Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Review: Avery Sixteen vs. Avery Fifteen

Avery Brewing has thrown itself a birthday party with the release of Sixteen, the latest of the Boulder brewery’s anniversary ales.

Sixteen doesn't go too far afield from the saison style that has served Avery well in the past. Saison is a light Belgian style that readily showcases ingredients that the brewers choose to add. Sometimes, an odd ingredient can overpower a saison. But not in this case.

Sixteen was brewed with peaches, jasmine and honey, thus inevitably becoming known as the “Three Strippers” beer. Avery fermented Sixteen with Dupont yeast and hopped it with Sterlings. It comes in at 7.69 percent ABV and, as is typical of saisons, lacks any noticeable bitterness.

Soggy Coaster picked up a 22-oz. bomber bottle during a recent visit to the brewery. Sixteen was bottled in May 2009.

Sixteen pours a pale yellow with little head. The color was reminiscent of a witbier, and Sixteen is in fact brewed with malted wheat. The aroma suggests that characteristic Belgian funk.

Sixteen tastes a bit like white wine. Tartness leads, yielding to a gentle honey sweetness. It’s a refreshing and complex beer suggestive of spring and summer. It paired well with a fusilli pasta dish topped with mushroom, tomato, sage, garlic, basil and parmesan.

As luck would have it, Soggy Coaster happened upon a bottle of Fifteen soon afterward at a Durango liquor store. It was just sitting in a refrigerator a year after its release. Apparently the $6.79 price tag for a bomber bottle deterred shoppers for 12 months, much to Soggy Coaster’s benefit. Given that I lack the patience to age a bottle for a year, it was awfully nice of Liquor World to do it for me.

Sixteen's immediate predecessor, Fifteen took home a silver medal at the 2008 Great American Beer Festival in the “experimental” beer category. A Belgian Brettanomyces ale, Fifteen was brewed with black mission figs, hibiscus flowers and white pepper. It was bottled in April 2008.

Fifteen poured a color a shade darker than honey, but lighter than copper. The ale showed minimal head. Age has really brought Fifteen’s tartness to the front. Brettanomyces yeast will sour a beer with age, and that has clearly happened here. Soggy Coaster enjoys a good sour Belgian, so the change was entirely welcome.

Sixteen was more complex that Fifteen. If anything, Fifteen has become less complex with time as the sourness has come to dominate. I didn’t get any of the figs or flowers as promised in Fifteen’s taste, but some white pepper could be discerned. By contrast, Sixteen did show some peaches and honey.

Avery uses a metal basket as essentially a tea bag to flavor beers with fruits and spices. They basically just dunk it in the tank.

I’m glad I waited to deliver a verdict on Sixteen. A taster I had at Avery’s brewery was oddly flat and lifeless, and I didn’t particularly enjoy it. Savoring a bottle with dinner at home allowed Sixteen’s true flavors to emerge.

I write quite a bit about Avery. Simply put, it is among the best breweries in the country and we’re lucky to have it in Colorado. Avery’s big, experimental beers keep pushing the boundaries of what beer can be. The anniversary ales are one component of that.

It’s heartening to see Sixteen improve upon and add depth to Avery’s experiments with Fifteen. Give Fifteen a B+. Sixteen deserves an A-. Happy birthday, Avery.

As previously noted, Avery is collaborating with Durango's own Ska Brewing Co. to brew an imperial hefeweizen. Last I heard, Adam Avery was supposed to be at Ska on July 1 to actually brew the beer. It should be released toward the end of July. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Stone Brewing founder to pour at Falc's

Greg Koch, CEO and founder of Stone Brewing Co. in San Diego, will bring his own arrogant bastard self to Lady Falconburgh’s at 5 p.m. on Friday, July 3.

He’ll be in Durango to tour Ska Brewing World Headquarters, and will drop by Falc's to meet, greet and pour some of his award-winning ales.

Stone beer will be on special at Falc's, 640 Main Ave., with Stone mugs and other goodies available. Falc's will tap the 2009 Russian Imperial Stout, as well as Ruination IPA and Levitation Ale.

Ska distributes Stone beer in Southwest Colorado, so bottles can be found at several local liquor stores. In addition to Falc's, Mutu's Italian Kitchen, 701 E. Second Ave., pours some Stone beer.

Soggy Coaster fully endorses both the Stone Russian Imperial Stout and Levitation. One expects imperial stouts to be good. But I'm amazed every time I sip a Levitation. It's only 4.4 percent ABV and 45 IBUs, but it packs the flavor of a much bigger beer.

