosity offer the brewer a chance to mellow out certain attributes that can come across as too strong for some beer drinkers. By taking a percentage of the beer and blending it with 20 percent barrel aged beer, the alcohol and woodsy vanilla flavors are blended in with the chocolate malts to make a beer where not one single flavor is dominant and the beer drinker is able to discern multiple flavors and a complex nose. Try buying two bottles and laying one down for a year. You won't be disappointed.



Wednesday, February 18, 2009

New Ska beer!

Ska Brewing Co. released Modus Hoperandi, a big new IPA, Wednesday at Ska HQ in Durango.

Megaphone played the release party, which also featured a two-for-one special.

Modus Hoperandi is a big, dick-swinging, American-style India Pale Ale, weighing in at 6.8 percent ABV and 65 IBUs.

It is a major release for Ska, and will be available in cans (yes, cans) and bottles everywhere Ska beers are sold. It is the first addition to Ska's year-round lineup in years.

"Reviews are stellar," says President Thibodeau.

Hopheads, unite!

More info from Ska: "This American-style India Pale Ale is a deep golden/orange color. Piney, resinous and citrus hops abound, simulating a sensation not unlike playing the links through a pine grove of grapefruit trees."

A description from Ska's head brewer: “Strong citrus aromas followed by pine rise from the glass. As it moves across your tongue ... bitterness ... following close behind is a melding of citrus and pine with light caramel sweetness. There is just enough body to this beer to make itself known without distracting from the powerful hop presence. This beer finishes surprisingly smooth and fruity with an effervescent snap.”

(Many thanks to President Thibodeau for the information).

Plus, it'll get you drunk!

Soggy Coaster will post a review as soon as time allows.

(Corrected from an earlier version: Modus Hoperandi was not no. 11 in Ska's Local Series. That was Hoperation Ivy, another IPA).

Derail Ale, with bubbles

Durango Brewing had its Derail Ale (8.5 percent ABV, 44 IBUs) on nitro over the last few days. Soggy Coaster tried one Tuesday night. It was fantastic. The nitro made an excellent beer even better. A nice, creamy head lingered in the pint glass all the way to the bottom.

Unfortunately, Soggy Coaster's friend drank the last one, but hopefully the brewery will put Derail back on nitro soon (the un-nitro version is of course still available).

A bit of unsolicited advice: Durango Brewing should hype Derail Ale as much as possible. It is easily their best beer.

Durango Wheat, Amber, Dark, etc., are good enough beers. But just about every brewery in the country offers a similar basic lineup. Derail Ale, a 2008 GABF Gold Medal-winner, is something special.

By the way, Tuesday is pint night at the brewery, 3000 Main Ave. Regular pints are $2, while seasonals and Derail are $3. Helluva deal.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Chasing The Abyss: a personal essay

I broke down. I am a sucker.

After months of longing and pining for it, I finally bought a bottle of The Abyss by Deschutes Brewery, clicking on eBay's tempting "Buy it now" button to send a bottle my way.

The price, including shipping: $29.28.

Ridiculous, I know.

A little background: Sometime during the long, cold winter of 2007-08, I wandered into Liquor World. In the small refrigerator where the Durango store keeps its bombers stood a few bottles of The Abyss (11 percent ABV, 65 IBUs), an unassuming-looking imperial stout.

I knew nothing about this beer, but I had always loved Deschutes Brewery. I came of (drinking) age on Mirror Pond Pale Ale. Sure, I thought, I'll try a bottle.

I brought The Abyss home and later that night dug in to the wax-covered top. I filled a pint glass, set the bottle beside it and assumed the lounging position in my roommate's easy chair.

Wow. The thick, viscous liquid, the infinite depths of taste, the velvety texture - I had never had anything like it.

My reaction was hardly unique. The Abyss won a gold medal at the 2007 Great American Beer Festival. It has also garnered an A+ rating from Beer Advocate and a perfect 100 from Rate Beer.

