Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Around the Brewhouse

Just as lynx have been admirably reintroduced to Colorado, I'm introducing some links here at Beer at 6512, where they have been known to roam in the past (groan, I know). Sprinkled in are a few brief impressions from recent pints guaranteed to produce hilarity and baldness-fighting riboflavins.

- Pagosa Brewing Co. is pulling cask pints of a wassail, a dark holiday ale spiced to hell and back. It's quite sweet, but balanced well by a big malt base. The cask presentation is ideal for this sort of beer. It's not something you would want to drink all the time, but for a holiday treat, it hits all the right notes.

Pagosa's also offering its seasonal Ice Cave Lager, Nipple Mountain Nip barley wine and a Baltic porter in addition to its usual lineup. Not a bad way to warm up after riding the ridiculous champagne powder at Wolf Creek Ski Area.

- Speaking of Wolf Creek, it was there that I made the mistake of passing up Steamworks' very tasty Alberta Peak Pale Ale for a beer I'd never seen before: San Luis Valley Brewing Co.'s Hefe Suave. Apparently, the Alamosa brewery is now bottling. Wolf Creek also had San Luis Valley's amber ale.

The hefeweizen came in a standard 12-ounce bottle. It was thin-to-medium bodied with only a little yeast character. It might be OK on a hot day, but it was inadequate to help me dodge vacationing Texans ("I'm from an hour north of Dallas, sir!" "Yes, sir." "Do you know anywhere on site that sells cigarettes, sir?" Dude was maybe five years younger than me). This 4.5 percent ABV featherweight wheat ale reminded me of what I like about craft beer: beers better than this. I want my $4 back.

- The Durango Herald has a nice article on a business started by a Carver's bartender that leads tours to all four of Durango's breweries. This idea has been needed for a long time, so it's nice to see someone doing it. The breweries are too far apart to walk to all of them. The article also has some basic facts on each brewery. The tour's Eugene Salaz is also known to Durango radio listeners as DJ I-Gene. Dude makes the best bloody mary in the world at Carver's. It's out-of-control good. He's one of those people who makes Durango what it is.

- Ska Dementia gets reviewed at a blog called The Greatest Beer of All Time. My initial take on Dementia is here. I'll have more to say about that beer in my annual Beer of the Year post shortly after the New Year.

- Elsewhere on the Webernet, CraftCans.com interviews Ska Brewing president and co-founder Dave Thibodeau, who reveals his infatuation with big cans.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A look at Marble Brewery

New Mexico doesn't have the craft brewing culture of Colorado, but the Land of Enchantment is doing some catch-up. Marble Brewery is helping lead the charge.

Marble is based in Albuquerque, but also has a pub on the plaza in Santa Fe. The two cities form Marble's primary market, but its beers can be found throughout New Mexico (Distil in Farmington has a good selection), but not yet in Colorado.

Marble recently gained some national attention when their From the Wood was named one of the top 25 beers of 2010 by Draft magazine.

I've had the chance to try several Marble beers, including a batch of the acclaimed From the Wood at Ska's 15th Anniversary Party last summer. My favorite, however, is Marble Red, a very hop-forward take on the red ale, a style that is often offered with indifferent hopping.

Marble's version is relatively strong at 6.5 percent ABV, with Crystals, Cascades and Simcoes doing the bittering. It's essentially a red ale crossed with an IPA, to wonderful results.

Marble's head brewer is Ted Rice, director of brewing operations and one of the company's five owners. He told me in an e-mail that he has been brewing professionally since 1996.

Rice started in a New York brewpub before taking the American Brewers Guild class in 1998. He moved to Albuquerque in '99, brewed for Blue Corn Brewery in Albuquerque then transitioned that location to Chama River Brewing Co. He opened Marble in 2008.

Marble is quickly growing. Rice & co. will top 8,000 barrels this year after brewing 5,000 last year. For 2011, Marble will most likely pass 10,000 barrels, Rice said.

Marble's top-selling beer is its IPA, followed by Red. I asked Rice if Marble has any plans to distribute in Colorado.

"No plans to distribute in Colorado in the near future," he said. "Maybe a year from now. We are currently brewing at capacity and selling everything in New Mexico."

Good for them. What has impressed me most about Marble is the consistent quality of their beers. Having had the Red, IPA, From the Wood and Double White, each has been an above average, well thought-out and crafted beer. It seems Rice is doing some other interesting things, including a pale ale brewed with the designer hop Citra.