I haven't tried Ruination, but Stone's standard IPA is excellent.

Soggy Coaster will endeavor to make it down to meet Greg.

Thanks to Top Shelf for the heads-up.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Durango's two largest brewers, Ska Brewing Co. and Steamworks Brewing Co., are increasingly embracing cans. People like them, as it turns out. Sales are ballooning.

Ska cans its Modus Hoperandi IPA, True Blonde Ale and ESB. Steamworks cans its Steam Engine Lager and Third Eye Pale Ale, and plans to can its Colorado Kolsch.

Soggy Coaster's alter ego, Chuck Slothower, ink-stained wretch at The Durango Herald, wrote an (ahem) extensive report on this trend for today's paper. Read it online here. Or better yet, buy a paper. Contrary to popular belief, journalism isn't free. It's 50 cents.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Beers around town

Soggy Coaster would like to draw your attention to a few classically styled beers currently on tap that our Durango brewers have absolutely nailed. I can't write up full reviews on all of them, so please permit me some capsule reviews:

1. Our Bock, Steamworks Brewing. This was the first beer Soggy Coaster tried on a long day around the "Who's Your Daddy?" festival in downtown Durango last weekend. Steamworks' offering falls in the maibock category, a very old German lager style. I really enjoyed it. Our Bock is dry, hoppy and a little bitter. You'll want a glass of water on the side. You'll also want to watch the booze. I don't have the exact ABV figure at hand, but it was around 7-8 percent. Certainly worth your hard-earned dollar during its limited time on tap. B+

2. Power House Porter, Carver Brewing. Porters are admittedly not my favorite style. Frankly, they can be a little boring. Usually, a stout seems somehow sturdier, more satisfying. But Soggy likes to give credit where credit is due, and to keep in mind that tastes differ. To that end, if you like a good porter, Carver's has it. Power House is a little on the sweet side with lots of malt flavor and aroma. The porter is part of Carver's continually rotating seasonal roster, so get it if you want it. B-

3. Durango Dark Lager, Durango Brewing. Part of the pleasure of living in a good beer town for several years is revisiting beers that you may have overlooked. For me, this was one of those. Dark Lager, a year-round staple at Durango Brewing, pours a big, malty head. The malt aroma, courtesy of crystal and chocolate malts, is pronounced. Hops recede into the background. An IPA, this is not. But if you find yourself in the mood for a well-brewed lager that puts malt at the forefront, Dark Lager (5.8 percent ABV, 20 IBUs) fits the bill. B-

Review: Orval Trappist Ale

Long before ever seeing a bottle, Soggy Coaster had heard quite a bit about Orval. Just check out the beer's impressively high ratings at Beer Advocate.

Thus when I saw a bottle sitting on the shelf at Argonaut Liquor in Denver, I knew it was a must-buy. I'm a sucker for good Belgian beers, and Orval has a stellar reputation.

Orval is named for the Belgian monastery at which it is brewed. The Trappists have been around since 1644, when they branched off from the Roman Catholic Cistercian Order. It takes all kinds in this world.

The beer costs about $10 and comes in an 11.2 fl. oz. brown bottle with curves in all the right places.

Orval is brewed with English ale yeast and later the souring yeast Brettanomyces, according to Charlie Papazian. It's hopped with Yakima Tomahawk and German Hallertauer hops before dry-hopping with Styrian Goldings.

It pours a murky copper color that is characteristic of pale ales, topped by an enormous fluffy white head (see the photo). It was one of the most impressive heads I've seen. It stayed around forever. Frankly, I got tired of waiting. My dinner was getting cold.

Eventually the head receded enough to allow for a taste. The mouthfeel was wonderful. For lack of a better word, I'd describe it as "full."

Orval is a Belgian classic. As such, it lacks some of the interesting twists American brewers add to Belgian styles. I found myself missing some of the complexities of flavor in beers like Ska's True Blonde Dubbel and Avery's Salvation, particularly the more assertive Belgian candy sugar sweetness.

Orval tastes of a mild pale ale with some yeasty Belgian influence. The 6.9 percent alcohol by volume does not show up in the taste; it goes down easy.

As others have noted, Orval changes with age. At first hoppy, the ale yields to its Brettanomyces, imparting a sour note that heightens with time. My Orval was bottled on Sept. 23, 2008, making it a relatively fresh bottle. As such, it was on the hoppy side. The Brett was tart but not cheek-puckeringly sour.

