Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween, dear readers. Enjoy yourselves tonight but stay safe. Drive sober, or better yet, don't drive at all because not everybody will make good choices.

I'll be enjoying Halloween with some friends and a mini-keg of Ska ESB (5.7 percent ABV, 58 IBUs).

Kegs ain't cheap. It was $57 for the five-gallon keg. That's a total of 40 pints, so it comes out to $1.43 per pint.

The other issue is the deposit, which was north of $100 for the keg and tap. Brewers in general have been charging fat deposits for kegs to make sure they come back. A couple of years ago, breweries were having big problems with people selling kegs for scrap metal.

Deposits help make sure people return the kegs, but it may be a barrier for some people to drop more than $100, even if they get the money back.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Elsewhere on the Internets

The Oregonian has excellent news for our local brewers: the hop crisis is over. In fact, there is a glut of hops on the market right now.

In 2007, hops became so expensive that brewers were fretting about their supply. Without hops, craft beer wouldn't be what it is today. We'd all be drinking Gruit instead of IPAs and all the rest.

There's no danger of that now. The newspaper reports:

"It's a complete reversal from a couple of years ago," says Ralph Olson of Hopunion LLC in Yakima, a major hop broker and supplier.

As an agricultural product, beer will always suffer from the vagaries of nature, supply and demand. But it's good to know that at least for now, the hops will keep coming.

Also, The New York Times reviews a range of stouts today. Frankly, I found the Times article a little stodgy. The writer, Eric Asimov, reminisces about hunting around NYC for Guinness. That's pretty far removed from the experiences of beer drinkers today.

The Times article focuses on classically styled stouts that are light in body. Fair enough, I suppose, but if I'm at a liquor store looking for a dark beer, I'm probably going to reach for an imperial stout such as Great Divide's Yeti.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Seasonal beers on tap at Ska

One of the most fortuitous outcomes of Ska Brewing Co.'s move to a 24,000-square-foot building a year ago has been occasional tappings of some fantastic limited-run beers.

Ska purchased a small pilot system to allow its talented brewers to test their skills on small batches. One of the first of these, a Belgian amber, portended great things to come.

A visit to Ska on Monday showed the brewers have stepped up their small-batch efforts. Three very limited seasonal beers were on tap. I chose a sour, barrel-aged version of Ska's Nefarious Ten Pin Imperial Porter. The sour note was strong, a dominant taste rather than a suggestive flavor. I liked it, but a little bit went a long way, especially considering the beer's assertive alcohol content.

Also on tap were two Halloween-themed beers. I had a taster glass of a pumpkin-spiced brown ale that was delicious. It was a tad sweet with a nicely balanced pumpkin flavor. Again, one wouldn't want to drink more than a pint of it at a time, but it tasted of an experiment gone right. I didn't get to try the third beer.

These beers won't be bottled, so it behooves you to try them while they last. I look forward to seeing what comes next.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The seasons, they change

Craft beer, like leaves, changes with the seasons.

A Budweiser is always a Budweiser. There is no such thing as a fresh-hop Budweiser, nor does Anheuser-Busch InBev brew a Budweiser stout.

This is one of the great advantages and distinctions of craft brewing. Most craft breweries offer anywhere from a half-dozen to 20 distinct beers at any given time, and at least one or two will be seasonal creations.

In the earthy world of craft beer, seasons dictate brewing certain beers.

We can celebrate autumn with fresh-hop beers like Ska's Hoperation Ivy or Steamworks' Wet-Hop Brown. Or we can enjoy bottled out-of-state treats, like Deschutes' Hop Trip. Or we can taste other seasonal creations like Durango Brewing's Colorfest or Steamworks' Ale Diablo.

Just as soon as we tire of wheat beers, light lagers and other summer seasonals, the weather turns cold, encouraging us to move on to stouts, porters and dark lagers.

I've done that myself, drinking within the last week a Session Dark Lager from Full Sail Brewing in Oregon, (a near clone of Durango Brewing's Durango Dark Lager); a Black Butte Porter and a Ska Steel Toe Stout.