Marble also has a consistent brand identity that you can see on its website. Each beer is assigned a color of marble that dominates the packaging. More and more breweries are going to some sort of systematic branding (like Upright in Portland naming their core beers Four, Five, Six and Seven). Marble's beers are easy to find in a crowded liquor store cooler.

Hopefully Marble will be in Colorado before too long. In any case, their beers are well worth trying on your next sojourn to New Mexico.

This brewery is one to watch.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Ska Brewing graduates

Ska Brewing Co. surpassed 15,000 barrels of brewing in 2010, moving Durango's largest brewery from the American Brewers Association's “microbrewery” designation to the more important-sounding “regional craft brewery” designation, Ska announced in a news release.

"It’s amazing how much your life can change in the course of a day," Ska President and co-founder Dave Thibodeau says. "Just yesterday we were king of the ‘micros’ at 14,957 barrels, ruling the land with an iron-clad brew glove, and now here we are 20 hours later scraping the bottom of the regional barrel.”

The American Brewers Association designates breweries that produce less than 15,000 barrels a year as microbreweries, while regional craft breweries are those that produce between 15,000 and 2,000,000 barrels annually. As of July 31, the Brewers Association reported 534 microbreweries in the United States, and 71 regional craft breweries.

The designation doesn't change anything, but it does illustrate the impressive growth Ska has enjoyed the past few years. Ever since moving into their new brewhouse in 2008 and doubling down on cans in 2009, Ska has pushed a huge amount of beer into the market.

Ska seems to be enjoying themselves. The brewery had more than a dozen signs made that say “REGIONAL CRAFT BREWER PARKING ONLY”.

“I put one up this morning,” says Thibodeau.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Review: Carver's Smoked Baltic Porter

Last week, Carver Brewing Co. tapped something new and different for local craft-beer drinkers. The brewery's Smoked Baltic Porter was a first for Carver's, and, to my knowledge, any of Durango's breweries.

Baltic porter is a centuries-old style that seems to be enjoying a recent resurgence. Pagosa Brewing just tapped its own attempt, and chatter about the style on other beer blogs indicates it is not merely a local phenomenon.

"Why now?" Carver's head Brewer Erik Maxson said in an e-mail. "Hard to say other than maybe the proliferation of breweries and their brewers' desire to explore lesser-known styles is also increasing. I'm sure there are plenty of things not yet explored in the style realm or ingredients-wise, but with so many already established styles it would take a really long time to exhaust all of those possibilities. On a personal note 'is there really anything new under the sun?'"

Ah, the Ecclesiastes-quoting brewer. Seriously, though, it's something I've heard from other brewers — It's very difficult to come up with anything truly new at this stage in the craft-brewing game. Maxson's assistant brewer pushed to brew the Baltic porter.

Carver's Smoked Baltic Porter comes in at 7 percent ABV and 45 IBUs. I picked up a growler last weekend for free with my stamped-out growler card (a great deal, by the way).

It pours an inky black with a big tan head of foam. In appearance, it's not unlike an imperial stout.

It has a grand, roasted malty taste, with a hint of smoke and a depth and complexity that exceeds the traits of basic porters.

Maxson said the beer uses smoked German malt at about 15 percent of the grist.

Incidentally, my fiancée and a female friend with whom I shared the growler were also impressed. It's often interesting which beers women like or don't like. This one passed the test.

Carver's Smoked Baltic Porter is a very tasty and well-executed beer that's worth your time and dimes. A-

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Review: Steamworks sour brown ale

Durango has three new beers on tap just this week, and each is very different. (More on the other two later).

Steamworks Brewing Co. just tapped a sour brown ale brewed with Brettanomyces yeast. More and more brewers have been getting into weird souring yeasts, an encouraging and tasty trend.

It's a big, boozy beer, and as such it's served in a small goblet, which will run you about $5. (It's nice, actually, to see good beers served in glassware other than the ubiquitous shaker pint).

This one pours a fairly dark brown, with a modest off-white head of foam. As with many Brett beers, a fizzy, carbonated texture lingers.

The taste suggests apples and fall. Brett beers are endlessly fascinating — not only are they starkly different from each other, but they change dramatically over time. This one is already fairly tart, so it should be quite sour in a few months (if Steamworks has any left by then).

Steamworks' sour brown puckers. It wraps your tongue in sourness, with an almost soda-like fizz. Sour heads (a somewhat rarer breed than hop heads) should enjoy it. It's not a beer for the craft-appreciating novice, but it's good, and very interesting.