Orval lives up to its reputation, exhibiting a pleasant balance between hop bitterness, yeast sourness and malt sweetness. It's like watching an old James Dean movie: Other, more modern successors may show more flash. But this is a classic. A

Orval is now available at Star Liquors in Durango.

Monday, June 22, 2009

True Blonde at sea

Ska Brewing Co. will distribute a commemorative label for its True Blonde Ale in the Durango area in a promotion tied to the Dames at Sea musical at the Henry Strater Theatre.

This is from Ska President Dave Thibodeau:

"Dorn Roberts, our artist who lives in Portland, designed the promotional material for Dames at Sea. He's into pin-up art and the Dames at Sea chick was drawn with a live model.

We have a special Dames at Sea label on our True Blonde bottles for about the next two months - we thought it would be a fun project to do with the Henry Strater Theatre. Sophie Parrot, the theatre's manager, approached us about talking to Dorn and this is what it evolved into.

The collectible
bottles will be sold around Durango and at the Strater during the run of the show, and if anyone brings in six of the labels they get 10 percent off their ticket price."

Dames at Sea opened Friday and continues through Aug. 15.

Ska and Roberts produce some of the most interesting bottle labels in the country, as evidenced by their inclusion last year in a Pennsylvania art-museum show.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


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

Beer during wartime

"Make sure that the beer - four pints a week - goes to the troops under fire before any of the parties in the rear get a drop."

- Winston Churchill, 1944. From the 365 Bottles of Beer for the Year desk calendar.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Working on it

Soggy Coaster is working on a long post about a trip last weekend to the Front Range that included stops at Avery Brewing, Great Divide Brewing and the Falling Rock Tap House.

In the meantime, your correspondent enjoyed a pint of Santa Fe Prickly Pear Hefeweizen at Lady Falconburgh's in Durango last night. It was refreshing. The pear note was subdued, unlike in Carver's tasty seasonal Braggot. Unfortunately, like most hefeweizens, the Sante Fe brew disappeared before I realized I was drinking it. I hate it when that happens.

Also, as Anon. helpfully noted in a previous comment, Russian River's Pliney the Elder remains on tap at Falc's. I have no idea how much is left, but it was still there as of Monday night.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Ska triumphs at beer awards

Ska Brewing Co. went all Michael Phelps at the 2009 North American Beer Awards, winning three medals, including two gold medals.

The winners at the 2009 North American Beer Awards, held June 2-5, were:

*Modus Hoperandi IPA, Gold, American-style India Pale Ale
*ESB Special Ale, Gold, Best Bitter
*Buster Nut Brown Ale, Bronze, English Brown Ale

Ska President Dave Thibodeau pointed out in a news release that both gold medal winners, the Modus and ESB, are available in cans. Ska has been pushing the cans hard, and sales of the cans are overtaking bottles.

Modus is Ska's newest year-round release.

Silverton Brewery
won Gold for its Ice Pick Ale in the Strong Bitter ESB category. Why is Southwest Colorado so bitter?

The full list of winners is available here.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Things to do in Denver (when you're alive)

Soggy Coaster is driving to Denver on Thursday for a long weekend in the city. This means two things relevant to Beer at 6512:

1. Blog posts will be a little light here until next week.

2. I welcome your suggestions, particularly from my Front Range readers. I'm planning to visit Avery Brewing in Boulder, Falling Rock Tap House and maybe Great Divide Brewing. Perhaps Wynkoop, too, if there's time. Is there anything else I can't miss?

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Russian River flows to Durango

Some very good news: Russian River beers are now available in Durango.

The Sonoma County, California, brewery makes some very tasty Belgian-style ales and is also well known for its line of IPAs.

Until Saturday, Soggy Coaster had never seen a Russian River beer in Durango. Fortunately, Star Liquors has apparently started carrying Russian River, as a visit to the store yesterday turned up the Damnation, a Belgian-style golden ale (7 percent ABV, 25 IBUs), and the Blind Pig IPA (6 percent ABV).

Soggy Coaster last encountered Russian River on a trip to Oregon last winter, when he thoroughly enjoyed a Damnation.

Your correspondent couldn't resist picking up another bottle of Damnation at Star. It wasn't cheap - $11 or so - but the bottle-conditioned, corked 750 ml ale will be worth every penny. A friend picked up the Blind Pig, and if Soggy's brief taste is any guide, it's one of the better IPAs out there.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Service, please

Soggy Coaster encountered a classic problem during a visit to Steamworks Brewing Co. on Wednesday: He was served the wrong beer.