Steel Toe (5.4 percent ABV, 29 IBUs) has been around for quite some time, but it came to my attention again by winning a bronze medal in the sweet stout category at last month's Great American Beer Festival. It makes a fantastic dessert beer - I can vouch that it pairs wonderfully with Cherry Garcia.

It won't be long before I'll be enjoying a Backside Stout on tap at Purgatory. Summer is gone, and fall is slipping away. The current temperature in Durango is 43 degrees Fahrenheit. Luckily, we have an impressive variety of beers to keep us warm through the cold, bleak winter.

Like the sky, it's time for beer drinkers to go dark.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Review: Avery duganA IPA

Avery Brewing Co. has a new India Pale Ale on the shelves. Named duganA, this hefty double IPA is meant to give hopheads something between the Boulder brewery's standard IPA (which is exceptional) and its huge Maharaja Imperial IPA.

It reminds me of Porsche, which decided sports car buyers needed something between the Boxster and 911. Thus the Cayman, a bastard child that doesn't even look cool.

But I digress. For the sake of context on Avery's IPA lineup, here are the stats:

Avery IPA: 6.3 percent ABV, 69 IBUs
duganA double IPA: 8.5 percent ABV, 93 IBUs
Maharaja Imperial IPA: 10.2 percent ABV, 102 IBUs

duganA looks and smells like one would expect from a double IPA. It pours a dark, yellow-tinted amber, with a bubbly two-finger white head that recedes quickly, revealing a pronounced hop aroma.

As one would expect from Avery, duganA is well-brewed. The hop bitterness is aggressive but nevertheless drinkable. It's stronger than a standard IPA but more approachable than, say, Steamworks' Conductor Imperial IPA.

duganA is nothing new. It's simply an above-average strong IPA, a style that is becoming achingly familiar. Yet a well-brewed IPA will always find a market. B+

Check out the Boulder Daily Camera's review here.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Changes coming to Durango Mug Club

An alert Beer at 6512 reader left a comment a while back asking if Durango's four breweries and Farmington's Three Rivers Brewery were putting the kibosh on the Mug Club.

Not exactly. Mug club is "going through a transformation," said Bill Graham, co-founder of Ska Brewing Co., via e-mail.

Essentially, a plastic card will replace the actual mug. Your bartender will swipe the card when you purchase the beer, giving you a buck off. It costs $40 to join, so you'll have to drink at least 40 locally brewed beers in a year to make it worthwhile

Here's the relevant portion of Graham's e-mail:

We are hoping to have it all set for re-upping in November. This will be the gig: A Mug Clubber will be issued a card, like our gift card ... you know, credit card-looking thing. Upon ordering a beer at any one of the five places, you give your card to the beertender and then she swipes it at the register. The deal is you get a buck off every beer all the time. So no mug, no hauling crap around, just the card in your wallet. On Wednesdays (Mug Club night), you get $2 off every beer. It’s never been done before but the Aloha person says it can be done.

Anyway, on Wednesday there will be a lottery. Take all five places electronically, the thing is tracking all of the beers sold, and the 100th beer or 50th or whatever is the winner of the lottery, you get a shirt or hat or something from the place you happen to be sitting at. We hope it will be random enough that lottery winners are evenly split between the five places. Additionally, the thing will print out whatever on the chit; we’ll offer 10 percent off food at your next visit, discounted ski tickets, a half-price board tune from Bubba’s - whatever we can come up with in the future. But for the start up phase, it will just be the buck off thing. The other cool thing is instead of a re-up period, your card is good for a year from the time of purchase. The thing is smart enough that your card will not work one minute past a year from the time you bought it, and it tells the person at the register. So now, if you buy your card in May or June, the thing is good until the following May or June, which is cool. You activate your card by using it, but for those that choose, they can register on-line and also get bonuses sent to their e-mail.

