Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Bickert with his medal-winning beer

Check out this photo from The Durango Herald.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A day in the life

A Santa Fe Brewing Co. Yippee Imperial IPA, pictured at a hotel near Santa Fe's historic plaza. This bottle is hand-numbered and quite nicely packaged. Of course, it matters much more how it tastes, and I have yet to crack it.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Durango Brewing wins GABF gold, Ska earns medals

Durango had a big showing at last weekend's Great American Beer Festival in Denver.

Durango Brewing Co. won gold in the American-style amber lager category for its Durango Colorfest fall seasonal. Colorfest (6.2 percent ABV, 21 IBUs), is on the shelves now in 22-ounce bomber bottles.

Ska Brewing Co. won three medals: silver, English-style brown ale, for Buster Nut Brown; bronze, English-style summer ale, for True Blonde Ale; and bronze, sweet stout, for Steel Toe Stout.

The GABF is the Super Bowl of beer competitions; none is more prestigious. It's a big accomplishment to win any medals, and Durango Brewing and Ska deserve hearty congratulations for their wins.

Some 495 breweries participated, entering 3,308 beers in the competition. Attendance totaled 49,000.

Colorado breweries won 45 medals, outperforming any other state.

A friend who attended sent me this: "Admittedly, as amazing as it was, I really need to go with a battle plan next time. There's so much to taste and you can get really, really lost if you don't plan out your visits. LOT of crappy beers. But then again, a lot of great ones."

Brewers tend to bust out some special beers for GABF, like barrel-aged treats. I wasn't able to go this year. Maybe next time ...

Oktoberfest wrap-up

A couple of new beers from Carver Brewing Co. and Steamworks Brewing Co. highlighted last weekend's Oktoberfest in Durango.

Held on East Second Avenue, Oktoberfest attracted all four Durango breweries. My favorite beer at the fest was Carver's new Harvest Festbier, a delicious Oktoberfest lager. It's got a lot of big, malty amber flavor. Try it while you can.

Steamworks was pouring its new fresh-hop beer, Wet Hop Brown Ale. Most breweries that are lucky enough to get fresh hops choose to showcase them in pale ales or IPAs. It's highly unusual to brew a fresh-hop brown. In fact, this is the first time I've heard of a fresh-hop brown.

It makes me wonder if Steamworks simply wanted to differentiate its offering from Ska's Hoperation Ivy, a wet-hop IPA. In any case, it made for an aggressively hopped brown ale, which was a bit strange. Browns usually showcase delicious, chocolately malts.

Give Steamworks props for trying something different, but I personally hope they try something else next time.

Beer, wine and pairing with cheese

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting piece on the increasing popularity of pairing cheese with beer rather than wine, even in the wine regions of Italy.

Locally, Dave Thibodeau at Ska Brewing Co. was out in front of this trend with a beer, wine and cheese pairing in February that he hosted with wine rep Leah Deane of Republic National Distributing Company. The cheese came from Guido's Fine Foods in Durango.

It was intriguing to see how an extremely salty cheese like Locatelli Pecorino Romano stood up to a shiraz and an IPA, for example. I could experiment with different combinations of beer, wine and cheese every night. Alas, there is only so much liver, and so much paycheck.

Certainly, wine is a more than adequate companion to most cheeses. Yet beer, which has gotten such short shrift from the snobs, deserves more respect in fine dining rooms. Some special bottles contain beer both subtle and beautiful, and they pair wonderfully with fresh bread or cheese.

Hopefully, restaurants will catch on. Some already are: on a recent stroll through downtown Durango, I noticed that Season's Grill has a thoughtfully chosen beer list. All it takes is a little awareness. And Durango, with four breweries for 16,000 people, is a heck of a place to raise it.

Update: Steamworks spokeswoman Indiana Reed pointed out that I overlooked how long Steamworks has been pairing beer with cheese:

"Steamworks has been doing the Art of Beer and Cheese Pairings with Music in the Mountains for years now. Steamworks was ahead of the curve – way ahead. Four years ago Steamworks initiated pairing international cheese (and other foods) with its beers for the special tasting at Music in the Mountains. And remember too, that it’s Steamworks that was invited to pair beer and food at the James Beard House in NYC this past spring (no other Colorado breweries), and it was Steamworks that was the brewery showcased at the beer dinner at the governor’s residence in advance of this year’s GABF. Steamworks hosted its first Beer Dinner on February 7, 2002."