I ordered a dandelion saison, a recent release from the Durango Bootleggers Society, the consortium of local brewers. It's one of those beers that will be around a short time then disappear, maybe forever. It's light and tasty with just a hint of dandelion. In short, it's a fine spring/summer beer.

My first reaction to the beer I was served was: "Boy, that's a good deal hoppier than I remember." After the second sip, I knew there was no possibility that it was the beer I ordered.

I was annoyed at first, fearing the bartender served me a different beer for whatever reason (a blown keg, perhaps) and hoped I wouldn't notice. So I politely complained to a server. He asked me to pour a little into a clean glass and took a sip. It was the Steam Engine Lager, he said. That's a fine beer, to be sure, but not what I ordered.

To his credit, the server went to the bar and poured me the saision I had ordered. He didn't charge me extra. He explained that the saison tap and the Steam Engine tap are adjacent. I compared the color and the two beers were virtually identical. So I chalked it up to an honest mistake.

Still, it's a fairly basic thing to receive the beer you ordered. If you don't, you shouldn't be shy to bring it up.

I feel like in Durango, service is sometimes pretty terrible. This seems especially true in establishments like Steamworks that are very busy and tend to attract a ton of tourists. Most servers, however, will correct a mistake if you ask. You just have to tell them.

The Perfect Pour

The Brewers Association, the industry trade group for craft brewers, has just released an almost hilariously detailed manual on pouring quality draughts.

It's probably of interest only to hard-core beer geeks, brewers and homebrewers, but if that's you, check it out.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A day in the life

A Stone Pale Ale, enjoyed at the bar of Mutu's Italian Kitchen, 701 E. 2nd Ave., Durango. Beers there are $2.50 during happy hour.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Skavery: Interview with Dave Thibodeau, Part VII

This is Part VII of Soggy Coaster's interview with Dave Thibodeau, president and co-founder of Ska Brewing Co. Previous installments are posted below. This is the final installment of the interview. Thanks for your patience if you've read all seven parts; I broke it up for polite consumption. This final installment has some good information about new Ska beers:

Soggy Coaster: What is your favorite Ska beer?

Dave Thibodeau: Right now, I’m in two worlds: the Modus (Hoperandi IPA) world and Mexican Logger, because I’ve only had a couple since we came out with it. That’ll probably be my deal for the summer.

I’ve got to say, overall, my favorite beer we make is our Ten Pin Porter. It’s a very dark beer that’s very drinkable. The balance within that particular porter is on the money. I think it goes with a variety of foods. It’s harder to drink when it’s 100 degrees out here. Once the sun’s gone down in the evening, all summer long and all winter long, definitely, I would say Ten Pin Porter.

Soggy: Interesting. What’s your favorite non-Ska beer? Can you say that without stepping on any toes?

Thibodeau: Oh, definitely. If I had one, I could. It’s the same thing: I go through moods and seasons change. I just had a case of New Glarus Raspberry Tart that one of our bookkeepers came back with, and I bought a case from her. I drank one bottle each night. It was a case of 12. By the 12th bottle, I was like, I’ve had enough. But for those first 11 days, it was one of my favorite things.

There’s definitely some standbys that I have. One of them is kind of similar to Pinstripe: Left Hand Sawtooth is a good standby. I like Victory Prima Pils. And like I said, these are all beers where the breweries make a lot crazier beers. But I like beers that I can drink a fair amount of. I like Stone’s Pale Ale. I’m not going to name any of the bigger (beers), because that seems to change every time I taste another one. It’s like holy crap, this is really good, and it’s the same if you throw the Belgian beers in there. When I say the word favorite, I like to use a standby, and those are the standby beers for me. Avery’s IPA, you know.

Soggy: Any upcoming events we should know about?

Thibodeau: The summer is so busy. The Silverton Jamboree. That is, I want to say, the second week of June. There’ll be a lot of stuff on Main street, Fourth of July, of course. There’s several music festivals in Colorado, the Crestone Music Festival. Then of course, all the beer festivals. We have a ska festival the third weekend of June in Denver. I think it’s called the Denver Ska Festival. Ska music in downtown Denver. There will be some good names there: the Aquabats, I think Mustard Plug. It’s solely Ska beer. We’re sponsoring it. Here at the brewery, music outside every Thursday. And we have some random events.