With the caveat that the details are not yet finalized, this seems to me like a good idea in the making. The chief barrier to joining the Mug Club always has been the mug itself. Who wants to lug around a mug every time they want a draft beer?

It'll be interesting to see if the club keeps its name. "Point-of-Sale Club" doesn't quite have the same ring to it.

More details will be forthcoming. It took a few days, but the Beer at 6512 investigative team always gets results. :)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A welcome to newcomer Upslope Brewing

Upslope Brewing opened in Boulder only a year ago, swaggering like a talented rookie into the Front Range's already impressive lineup of breweries.

With stalwarts like New Belgium, O'Dell, Avery and Great Divide already nearby, why did Northern Colorado beer drinkers need more?

Well, because they can.

I have no idea when the microbrew market will reach saturation, but it doesn't seem anywhere close - as again proved by Upslope.

The newcomer proved it can swing with the big boys, winning two bronze medals at last month's Great American Beer Festival. To extend the metaphor, it was a Rookie of the Year-caliber performance from brewer Dany Pages.

So how's the beer? Based on a very limited sample, I pronounce it damn good. I found a six-pack of cans (yes, cans. BeerAdvocate photo here.) at a Denver store. I picked the pale ale; their IPA was also available.

Pale ale is a sure barometer of a brewery's quality. Breweries with indifferent pales are not worth one's attention, but a brewer of a well-done or unique pale ale deserves recognition.

Upslope's, I can happily report, falls into the latter category. The pale ale (5.8 percent ABV) pours a much lighter color than most pales, which despite the name, often show an amber color. Upslope's could at a glance be mistaken for a wheat.

Yet the hop taste is there. This is no weak pale ale, despite appearances. It's grassy, a touch of citrus, some nicely balanced malt flavor. An impressive session ale and a promising sign of things to come from Boulder's rookie.

Perhaps, with a little time, Upslope can grow enough to distribute around Durango. Welcome to the big leagues, kid.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Homebrewers to convene at Ska

Homebrewing clubs from Cortez, Pagosa Springs and Montrose will meet Oct. 24 at Ska Brewing Co. to taste, brag and chat about homebrewing.

It's free, and there should be a lot of good beer. The Autumn Homebrew Hoedown is intended to be a simple meet-up, with beer enthusiasts sampling brews and discussing homebrewing.

All are welcome. The hoedown begins at noon at Ska HQ, 225 Girard St., in Bodo Industrial Park.

Monday, October 5, 2009

A day in the life

A Belgian amber ale enjoyed at Pagosa Springs Brewing Co on Sept. 20. If you've never been to Pagosa Springs Brewing, you should go. They've got a fantastic lineup of beers.

A new one I had the same day, Mid Nite Pale Ale, was fantastic, although my photos of Mid Nite didn't turn out well. There's no information about Mid Nite on Pagosa's website, which makes me think it's new. In any case, it exhibited superb, well-balanced hop character. Sometimes hoppy beers run toward the bitter end. But in some cases, as with Mid Nite, they exhibit a fruity, floral character that makes you wonder if the hops were just picked off the vine. Delicious.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Review: Harvest Festbier (Carver Brewing)

Carver Brewing Co. has its Harvest Festbier on tap.

This German-style Oktoberfest lager pours a deep amber, with a substantial white, fluffy head.

It's got a lot of flavor led by a big malt profile. The hop presence isn't assertive.

Festbier is a returning seasonal release from the Durango brewpub. Carver's also poured it at Oktoberfest last weekend. According to Carver's head brewer Erik Maxson, this is the first time it's been brewed with completely organic ingredients.

"This year, we went all organic," Maxson said via e-mail. "Organic German malt, organic Hallertau hops, our special house lager strain, also from Germany; and good ol' Colorado water."

Festbier comes in at 6.8 percent ABV and 24 IBUs. The numbers tell me it's boozy, but Festbier does not have a strong alcohol taste. In fact, I'd call it refreshing. It would be easy to get yourself in deep with a few pints of this one.

I'm having a tough time describing Festbier. But I like it. B+