Reed makes some good points, and I apologize for the oversight.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Oktoberfest this weekend

Durango will celebrate Oktoberfest with beer and brats this weekend, Sept. 26-27.

The celebration takes place on East Second Ave., beginning at 11 a.m. Saturday. All four Durango breweries will be there.

Admission is free, but you have to purchase wooden nickels to redeem them for beer. There's a roster of evening events, including a Warsaw Poland Bros. concert at Steamworks. Ten bucks allows you to participate in a pub crawl.

The event is sponsored by San Juan Citizens Alliance, the Durango-based environmental organization. They have all the info you need here.

Steamworks and hangovers

Early this summer, I brought a growler of Steamworks beer to a barbecue at a friend's house. Another guest asked me, "You can drink that stuff?"

It wasn't that Steamworks' beer - in this case, Our Bock - tastes bad. It doesn't. What my acquaintance was concerned about was the widely held perception that Steamworks beer induces particularly awful hangovers.

Whether or not this perception is warranted, it presents a problem for Steamworks, a sizable regional brewery with operations in Durango and Bayfield and distribution deals in several states. Competition is fierce in the craft beer industry, and this sort of thing matters.

Repeatedly, and from different people, I've heard that Steamworks' beers produce hangovers that are especially bad. It's a widespread public perception that bears airing.

I've also heard people complain that Steamworks' beer causes, to put it delicately, digestive issues. As one man wrote on Beer Advocate: "For reasons beyond my beer knowledge, the delicious brews at Steamworks have an interesting tendency to loosen my bowels, and make me quite uncomfortable. I still enjoy visiting Steamworks regularly, however, be warned after your fourth or fifth beer."

What gives? I've heard a few theories, but I'm reluctant to tar Steamworks based on rumor.

Of course, drinking alcohol in excess is a bad thing, and hangovers are God's way of punishing you for it. This is as it should be.

I did contact Steamworks for their response. Steamworks co-founder Brian McEachron said in an e-mail:

"Give me a break. Do you really think we would do something special to our
beer to induce a hangover? Hangovers come from drinking too much.

Beer is made from four main ingredients and all four breweries utilize the
same ingredients and same techniques to create world class beer.

Do you really think that a team of award-winning brewers would allow the brew house
equipment to not be clean or present our beers to our patrons that is not
polished and delicious? I really hope that as a writer and supporter of the
craft beer you are able to see through the little mean myth and that you can
respond with tact and facts."

He noted Steamworks' many awards, like the multiple GABF gold medals for Steam Engine Lager. That's certainly laudable, although it's a separate issue.

To be clear, this post isn't intended to slag Steamworks. I like many of their beers. This is part and parcel of Beer at 6512's mission to start discussions about issues in the craft beer industry.

What do you think? Does Steamworks' beer cause particularly bad hangovers or not?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Ska releases Euphoria Pale Ale

Ska Brewing Co. has released Euphoria Pale Ale, a winter seasonal, in cans.

Previously, this beer has been available only around Durango. Ska's new brewing facility and canning line have allowed the company to release this one more widely. Don't be surprised if it makes it to the Denver area's finer liquor stores.

I went straight to the source, buying a six-pack of 12-ounce cans for $8.49 at Ska HQ.

This is also the first time Euphoria has been available in cans. The can design is very cool, dominated by a deep, almost purplish blue. Ska's familiar skeleton is wearing winter garb, clad in a black-and-white checkered scarf. This will look familiar to Modus Hoperandi drinkers.

It's literally been years since I've drank Euphoria. I look forward to cracking one open.

Be. Jealous.

As a follow-up to my trip to Oregon, I received a wonderful gift today: a box full of beer, predominantly of Oregon origin.

I bought a bunch of beers while I was there, but ran out of time to figure out how to ship them. That's what moms are for.

The big ol' box o' beer will salve the pain of missing this weekend's Great American Beer Festival in Denver.