Since then, The Abyss has become my personal white whale. Like Captain Ahab, I have searched everywhere for my quarry.

Deschutes only makes about 1,000 cases a year of the oak-aged imperial stout. Only a fraction of that makes it to Colorado. A still-smaller portion (none?) comes to Durango.

It was released most recently in November. Since then, many times have I returned to Liquor World to search the bottle fridge for it. No luck. I know not whether the retailer did not receive a shipment or whether it sold out before I could grab a bottle.

No matter, I thought. I would soon travel to The Abyss's homeland.

My excitement grew when, a few weeks before a Christmas trip to Oregon, The Abyss was on tap at Deschute's Portland pub. Alas, it was gone by the time I arrived.

I searched in vain around the area's well-stocked beer markets. It was sold out everywhere. I returned to Durango in a sulk.

(I nearly wept last week when I learned that a Portland pub is holding a tasting of all three iterations of The Abyss, from 2006, 2007 and 2008. Life brings no justice.)

Not even Internet vendors like Bottle Trek or Liquid Gratitude have The Abyss in stock. eBay has proved my only option. Sellers on the site offer The Abyss for $25 and up. (It retails for about $12 if you can find it in a store). Fewer and fewer listings show up as we get further and further from the beer's release date.

I purchased my bottle from a seller who has sold 10 bottles of The Abyss, no doubt making a handsome profit off of suckers like me. Still, within days I will have my heavenly beer.

Now comes news from Deschutes that the 2009 edition is already aging in barrels ahead of its November release. Like Mike Myers in "Wayne's World," I can only vow that it will be mine. Oh, yes. It will be mine.

Review: The Czar Imperial Stout (Avery)

Enter The Czar, an oppressive imperial stout from Avery Brewing Co. in Boulder.

The Czar is brewed with plentiful Hallertau hops, English yeast and imported malted barley.

This beer’s massive profile (11.7 percent ABV, 70 IBUs) puts it in league with The Abyss (11 percent ABV, 65 IBUs), a stout from Deschutes Brewery in Oregon that is among the best beers ever to have passed Soggy Coaster’s lips.

Soggy Coaster found a 22-oz. bottle of The Czar at Liquor World for $6.79. Star Liquors also stocks it.

The Czar pours an inky black. A small head recedes quickly. This beer’s aroma asserts itself before the first taste. A lot of coffee and something toasted dominate the smell.

At first taste, one notices The Czar’s carbonation, much more present than in other imperial stouts. The coffee taste jumps to the front, followed by a little hop bitterness at finish. The hops seem to outweigh the malt.

The last sip tastes much as the first. This beer lacks the complexity to develop different flavors during the course of a session. A nice red tinge does develop, however.

Soggy Coaster found this beer to be disappointing. Imperial stouts should be fantastic. They should be complex, flavorful and decadent. Given Avery’s successes with other beers, The Czar’s substantial price and Soggy Coaster’s personal inclination toward imperial stouts, he expected to be wowed. He was not.

The brewery promises complexity comes to The Czar with age. Yet some of us don’t want to age our beers. Some of us want to drink them. Other imperial stouts are born with more complexity than The Czar would accrue after years stowed away in a cellar.

Judged by the standards of all beer styles, The Czar is still impressive. But it would not take the imperial stout slot on Soggy Coaster’s brewing all-star team. B+

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Chocolate stout on tap at Carver's

Lover's Chocolate Stout is now on tap at Carver Brewing Co. A 10-oz. goblet costs $5. A to-go champagne bottle will set you back $12.95.

Carver's also has its 120 Schilling Scotch Ale back, along with Insider Ale (see below), Oatmeal Pale Ale, Black Cherry Ale and Cascade Canyon IPA (on cask), in addition to the brewery's year-round staples.

Soggy Coaster has yet to try the new chocolate stout, but if it's anything like Carver's imperial stout, it must be good.

If you've tried the chocolate stout, leave a comment and tell us what you think.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Presidential endorsement

"I'm always good for a beer."