Some are already pronouncing the sour trend played out. Personally, I love the astonishing variety seen from one sour beer to another, and I wish there were more. Give this one a B, with appreciation for the extra time and expense that goes into brewing with Brett.

Also new are Steamworks' aggressive Elephant Rider IPA and Carver's Smoked Baltic Porter (interestingly, Pagosa Brewing also just tapped a Baltic porter). I'll have more on those later — after I drink them.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Beer of the Year nominations

The advent of December means it's time to start thinking about Beer at 6512's Beer of the Year award, my annual pick for Durango's best new beer.

The winner will be announced in early January. The criteria: New or substantially changed beers brewed in Durango for commercial release (in bottles, cans or on tap) during 2010. This means old favorites are not eligible.

Looking back at my posts this year, the early contenders are Durango Brewing Co.'s 20th Anniversary Ale, and several from Ska Brewing Co.: Clancy's Black Beer, Oak-aged Orange Cream Stout, Saison Du'Rango, Dementia and Sour.

Ska won the 2009 Beer of the Year award for its Wheelsucker Wheat Ale, an excellent imperial hefeweizen brewed in collaboration with Avery Brewing Co.

Ska has a bit of a built-in advantage because they release more new beers than anyone else locally. Durango Brewing only released the one this year that I'm aware of, while good beers can come and go from the taps at Steamworks and Carver's in anonymity.

What's your favorite new Durango beer? What have I missed?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Style spotlight: ESB

The Extra-Special Bitter, or ESB, is a centuries-old English ale style. It is derived from its diminutive brothers, the Bitter and Special Bitter.

ESB bears some similarities to the pale ale. Both are often strongly hopped, but the ESB tends to carry a more mineral-like taste.

The delicious, idiosyncratic ESB is one of my favorite styles. They are widely available most places, but in Durango, surprisingly, only Ska Brewing Co. regularly brews an ESB.

Fortunately, Ska's ESB is excellent. (It won a bronze medal at the 2010 Great American Beer Festival). It's aggressively and brightly hopped, with an off-white head foaming over the copper malt body. In fact, it's my favorite of Ska's year-round beers and, I think, unfortunately overlooked by the legions who prefer Pinstripe, True Blonde and Modus Hoperandi.

That said, Ska's version is a very hoppy and strong interpretation. Sometimes one longs for a slightly milder and more typical ESB.

During a recent visit to Star Liquors, arguably Durango's best-stocked liquor store, Ska's ESB was the only available example of the style. I later found a six-pack of Fuller's ESB at The Wine Merchant.

Fuller's, brewed in England, is a bit expensive at $12 for a six-pack, but it's a world-classic beer and I wanted to try it. It is indeed a milder and creamier ESB, with the hops acting as accompaniement rather than lead note.

I've also had some superb ESBs in Oregon, notably at Hopworks Urban Brewery in Portland and Calapooia Brewing in Albany.

It says something that three of Durango's four breweries choose not to brew an ESB. They all brew pale ales, a closely related style, but I would love to see more local ESBs, especially on cask, where the style is especially lovely.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Breckenridge, Wynkoop announce partnership

Breckenridge Brewing Co. and Wynkoop Brewing Co. today announced a partnership that will merge the companies under one umbrella while keeping their brands separate.

The upshot is we can expect Wynkoop to use Breck's reach to expand its distribution. Perhaps it won't be too long before Wynkoop beers appear in Durango.

Wynkoop recently began canning their beers, so it's not entirely surprising they're looking to expand.

That would be good news for local craft beer fans; Wynkoop makes some impressive beers. Here's the news release from Breckenridge:

Breckenridge Holding Company, the owner and operator of the Breckenridge Brewery and other food and beverage concepts, announces plans to enter into a 50/50 joint venture agreement with Wynkoop Holdings, Inc., the Denver-based owner of seven brewpubs and restaurants located in Denver and Colorado Springs.  The combined management strength, brand portfolio, and talent of these two Colorado craft beer icons will enable each entity to compete even more effectively in the craft beer and restaurant markets. Breckenridge and Wynkoop expect the joint venture to be finalized in January 2011.  

Breckenridge Holding Company will continue to invest in growth and marketing opportunities for Breckenridge Brewery and its Breckenridge Ale House concept.  Ed Cerkovnik, President of Breckenridge Holding Company, summarizes the key benefits of the agreement: "Both Breckenridge and Wynkoop companies have rich Colorado histories with similar, yet distinct, cultures. This joint venture captures the synergies of these two successful Denver-based companies.  Combining 14 wholly and partially owned subsidiaries under one umbrella gives us the leverage to build a stronger, more diverse, company." Cerkovnik added that “the combined company provides us with the platform through which we can more effectively pursue growth and expansion of our respective brands and restaurant concepts.”