Without further ado, the bounty:

1. Cascade Brewing Co. Sang Royal. From a Portland brewpub, Sang Royal is dubbed a "Northwest-style sour red ale." It was aged in oak barrels with cherries added and comes in at 8.9 percent ABV. I love sours, so I'm incredibly excited about this one.

2. Upright Four from Upright Brewing, a new brewery in Portland that uses open fermentation. It's light at 4.5 percent ABV, a so-called "table beer" combining elements of American and European wheat ales. It's brewed with pale, wheat and Munich malts, rolled wheat, Hallertauer Mittelfruh hops and French saison yeast, promising a certain tartness.

3. Hair of the Dog Fred. A Portland classic, this golden ale is brewed with 10 hop varieties and aromatic and rye malts. Ten percent ABV and 65 IBUs. This is the only 12-ounce bottle in the group; the rest are bombers.

4. Ninkasi Total Domination IPA. An India Pale Ale from the up-and-coming Eugene brewery that is becoming known for its aggressively hopped ales. It's 6.7 percent ABV, 65 IBUs.

5. Pelican Heiferweizen Ale. A Belgian-style organic wit beer from the Pacific City brewery.
It's 5 percent ABV, 22 IBUs. If you've had Ska's DIFF, this is probably similar.

6. Pelican Doryman's Dark Ale. A brown ale (5.8 percent ABV, 42 IBUs), that was one of Pelican's earliest beers. A doryman, if you're curious, is a fisherman who uses a dory. A dory is a type of small boat used by anglers in some areas, including Pacific City.

7. Pelican Bridal Ale. A 2008 bottling, this French-style biere de garde was made for a brewer's wedding. It's 7.5 percent ABV and 25 IBUs. If you know of any reason I should not drink this, speak now or forever hold your peace.

8. Le Pelican Brun. A Belgian-style dubbel ale with a "rich yeast-driven aroma reminiscent of a saison," Pelican says. It's 7.8 percent ABV, 20 IBUs. A 2007 bottling, this apparently isn't available anymore. I got my from the fridge at the brewery.

And a few from elsewhere:

9. Midnight Sun Obliteration V Double IPA. A big, hoppy monster from Anchorage, Alaska. Obliteration V comes in at 8.2 percent ABV and 95 IBUs. It was brewed with Nugget, Warrior and Amarillo hops.

10. The Bruery Orchard White. A Belgian-style wit (5.7 percent ABV, 15 IBUs), bottle-conditioned and unfiltered, from the Placentia, California, brewery. I've heard great things about The Bruery, and this is my first chance to try one of their beers.

11. Allagash Black. A beer from another well-regarded brewery that I haven't tried. Allagash is based in Portland, Maine, and is reputed to be one of the East Coast's best. This is a "Belgian-style stout." I didn't even know there was such a thing. It's 7.5 percent ABV and bottle-conditioned.

Writing this out told me something about my own tastes. Seven of the 11 are Belgian-style beers. I love Belgians, and there just aren't enough available in Colorado.

It'll take me a while to drink all of these, and I'll probably need some help from my friends. Any takers?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Hoperation Ivy released today

Ska Brewing Co.'s Hoperation Ivy was scheduled to be released today.

Hoperation Ivy is a fresh-hop IPA, brewed with the bounty of San Juan Hop Farms near Montrose. It is no. 13 in the Durango brewery's Local Series.

It should be in Durango liquor stores in 22-ounce bomber bottles.

I haven't tried it yet, but last year it was a very tasty, aggressively hopped ale. If you haven't tried any fresh-hop beers, you owe it to yourself to drink a bottle. Fresh-hop ales have a more floral and oily quality that less fresh beers just can't duplicate.

Fresh-hop (also called wet-hop) beers are exceedingly popular in regions lucky enough to have hop farms. These beers involve driving to nearby farms, choosing the hops, then driving back and getting the hops into a brew kettle in a hurry.

Deschutes Brewery in Oregon and Sierra Nevada in California brew fresh-hop beers that show up on our local shelves.

Steamworks Brewing, last I heard, was also brewing a fresh-hop beer using San Juan Hop Farms hops. I'll let you know when I have more information on their edition.