- Barack Obama, today in Elkhart, Indiana. This according to an Associated Press story.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Insider Ale debuts

The Durango Bootleggers Society has released Insider Ale, an apple beer brewed with juice produced at the Homegrown Festival in October.

Insider Ale is on tap at all four breweries. Bombers can be purchased at liquor stores.

Insider Ale is an apple beer, as distinguished from a cider, because it contains a majority of malt, said Eric Maxson, brewmaster at Carver Brewing Co. It comes in at just under 6 percent ABV.

Soggy Coaster had an Insider Ale during a ridiculously expensive breakfast at Carver's on Saturday. It was light in color and full-bodied. The apple flavor was present but not strong. It was good, but not as completely awesome as Carver's recent Life's A Peach Lager, or for that matter the heavenly '07 Braggot (the '08 iteration seemed to pack less pear flavor).

Turtle Lake Refuge, Creative Conspiracy and local CSU extension officer Darrin Parmenter helped get the beer out.

Production yielded a half-barrel for each brewery and 34 cases of bombers. That's not a lot, so if you want an Insider Ale, don't wait.

If you've already tried it, leave a comment. I'd love to know what others think.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Osiris's Homebrew Competition Crowns Winner

Chris Vest took home "Best of Show" at Osiris's Homebrewing Competition last weekend.

Vest's Merlot Stout will be brewed with Ska Brewing Co. for release in the Durango brewery's Local Series.

Orion Kingman came in second with "Soaring Saison," while Patrick Schneider took third with "Quest for Utopia Rauchbier."

The event was a preliminary battle for the Great American Beer Festival Pro-Am Competition.

Homebrewers often toil in obscurity, so it's awesome that the Snowdown event brought the brewers out of their caves.

Soggy Coaster didn't have the chance to try any of the winning beers, but he loves the sound of "merlot stout." Yummy.

Full results here.

Monday, February 2, 2009

New Snowdown event a tasty experience

"He said beer, she said wine," a competitive beer, wine and cheese pairing hosted by Ska Brewing Co. on Saturday, sold out easily.

Guidos Fine Foods co-owner Susan Devereaux chose five cheeses for the tasting. President Thibodeau of Ska picked a beer to pair with each cheese, while wine specialist Leah Deane of Republic National Distributing Company selected the wine pairings.

“I wanted to get some accessible beers,” President Thibodeau told the group. “But I got some crazy beers.”

Thirty attendees paid $15 each to sit upstairs at Ska HQ. The organizers could easily have charged more given the offerings.

Soggy Coaster started with a small-batch Belgian amber from the rotating tap downstairs. Ska has laudably encouraged its brewers to experiment with a low-yield pilot system. These brews end up on the tap – it’s the only one without a logo – on the far right side of the bar.

The Belgian amber is the latest of these. As President Thibodeau explained to me, it uses a recipe similar to Ska’s ESB with the addition of Belgian yeast. Yummy.

Now, on to the competition:

Round 1
The cheese: Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog
The wine: Comte LaFond Sancerre, Loire Valley, France 2005
The beer: Boulevard Smokestack Series Saison

The cheese was the best of the night, a rich, creamy, goat cheese with a ribbon of edible vegetable ash at the center.

Soggy Coaster enjoys wine but is not an oenophile. He can confidently report that the wine was red and tasted much like wine.

President Thibodeau made a fine choice with the saison (6.2 percent ABV, 30 IBUs), a difficult-to-find pick from the Kansas City, Missouri, brewery. A light Belgian style, saison is one of Soggy Coaster’s favorites. It’s a subtle style and the taste takes more time to develop than a small glass can allow. Nevertheless, it was my choice for sheer originality.

Soggy Coaster’s vote: beer. The winner: wine.