Wynkoop Holdings, Inc. is led by Lee Driscoll, its CEO and controlling shareholder.  "This is a partnership Ed and I have discussed for years; the timing is finally right for making it happen. On the brewing side it means we can quickly grow our canning and self-distribution effort, with help from experienced craft beer veterans. We can get Wynkoop beer to more people without the time and expense of building a new brewery. This also adds a quartet of devoutly beer-minded establishments to our family, and provides a quick dose of depth and shared talent to our beer and food culture."
 

"Plus," Driscoll adds, "it puts two like-minded craft beer pioneers of our state on the same team. Together, our potential for adding to Colorado's beer culture is very big."

Wynkoop Holdings operating units consist of the Wynkoop Brewing Company, Phantom Canyon Brewing Company, Wazee Supper Club, Goosetown Tavern, Cherry Cricket, Pearl Street Grill, and Gaetano's.  Wynkoop Brewing Company, Colorado’s first brewpub, was founded in 1988 by Denver mayor and Colorado governor-elect John Hickenlooper and a group of urban pioneers that included Mark Schiffler (current Wynkoop COO) and Ron Robinson (Wynkoop’s current GM).

Breckenridge Holding Company operates seven wholly and partially owned businesses, all of which are located in Colorado, including  the Breckenridge Brewery of Colorado, a regional craft brewery in Denver; Breckenridge Brewery & Pub, a brewpub in Breckenridge; the Breckenridge Blake Street Pub located in the Ballpark Neighborhood of Denver; Breckenridge Brewery and BBQ, located in the Golden Triangle area of Denver; and the Breckenridge Ale House in Grand Junction.  A second Breckenridge Ale House is scheduled to open in the spring of 2011 in the Lower Highlands area of Denver. Breckenridge Brewery of Colorado handcrafts nearly 30,000 barrels of fresh beer annually and distributes its beer in 28 states.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Empty fermenters beckon experiments

Label art for Ska Brewing's 2011 Snowdown's beer.


People don't drink as much beer in the winter as they do in summer. This is because they're ignorant and misguided.

The sorts of knowledgeable folks who read Durango's first, best and only beer blog (I'm liking that line lately) know brewers break out great beers in winter, while summer releases tend to be thinner and slightly less wonderful.

The fact that fair-weather beer drinkers take a break in the winter means there's more space in the fermenters for brewers to geek around. Our local brewers are currently indulging themselves with some huge beers that we'll see over the next couple of months.

Above is Ska Brewing Co.'s label art for their 2011 Snowdown beer, brazenly stolen by me from Facebook (I doubt they mind the publicity). It tells us that Ska is planning to brew a so-called "black IPA" for Durango's annual winter embarassment in February.

Black IPAs are big in the Northwest. They're essentially IPAs brewed with dark malt. They can be quite good.

There has been much discussion about what to call these beers. "Black IPA" is contradictory because you're saying Black India Pale Ale, and a beer can't be both black and pale. The voguish term in the Northwest is "Cascadian Dark Ale," which I find a bit stuffy and provincial.

I'm just bummed Ska missed a chance to call their release "Call of Duty: Black Hops." (Maybe it's not too late!)

The brew geeks at Steamworks, meanwhile, are brewing a ridiculous IPA that aims for 125 IBUs. (I think at that point, you graduate from IPA to Imperial IPA to Ridiculous IPA).

Of course, I will taste this beer, because I'm a glutton for punishment, but I'm not looking forward to it. At some point, this attempt to brew the hoppiest beer possible just becomes painful. If you've ever tried to drink Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA, you know what I'm talking about. It's not pleasant.

Steamworks is having a naming competition for the beer. I initially suggested "Second Avenue Hop Flood," after their location on Durango's most in-between of streets. However, I've decided I prefer "Shooting an Elephant Imperial IPA" in homage to George Orwell's writing on India.

At Carver's, the brewers are working on a Baltic porter, a burly style that is cold-fermented and brewed with lager yeast, according to the 2010 Brewers Association Style Guidelines.

I ran into brewer Erik Maxson at the Main Avenue joint. He said the inspiration came from his newest assistant brewer. Pulling out a slide rule (and reminding me of my great uncle, a retired Boeing engineer), Maxson announced the big boy should land at just over 7 percent ABV, right on target for the style.