This is a really cool one I’ll throw out there: Avery and Ska are doing a collaboration beer in June. It’s going to be kind of a bigger hefeweizen. It’s going to be basically traditional, just punked up a bit.

We’re riding our road bikes during the Tour de France. We’re having a kickoff party in Boulder on Monday and riding our road bikes from Avery’s place to our place in Durango. So about 450 miles. Then we’re releasing our collaboration beer with a party when we get here. I think we’re going to have a ska band here playing. I’m hoping we get a big name or two in Durango’s cycling world to come out here, and we’re donating proceeds from that release night to the La Plata County Safe Roads Coalition.

Each night on the way, we’re stopping at a brewery to raise money for hopefully a local bicycle-affiliated nonprofit. I think we go Boulder to Breckenridge to Buena Vista, back over, I want to say, to Crested Butte, then to Ouray and then to Durango. So yeah, hundreds of miles over five days with a fundraiser every night at a brewery and then we release the collaboration “Skavery” beer.

Soggy: I’m excited to here that.

Thibodeau: Yeah, that’ll be cool.

Soggy: I just had an Avery Salvation the other night, a Belgian.

Thibodeau: That’s a good beer. I’m excited to do a collaboration with Adam (Avery).

Soggy: You’re both good breweries.

Thibodeau: That bring one more kind of bike-related event to mind, the single-speed world championships. I’m not going to let the cat out of the bag on that yet, but we’ll hopefully do some stuff with Oskar Blues and New Belgium for that. We’re having the awards here at the brewery on, I want to say, the third Saturday in September. It’ll be interesting to say the least.

Soggy: So what else should the masses know? Is there anything you want to add at all?

: We have a lot of exciting stuff coming up this year. After we get that assorted 12-pack of cans out, I think we’re going to try to release our Euphoria (pale ale) that we brew with Venture Snowboards. We’re going to try to get that out in six-packs and release it outside of Durango. It’s just been kind of a Southwest Colorado release. And then we’re going to have a holiday ale, too. So a lot of stuff going on this year, and I think that’s about it. Pretty exciting, though, we’ll have a lot of regular beer releases here at the brewery.

Soggy: Sounds good.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Avery revamps website

Avery Brewing in Boulder has completely revamped its website.

This is fortunate, because their old website looked like a '90s-era placeholder from the days when people had websites just to post basic information. Their new website is worth tooling around.

Avery, in my opinion, is one of the best breweries in Colorado, and it's right up there with the best of the best nationwide. The man behind the brewery, Adam Avery, isn't afraid to brew the kinds of beers that beer geeks love: Belgians, imperial stouts, barrel-aged beers brewed with Brettanomyces yeast.

Thankfully, Ska distributes Avery locally. They're in most Durango liquor stores. So far, I haven't had a bad Avery beer, and I fully endorse the ones I've had: India Pale Ale, Out of Bounds Stout, Karma Ale, Brabant, Salvation, Czar, Fifteen, Ale to the Chief! and Collaboration Not Litigation.

Their run-of-the-mill brews, like the stout and the IPA, are always well-balanced and tasty. Their special releases like the Collaboration Not Litigation Belgian blend are truly special.

Of local interest, Ska is brewing a collaboration beer with Avery. It'll be something like an imperial hefeweizen. The breweries are planning to release it in July. (This according to my next and final installment of the Dave Thibodeau interview). Soggy Coaster has high hopes for this beer, given its provenance.

I'm hoping to visit Avery's tasting room while I'm in the area two weekends from now. Expect a full report.

Cans!: Interview with Dave Thibodeau, Part VI

This is Part VI of Soggy Coaster's interview with Dave Thibodeau, president and co-founder of Ska Brewing Co. Previous installments are posted below. The remainder of the interview will be published in installments over the next few days:

Soggy Coaster: So Ska recently started canning Modus (Hoperandi IPA) and True Blonde (Ale) in addition to the ESB. A lot of brewers seem to be jumping into canning, not just Ska. What’s the reason behind that? What’s attractive about canning?

Dave Thibodeau: I think there’s a lot to it. There’s certain things about the quality of bottles that I think are better. But on the cans side, one of the quality issues with any bottle, unless it’s an opaque bottle, is sunlight. Sunlight is a beer spoiler. That’s why you see most craft beer in an amber bottle, as opposed to a green bottle or a clear bottle. That light-struck beer, it’s an immediate reaction. That’s what causes the skunky flavor. You know when you open up a green imported bottle, you can smell the skunk when you open it. So keeping the light out is a key thing.