You can read more about Ska's hop trip to Montrose below.

Update: It's on the shelves for sure, at least at Ska HQ.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The IPA's remarkable ascendance

As we all know, India Pale Ales have become hugely popular in the modern craft beer world. Nearly every craft brewery makes one, and hopheads pant at the notion of a newer, bigger IPA.

Last year, the IPA was the most-entered category among brewers at the Great American Beer Festival.

IPAs are characterized by their strong alcohol content and aggressive hopping. Most IPAs fall in between 6 to 8 percent ABV and 60 to 80 IBUs. They taste bitter.

Locally, when Ska Brewing Co. decided to add a beer this year to its year-round lineup, it chose an IPA. Ever since, Ska has been selling the heck out of Modus Hoperandi. It seems Thibodeau and co. made a savvy business decision.

What to make of this popularity? Perhaps it's simply the search for something different. Nothing provides as great a departure from industrial lagers like Budweiser than a hoppy, craft-brewed IPA like Modus.

The strong alcohol content also probably plays a role. People like big beers.

Locally, the offerings are fairly diverse. A drinker can find Cascade Canyon Cask IPA and Monkeywrenched IPA at Carver Brewing Co. Ska has Modus Hoperandi on tap, and every liquor store in town carries it. Steamworks offers Conductor Imperial IPA, a huge hop bomb at 9.2 percent ABV and 82 IBUs.

In bottles, Durango shelves offer a wealth of variety, from Russian River's Pliny the Elder to Avery's IPA. Avery also has its massive 10 percent ABV, 102 IBUs, Maharaja Imperial IPA.

Lately, my favorite IPAs have been Avery's IPA and Russian River's Blind Pig. They carry a hop bite with pleasant balance.

I've warmed to IPAs, but I doubt it will ever be my favorite style. I would rather sip a Belgian-inspired brew like Brewery Ommegang's Hennepin or Avery's White Rascal. But some beer drinkers primarily drink IPAs, worship the biggest and crave that hop bite. I won't begrudge them that.

Sometimes, I wonder if beers like Conductor and Maharaja have more to do with ego - the brewer's and the drinker's - than taste. I find anything over 80 IBUs very hard to drink.

Those very "imperial" IPAs contrast with my favorites. While I was in Oregon a few weeks ago, I was impressed by the balance exhibited in many of the local IPAs, such as Terminal Gravity IPA. Sometimes, more bitter isn't better.

Where do we go from here? It seems impossible to stuff more hops into a bottle than Steamworks has done with Conductor or Avery has done with Maharaja. Even if it could be done, what would be the point?

Will we see a regression toward balance, toward IPAs like the aforementioned Cascade Canyon and Terminal Gravity?

I hope so. Once you've been to the moon, there's nothing left to do but settle back to Earth.

Great American Beer Festival coming up

We are exceptionally lucky to have the Great American Beer Festival in Colorado. The Denver fest is easily the biggest and best of its kind.

The Denver Post has a good preview here. Although, if I were going, I certainly wouldn't waste my time on Fat Tire, as the author suggests. There's way too many good beers at GABF to bother with anything that can be found at every neighborhood liquor store.

The festival will be held Sept. 24-26. Tickets already have sold out.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Fall brings seasonal crop

Just about everybody is brewing up something special for fall. Let's get to it:

Durango Brewing Co. is brewing a batch of a new Helles bock for fall. The German-style lager will be on tap, but not bottled. DBC's Colorfest fall seasonal (6.2 percent ABV, 21 IBUs) is out now.

Steamworks is shooting for an Oct. 16 release for its Ale Diablo. This year's edition uses a Belgian yeast strain and the juice of Riesling grapes. It'll be in 22-ounce bomber bottles, and presumably on tap. Also, Steamworks should have a fresh-hop beer out in a few weeks.

Ska's own wet-hopped beer, Hoperation Ivy, will be released in bombers Sept. 22 as part of Ska's Local Series. (See post below for more info). Merlo Stout is still around.

Carver's currently has its Monkeywrenched IPA on tap. I tried it yesterday, and it has an incredible, floral nose and a big alcohol bite.