I had a little taste of the Baltic porter. It shaping up quite well: big, dark and malty.

Carver's has its annual imperial stout and Big Grizz Barleywine on tap, as well as a new Belgian-style dubbel. Flavor: bananas. A trippel and perhaps even a quadrupel may be coming.

Update: I should have mentioned that Insider Apple Ale is on tap at all four Durango breweries. It's a project of the breweries' combined consortium, the Durango Bootlegger's Society. The ale uses locally harvested apples.

It's definitely a beer and quite different from cider. I haven't tried this year's version yet, but last year's had a strong apple taste. I liked the flavor but found the texture a little mealy. We'll see if this year's version is any different.

In any case, Insider Apple Ale is interesting as both a brewing project and a local effort using local ingredients. Give it a try, and let me know what you think. It's also available in 22-ounce bottles.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thanksgiving beer pairings

Thanksgiving is, or ought to be, a holiday of great decadence. If you're not overeating, and imbibing to match, you're missing the point.

Wine is a more traditional beverage than beer to pair with Thanksgiving dinner, but beer is more than up to the task. It's no knock on wine to notice that beer comes in a far greater range of styles and flavors.

I'm actually tasked with bringing beer to a small Thanksgiving dinner, so I've been thinking about this. I'd like to bring a variety of beers to cater to individual preferences and different foods.

A nice go-to Thanksgiving beer is New Belgium Hoptober. The fall seasonal (7 percent ABV, 40 IBUs) from the Ft. Collins craft giant is a well-wrought, hop-forward golden ale.

It's somewhat unusual to find a hoppy golden ale — usually they're pansy beers meant to avoid offense. Not this one. It has a wonderfully complex hop flavor from Centennial, Cascade, Sterling, Willamette and Glacier hops.

Hoptober should pair well with a typical Thanksgiving dinner. It also doesn't hurt that Star Liquors in Durango has Hoptober 12-packs on sale for $9.99.

Another favorite is Durango Dark Lager (5.8 percent ABV, 20 IBUs). This is a local beer that I periodically re-discover to my delight. Durango Dark would pair well with desserts such as pumpkin pie, and its malt-forward taste provides something different from Hoptober. If you live outside Durango and can't find Durango Dark, Session Black Lager (in the stubby bottles) is very similar.

Porters are also great in this vein, and Ska's Ten Pin Porter, Santa Fe's State Pen Porter and Deschutes' Black Butte Porter all come with the Soggy Coaster stamp of approval.

For a fancy wine-like presentation, Steamworks' Spruce Goose Ale is a personal favorite, and the spruce taste should pair well with fall harvest flavors on Thanksgiving.

Finally, if there were ever a day to drink really strong beers, Thanksgiving is it. Imperial stouts and barley wines can offer complexities not found in lesser beers.

Experiment. The internets are full of posts like this, so feel free to Google "Thanksgiving beer pairings" for other suggestions. Try what you like, and let me know how it goes.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Durango approves new beer store

Last night, the Durango liquor board approved a liquor license for a new alcohol retailer at College Plaza, near the intersection of Eighth Street and Eighth Avenue.

Chris, Molly and Eric Hamilton plan to open a high-end liquor, wine and beer store, W.J. Doyle Wine & Spirits, according to The Durango Herald.

I'm glad. Despite the amusing comments from potential competitors, I would appreciate another liquor store in the South Side neighborhood, where I happen to live.

Sixth Street Liquors is a bit far to walk from my place and return with beer. As for Likker House, it has a limited selection focused on cheap beer and the owners still refuse to accept credit and debit cards, an increasingly untenable position.

The neighborhood could use a high-end store selling the kinds of quality beer offered by Star Liquors in north Durango. I see no reason why the Hamiltons should not be allowed to compete for customers.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Review: Big Grizz Barleywine Ale (Carver's)

As mentioned on Durango's first, best and only beer blog last week, Carver Brewing Co. has tapped its Big Grizz Barleywine Ale, a potent English-style beer meant to keep your spirits high and chests warm in below-freezing weather.

I managed to stop in for a Big Grizz on Sunday night as temperatures dipped into the teens. A lovely server brought a little goblet to my table in exchange for a mere $3.50.

Apparently, it was from the 2009 batch, a keg that brewer Erik Maxson must have squirreled away to see how the old bear ages.