Round 2
The cheese: La Tournette “Fleur des Alpes” French Alps.
The wine: Campo Viejo Reserva Rioja, Spain 2004
The beer: La Fin du Monde

Soggy Coaster barely remembers the cheese or the wine from round 2 because La Fin du Monde is so freaking good. A triple-fermented golden ale, La Fin du Monde (“the end of the world”) is a full-bodied ale from Unibroue in Quebec, Canada. It’s smooth, rich and malty. This fine ale also carries a 9 percent alcohol punch.

La Fin du Monde was popular among Soggy Coaster’s tablemates and seemed to generate considerable excitement in the room.

Soggy Coaster’s vote: beer.

Round 3
The cheese: Old Amsterdam two-year aged Gouda Holland
The wine: Markus Molitor Spatlese Riesling Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany 2004
The beer: Ska Brewing Buster Nut Brown

This one was tougher. The gouda, a hard cheese, had a less overwhelming flavor than many of the others, which had the effect of pitting the beer head-to-head with the wine.

Soggy Coaster enjoyed the Riesling, a sweet wine with “high acid and good texture.” Tasty.

President Thibodeau chose his sole Ska selection here. Buster Nut Brown has a pleasant nutty sweetness and is as drinkable as any brown ale, which is itself an enjoyable and welcoming style.

The room gave this one to Thibodeau, partly because it was indeed a good pairing, and partly, probably, to honor the host. Fair ‘nuf.

Soggy Coaster’s vote: beer.

Round 4
The cheese: Locatelli Pecorino Romano, Sardinia, Italy
The wine: Wyndham Estate Bin 555 Sparkling Shiraz, Australia
The beer: Victory Hop Devil

Locatelli was easily the saltiest offering of the evening, and probably the saltiest food anywhere, ever. Basically, it was really salty.

The wine was a delight. This sparkling shiraz fought back against the cheese’s salt taste, leaving the diner with a sweet taste and bubbly sensation on the tongue.

President Thibodeau praised this beer, calling Victory Brewing Co., of Downington, Pa., one of the best craft breweries in the country. Surely, the man knows of which he speaks. Hop Devil, an IPA, was indeed “powerful and aromatic” as promised by the event’s cheat sheet. Soggy Coaster
found this IPA (6.7 percent ABV), to be impressively hoppy but within the bounds of reason.

Soggy Coaster had to give this one to Leah. The shiraz was really something special, sweetly scrubbing one’s tongue of the cheese taste, while the IPA, like most IPAs, more or less hit you over the head like a two-by-four.

An imperial stout might have also worked well here.

Round 5
The cheese: Amber Valley, Stilton, England
The wine: Sandeman Vau Vintage Port, Douro Valley, Portugal, 2000
The beer: Left Hand Oak-Aged Widdershins Barley Wine, 2007

Leah and President Thibodeau both made thoughtful selections to finish the evening. The sweetness of their choices nicely complemented the creamy cow’s milk cheese.

The barley wine by Left Hand Brewing, of Longmont, Colo., provided a pleasant ending.

Narrowly, Soggy Coaster cast his vote for the beer.


A very fine event. It certainly took significant planning to put all this together, and Soggy Coaster extends his thanks to President Thibodeau, Ms. Deane and Mrs. Devereaux. Hopefully, they’ll put it on again next year.

“He said beer, she said wine” reflected a dilemma couples repeatedly face: beer or wine? Some dishes (pasta, fish) lend themselves to wine, but given the astonishing breadth of modern brewing, a beer can be found to pair with just about anything.

The room gave President Thibodeau and his beers the 3-2 victory, so you can always tell your significant other to drink beer with cheese 60 percent of the time.

Another salient fact: all five beer selections came from North America, while exactly zero of the wine selections did.

Certainly, America produces wines equal to anything in France or Italy. And certainly, it has prominent wine-growing regions such as California’s Napa Valley and Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

Yet the United States has quite probably become the best place anywhere to drink beer. Belgium and Germany have more brewing history and tradition, but nowhere else combines the sheer number and variety of craft breweries with an unquenchable desire to innovate.