Avery Brewing Co.'s The Kaiser is on the shelves in 22-ounce bomber bottles. The Kaiser (9.3 percent ABV, 24 IBUs) is Avery's imperial Oktoberfest lager. I haven't tried it, but such a big lager should be interesting. For more information, check out Avery's own Facebook page and blog.

Update: New Belgium has released its own fall seasonal, Hoptober Golden Ale. Hoptober (6 percent ABV, 40 IBUs) will be available through November. It was brewed with Centennial, Cascade, Sterling, Willamette and Glacier hops, pale and wheat malt, rye and oats.

“This beer is a Hop Lover’s dream within the Belgian idiom,” said Bryan Simpson, New Belgium spokesman, in a news release. “This beer is hop-forward but very well-balanced with generous mouthfeel.”

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Elsewhere on the Internets

The New York Times has an amusing article about Dogfish Head, the much-hyped Delaware brewery, trying to make a traditional Peruvian beer called chicha. Chicha involves using corn that has been chewed by the brewers. Yes, you would be drinking brewer spit.

Such is the pull and repulsion of Dogfish Head. They brew a lot of interesting, boundary-pushing beers, but not all of it makes sense, works out or tastes good.

Elsewhere, Fermentedly Challenged reviews Ska's Modus Hoperandi IPA. He liked it, with the caveat that it must be paired with food. I love Ska, but for my taste, Modus is simply too bitter.

Ska's hop harvest

Ska Brewing Co. will release its fresh-hop IPA on Sept. 22.

Hoperation Ivy uses hops from San Juan Hop Farms near Montrose. This is from Ska:

Last summer, while returning to Durango with a truckload of Cascade hops that had just been harvested by a crew of Ska employees, co-founder Bill Graham had a
revelation: “My truck smelled like hops, I smelled like hops, and I thought to myself, using locally-grown hops that we just picked a few hours ago is going to make an incredible beer," he said in a news release provided by Ska. "It’s a very unique, seasonal beer that can only be brewed once a year, and it is also low impact. That’s why there’s such a buzz around using local ingredients in food, and beer is food, right?”

Ska is once again traveling a few hours north to San Juan Hop Farms, and harvest Colorado-grown Cascade hops to create another batch of wet-hopped India Pale Ale. Generally, when hops are harvested they are dried and pressed into pellets but fresh hop, or “wet hop” beers use whole flowers that were plucked from the vine just hours before and still retain most of the volatile flavors that are lost during processing.

As Graham realized, it’s not only an opportunity to create an “almost” local beer, it’s also a chance to reduce the carbon footprint associated with producing a craft beer. Ska co-founder Dave Thibodeau said the brewery jumped at the opportunity to work with a Colorado hop farm. “We’ve always focused on trying to minimize our impact on the planet as the business grows," he said. “Using local ingredients means fewer ingredients we have to transport here from the Northwest or Europe, and that’s about the biggest reduction in impact you can get.”

Hoperation Ivy will be Ska's 13th Local Series beer. Fresh-hop beers do have a unique flavor that is difficult to explain - they're oilier somehow. I enjoyed Ska's fresh-hop beer last year, and look forward to the 2009 edition. Hop-heads should love it.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Oregon brewings

I hope you'll excuse a long post about beer at sea level.

I grew up in Oregon before leaving in 2005, when I made a beeline for Durango.

Oregon proclaims itself "Beervana" for the huge number and variety of beers brewed there. I lived there long enough to appreciate some of the pioneering beers of Oregon brewing, like Mirror Pond Pale Ale and Widmer Hefeweizen.

Since I left, the old stalwarts - Deschutes, Rogue, Widmer - have gotten better, adding big, interesting beers to their lineups. (The Dissident, anyone?).

Meanwhile, numerous small breweries have opened. Ninkasi opened in Eugene in 2006 and has won respect for its relentlessly hop-forward ales. Hopworks Urban Brewery opened in southeast Portland in 2008, offering a full lineup of organic beers. Even my old hometown, Corvallis, got in on the party when Block 15 opened in an old pizzeria downtown.

I love Durango, but it's fun to visit where I came from. I recently had the chance to do just that, and check out several breweries along the way.