Well, it turns out. It has a hint of sweetness and a little fruitiness that is well balanced by hops. It sports  fairly assertive carbonation that cedes to the amber-colored 11 percent ABV body. A full texture gives the ursine beverage a substantial heft appropriate for the style.

I like it. Call it an A-, almost an A. Big Grizz is the only barley wine in town, and many thanks for that. Durango is far too cold to be left without a barley wine.

One nitpick about the name: Big Grizz? Carver's names most of its beers after local phenomena. The Durango area has bears, but not grizzlies.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Barley wine, the ultimate winter warmer

For the first time this season, snow has dusted the streets of Durango. It's not much, but enough to justify Carver Brewing Co.'s tapping of its Big Grizz Barleywine Ale.

Barley wine is, of course, a type of beer. (It is often called "barley wine-style ale" to avoid confusion, but I'm not sure that's any less confusing). It's a broad term for a very strong style of beer of English origin, typically at least 11 percent alcohol by volume.

Because of their strength, barley wines are usually served in goblets instead of pint glasses. Their burly malt profile typically makes them quite sweet, a tendency that must be balanced with generous hopping.

Carver's is the only one of Durango's four breweries to produce barley wine. Barley wine fits well with how Carver's presents itself: a cozy brewpub that feels a little Old World, what with the hand-pulled cask engine and the shelf of single-malt Scotches.

It's has been too long for me to render a judgment on Big Grizz (11 percent ABV), so I'll have to try it again and see if I can review it. Typically, Carver's bottles a few for customers to take home.

Three Rivers Brewery in Farmington also offers a barley wine every winter. Perhaps a side-by-side comparison is in order.

My favorite barley wine so far is Deschutes' Mirror Mirror (11 percent ABV, 30 IBUs), which can sometimes be found in our neck of the woods. It has a wonderful balance of caramel malt flavor and hops that I haven't seen equaled by others.

At the 2010 Great American Beer Festival, 57 entries competed for medals in the barley wine-style ale category. The gold medalist was from Troegs Brewery in Harrisburg, Penn. Given the miserable winters there, they can probably use all the cold-weather joy that a barley wine can impart.

Barley wines are often regarded as the pinnacle of the brewer's art (although brewing something like a lambic is more difficult). Often, I find them too sweet, but a great barley wine is indeed something to behold on a cold night when your belly wants nothing more than a warming swell.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Winter beers come in from the cold

The first taste of Spruce Goose Ale is akin to a first taste of a fresh-hop beer. It carries a remarkable flavor, unique among local beers, lent by recently harvested high-altitude spruce tips.

Like fresh hops, the spruce taste is subtle but most present as soon as the beer is available. It recedes, and within a few months Spruce Goose will taste rather muted.

Last weekend, I made it down to Steamworks Brewing Co. for my first pint of this year's Spruce Goose release. It pours a dark amber color with a sizable head of foam. At 8.1 percent ABV, it's on the strong side. Spruce Goose is lightly hopped to 21 IBUs.

I love this beer. The spruce flavor, as I've said, reminds me of raspberries, but that's not quite right. Spruce really has a taste all its own.

Spruce Goose seems to fly under the radar. A good friend of mine who has lived in Durango for 12 years and drinks his fair share of craft beer had never tried it before I brought a bottle over to his house. It's seasonal (November through January), which limits its visibility.

Spruce Goose also costs about $10 a bottle. Some craft beer drinkers will not pay $10 for a beer, even if they wouldn't hesitate to pay that much for wine.

This is one worth trying.

Snow is expected in the mountains tonight, and around town, other winter seasonals are beginning to emerge. Ska's burly Euphoria Pale Ale is their lead winter seasonal. The purple cans ought to fit in your ski jacket, not that I would ever condone sneaking beers on the mountain.

At Carver's, an imperial stout just went on tap, and the brewpub will presumably have its annual barley wine available before long. November is Locals' Appreciation Month at Carver's, and they're having some good deals: pints are $3.75 (if I remember correctly; they may have been $3.50), while growlers are only $6.50.

I got my 64-ounce growler filled with imperial stout. You would have to look long and hard to find a deal better than that.

As always, the Front Range breweries have unleashed a flurry of winter beers. There are too many to mention here, but I was impressed by a Great Divide Hibernation Ale (8.7 percent ABV) I had recently. The old ale has a big, malty body that is nicely offset by fresh hopping.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Silly blogger navel-gazing + actual beer news

I try to stay away from tedious discussions of blogging and what it all means. A quick exception today as this guy has started a tempest-in-a-sampler-glass with a broadside on the value of beer blogging (posted to his beer blog, of course).