The other thing is your carbon footprint. Aluminum is a more recyclable product. If you were to just throw a bottle in a landfill, or a can in a landfill, the can’s going to get crushed and take up a lot less space. Although, neither one of them is going to break down anytime soon. So there’s that. There’s also the transportability of it. You know, if you’re backpacking and you want some beer the first night camping or however far in you get, the fact that all you’re hauling out is a crushed, empty aluminum can as opposed to heavy bottles, that’s kind of nice. And in our neck of the woods, and in Colorado in particular, that’s a great thing. Because I always did backpack with bottles, and it sucked hauling them out. It takes less fossil fuels to create the can.

I guess the final thing I would say is there are a lot of places where glass isn’t allowed because it’s glass. Whether it’s a lake or a river or a golf course or a park, there are a lot of places where plastic or aluminum is OK but glass isn’t. You know, the taste is a little different. You’re just catching another side of the market that people are really into. There’s going to be some people who always want bottles, and there’s going to be some people who are always wanting to try whatever’s up and coming.

I’m on a can kick right now, without a doubt. It’s still only 12 percent of our bottle sales. So our bottles far outsell the cans, but the growth on the cans is higher than the growth on the bottles.

Soggy: A reader wanted me to ask you: Where does Ska get the cans you use? How much of the metal comes from recycled material?

Thibodeau: We get our cans from Ball Container in Golden. So we get them in Colorado, they’re made in Colorado. I think that’s another reason that cans are big in Colorado. I think there’s only a couple of options as far as can manufacturers go. Most of the people in other states getting them are probably getting them out of Colorado, too. So it’s nice because you’re not shipping them as far.

Honestly, I don’t know the answer to post-consumer recycled content of the aluminum. It is 100 percent recyclable.

Soggy: Craft beer right now is only about 5 percent of the total beer market. Do you see that increasing? Will there ever be a day where most people are drinking craft beer?

Thibodeau: I think so. That percentage has grown in the last couple of years. I want to say we were at 1.5 percent. Kim Jordan from New Belgium had the keynote speech at our craft brewers conference in New Orleans in maybe 2004, 2003, 2001. I don’t remember the exact year. But her entire keynote was about 10 percent market share for craft beer. Our growth has been steeper each year since that. It was prophetic, I think, in a way. At that time, it almost to a lot of people in the room seemed laughable. If I had said that, it definitely would have been laughable. But because she said it, everyone took it seriously.

There are definitely some pioneers that are having a lot larger growth and making it happen, but overall, that number is growing and that curve is getting steeper every year. There is growth in beer sales overall, and you’re seeing the growth in craft beer now coming close to equaling the growth in the three (large beer conglomerates) and imports in volume, which is absolutely crazy.

As an overall share of the market, it’s still only 5 percent, but I think (growth) is getting really steep now and I think that’s going to continue for a number of years. The type of people that are in the industry, I just don’t see how that growth could slow anytime soon. It’s too exciting and the beers are too good.

Soggy: That was the thing for me when I really started drinking craft beer in college. It just tastes better.

Thibodeau: Yeah, it does. And you’ve got to hand it to people like Sam (Calaglione) at Dogfish Head. They’re the totally amiable, humble dude out there who’s just kicking ass. And getting these beers out I front of people who’ve never (drank them) – you know, it was funny, even today I had someone tell me that she didn’t like beer. And I was like, well, you just haven’t tried the beer you like yet. Unless you’re just a teetotaler, if you like drinking anything there’s a beer someplace that you’re going to like. And even if you don’t, there’s a beer that you’re going to like the taste of even if you don’t like alcohol.

The variety is growing too. We’re a also a distributor for a number of other products, a number of other craft beers, so I’m fortunate to be tasting a lot of new beers all the time. Almost every day I taste something I’ve never tasted before and I love it. We’ll still drink our American lagers from the big guys. I’m not going to pretend we don’t. Playing hockey or something, we’ll go out to the parking lot and drink PBR or whatever, Coors. I like to go for Coors because it’s from Colorado. But if I’m like at dinner or a barbecue, if I’m not playing sports or hot and sweaty and just need something to pound, if it couldn’t be replaced with a glass of water or something, it’s craft beer. It’s just so much better.

Update: Westword, the Denver weekly, did its own little write-up of Ska's cans. It covers much of the same ground as this post, but one thing worth knowing:

The Ska brain trust has talked about switching everything to cans at some point. "The market is leaning that way," (Thibodeau) says. "It's hard not to think about one day being all cans."