In Oregon, brewing is part of everyday life. Nearly every restaurant has a good selection of Oregon craft beer.

The day after arriving, we visited my girlfriend's uncle in east Portland. He had recently had a party, and of course he had two kegs of superior Oregon craft beer. What could be more natural? Of course one of them was a superb IPA, in this case Terminal Gravity IPA (6.9 percent ABV) from the tiny, isolated Eastern Oregon town of Enterprise.

For lunch, we went to Hopworks Urban Brewery, an all-organic brewery on Portland's east side. There I enjoyed a seasonal, Whoop Whoop Wit, a very light Belgian wheat that reminded me of New Belgium's Mothership Wit. I also enjoyed a pint of their HUB Lager (pictured, 5.1 percent ABV, 32 IBUs).

After that, it was down to Corvallis for a few days. My old hometown now has a brewpub, Block 15, in a downtown space that was formerly a pizzeria/college bar. During two visits, I tried Block 15's Printmaster Pale Ale (meh, 5.5 percent ABV, 34 IBUs), a strong ale called Aboriginale (yummy, 7.1, 50) and a "One Hop Wonder" IPA. Unfortunately, they were out of their Belgian Blonde, which I had looked forward to trying.

Of the three Block 15 beers I tried, the One Hop Wonder IPA was by far the best and most interesting. Most IPAs combine three or more types of hops. Block 15 showcases one hop at a time in its rotating One Hop Wonder IPA. When I visited, the featured hop was Sorachi Ace, a variety of which I was unfamiliar. The IPA (7 percent ABV, 60 IBUs) was bright, floral and excellent, a refreshing effort to showcase one hop rather than a muddle of varieties.

Block 15 was barrel-aging several interesting beers, so I look forward to a return visit.

In Eugene, I enjoyed a couple of beers at Steelhead Brewing while the Ducks embarrassed themselves against Boise State. The cask IPA was an excellent treat.

Then it was on to the coast. Rogue Brewing in Newport is among Oregon's oldest and largest breweries. It has to have one of the best settings for a brewery in the country, on the docks of Yaquina Bay. It's absolutely beautiful. (Don't bother with Rogue's tourist outlet downtown).

The tasting room is upstairs; one has to tromp through a smelly, wet brewery to get to the staircase. I found a seat near the window - where the above photo was taken - and opted for a sampler.

Since Rogue distributes several of its beers in Colorado, I chose rare and seasonal beers among the 27 on tap: Latona Pale Ale, brewed for the Oregon Brewer's Festival; Sesquicentennial 150, brewed to celebrate Oregon's birthday; Double Dead Guy, an imperial version of their Dead Guy Ale; and Russian Imperial Stout.

All of the above beers were fine; none were superb. I liked the Latona best. It was light in color and exhibited a malty body and pleasant hop bite.

Rogue is worth a visit for the view alone. They make some fine, hoppy ales, but other Oregon breweries have surpassed Rogue's quality.

One of these is Pelican Pub and Brewery in Pacific City, on the north coast. The beach adjoins the pub, and diners have a view of Haystack Rock, dory boats and surfers.

I tried a Kiwanda Cream Ale (pictured, 5. 1 percent ABV, 25 IBUs), one of Pelican's signature session beers. It pours a pale golden color with a big, fluffy white head, and a creamy texture. It was good, but I preferred the cask IPA my friend had. I bought several Pelican bottles, including a biere de garde and a Belgian-style brown ale, to enjoy later.

Pelican isn't cheap - pints run about $6 - but it's one of the best brewpubs in the country. Pelican is pushing the intriguing frontiers of Belgian-style craft brewing in America.

Lastly, I visited Fort George Brewery in Astoria, on the northwest tip of Oregon, where the Columbia meets the Pacific.

Fort George had a substantial selection on tap. I enjoyed a Quick Wit (pictured) and a Spank Stout. The beers were served in nearly overflowing mason jars. The wit was good, but I really liked the Spank Stout, a chili-infused, deep, black abyss. The spice had a pleasant kick.

Unfortunately, I missed Deschutes' brewpub in Portland, one of my favorite breweries around. Others were also neglected. When in Beervana, one simply cannot try everything.