Yawn. Blog if you enjoy it, quit if you don't. Don't blog and expect to be compensated monetarily. I'm a professional journalist, and I certainly understand and appreciate the concept of being paid for one's work. But that involves writing for a publication conceived, owned and edited by someone else.

For most beer bloggers, their site is a chance to write something that is entirely their own. That has enormous value, even if it doesn't help one's bank account.

Now on to actual beer news:

Steamworks Brewing Co. has released their Spruce Goose Ale, a wonderful beer using spruce tips from forest land north of Durango. It's best when fresh, as the spruce tips give a delicious raspberry-like taste that recedes with time. It's also an expensive beer, especially in bottles, but entirely worth it. Spruce Goose is one of the very best beers brewed in Durango.

Steamworks also reports via Facebook that it is tapping a new beer today. Wanna Git Rye? is a rye pale ale that comes in at 6.5 percent ABV and 40 IBUs.

It sounds promising. To my taste buds, 40 IBUs is about the sweet spot when it comes to hopping pale ales. I'm eager to try this new beer and my old favorite, Spruce Goose.

Steamworks also will have a cherry vanilla stout on cask tonight.

Finally, Ska Brewing Co. has just put into barrels a new sour beer, according to its Facebook page (I sense a trend). Ska says:

"Our 3rd sour project is underway! 20 degree plato wort fermenting entirely in the barrels, 3 brett strains, 2 ale strains, lacto and pedio. To be blended and hopefully available in 2012 in time to toast the End of Days."

It sounds like an interesting experiment, to say the least. I think the danger in these types of beers lies in trying to do too much. The handiest example is Durango Brewing Co.'s 20th Anniversary Ale, which tried to be a Belgian golden, or a Brettanomyces-soured saison, or something. It ended up being muddled and indistinct.

Ska went the other way with Dementia, simply aging its dark, piney Euphoria, a heavy winter "pale" ale that is not at all pale, in bourbon barrels for a few months. It was then dry-hopped with Simcoes, and voila, out came Dementia. That was it. In my view, it's the best beer Ska has made in at least five years and quite possibly ever.

A final thought: I did not like Ska's first sour beer (cleverly named Ska Sour) because it was hopped to hell and back, and I thought the hops clashed nastily with the souring yeasts. Perhaps that's just one man's opinion, but I hope they dialed the Lupulin back a bit on this one.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Brewer Hickenlooper elected governor

Colorado voters have elected a brewer to lead their state. John Hickenlooper, mayor of Denver, was elevated to the governor's office by a wide margin.

Hickenlooper in 1988 co-founded Wynkoop Brewing in downtown Denver. Wynkoop was the first brewpub in Denver and helped lead the renaissance of the LoDo neighborhood (the Rockies and Broncos helped a lot, too).

Wynkoop has a number of links to Durango's breweries. Ska's head brewer, Thomas Larsen, learned his craft there.

The LoDo neighborhood has become a bit of a craft beer mecca. Great Divide Brewing (best known for their Old Yeti imperial stout), a Breckenridge Brewery pub and the famed Falling Rock Taphouse anchor the area surrounding Coors Field.

Hickenlooper follows a long American pageant of brewers to hold high office. George Washington and Samuel Adams, among other Founding Fathers, were avid brewers.

Brewing and state politics have mixed several times in recent years over grocery-store sales, excise taxes and other issues. It'll be interesting to see how Hickenlooper weighs in when brewing issues inevitably come to the Capitol.

Update (Nov. 8): Wynkoop will brew a beer in Hickenlooper's honor, Denver weekly Westword reports.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

World Series beer recommendations

It's fall, when a young man's fancy turns to the World Series, the best-of-seven, do-or-die contest that determines which team is the best at the world's most beautiful sport. (You can't tell me the Broncos are worth watching).

So we have the Texas Rangers facing the San Francisco Giants. For Giants fans, the beer recommendation is easy: Anchor Steam, first bottled in 1971 and arguably American's first modern craft beer. It is widely available, relatively affordable and at only 4.9 percent ABV, it won't make you pass out on your couch by the seventh inning.

Nevertheless, I would not argue against any of Northern California's finely wrought craft beers from breweries such as Russian River, Sierra Nevada or Lagunitas Brewing. There is no shortage of choices for supporters of Lincecum and the Kung Fu Panda.

Rangers fans have fewer choices, as Texas is not a craft-beer mecca on the level of NorCal. I'd recommend Shiner Bock, which is brewed in Texas and is also widely available and relatively inexpensive.

I briefly considered New Belgium's new Ranger IPA (6.5 percent ABV, 70 IBUs), but that's brewed in Fort Collins, not Fort Worth, and as a Colorado resident, I cannot allow Texans to claim another part of Colorado just because the beer happens to have a similar name to the baseball team. (Vent, seethe, recover).

So there you have it. Play ball!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Winter, and its delicious beers, loom again

In my rearview mirror last week as I drove south out of Durango, snow blanketed the La Platas.

This means it's time to start thinking about winter beers. Personally, I say bring it on. I enjoy a good wheat ale or German-style lager in the summer, but winter is the season of imperial stouts and barley wines. Now that's beer.

I'm prepared. I've saved a couple Ska Dementias that should taste great when the city of Durango is busy plowing snow into my car. Also, a couple Deschutes' The Abyss, the wonderful imperial stout; and barley wines from Santa Fe Brewing and Pelican Brewing.

At the moment, a Durango Dark Lager accompanies my viewing of the baseball playoffs. I'm especially looking forward to drinking some Steamworks Backside Stout at Purgatory.

Drink up those yellow beers. It's time for beers that intimidate.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Steamworks to tap What the Helles?

Steamworks Brewing Co. will tap its gold medal-winning "What the Helles?" lager today. If you haven't had a chance to try it, now would be the time.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Beer on the Pacific

The Oregon Coast is less well-known than Southern California's, but it has it charms: gray and dark blue, wind-bent trees, a sense of power welling deep within the world's largest body of water. The ocean typically is too cold to swim in, but a few brave souls slip into wetsuits and surf.

The coast is also home to some of Oregon's best breweries. Pelican Pub & Brewery in Pacific City has a beachfront view of Haystack Rock. The scenery is breathtaking and has helped Pelican become a popular tourist destination.

This little brewery has repeatedly cleaned up at the Great American Beer Festival. Pelican won the Large Brewpub of the Year award in 2006. The brewery has accumulated an astonishing 28 GABF medals since 1998, including three this year.

After a long and beautiful drive from the Willamette Valley, my buddy and I sat down at a window seat to watch the waves roll in, eat lunch and drink beer.

I first ordered a Kiwanda Cream Ale (5.1 percent ABV, 25 IBUs), one of Pelican's mainline brews. Kiwanda beat out 54 other beers to win the gold medal in the Golden or Blonde Ale category at this year's GABF.

It pours a golden honey color with a decent head. The carbonation makes the flavor pop. Kiwanda certainly does taste of cream, reminiscent of a cream soda. The light ale body holds the beer together superbly. Kiwanda uses two-row malt, flaked barley and light hopping with Mt. Hood hops to achieve a perfect balance.

Next I tried Pelican's fresh-hop beer, Elemental Ale (6.5 percent ABV, 75 IBUs). This one uses big quantities of Sterling hops. It's worth reading Pelican's description of the beer:

Brewed only once a year at peak hop season, this beer is made with 400 pounds of freshly picked, "wet" Sterling hops from Goschie Farms in Silverton, OR. The hops were only three hours from the vine when they went into the kettle. The mash tun was also used as a hop back, holding 300 pounds of hops! This beer features a huge floral, spicy, grassy aroma with a firm malt background and a huge, snappy hop finish.

Fresh-hop beers have become de rigeur for ambitious breweries, particularly in Oregon, home to a substantial percentage of the world's hop production. It's also caught on in Colorado, where Ska, Steamworks and Pagosa all brewed fresh-hop beers this season.

To my taste, Elemental Ale was a little over-hopped. I enjoy the floral, citrus and grassy qualities in hops, but at 75 IBUs, the subtleties are overwhelmed by bitterness. Additionally, Sterlings, a close relative of Saaz, aren't my favorite hops for the sort of starring role played in a fresh-hop beer.

Pelican does a great job with their beer and food (my shrimp pizza was delicious). I still have two significant nits to pick:

1. Price. Lunch for two with three beers between us ran almost $50. Pelican puts out a good product, but they make you pay for it.

2. Service. The restaurant was understaffed, and our server obviously had as many tables as she could handle. Beers were slow in coming, I didn't have utensils for about 20 minutes after I sat down and when she finally took my debit card, the receipt came back without a pen with which to sign it (I had to track down one at the bar). The staff were friendly but either overworked or inattentive, a common problem at tourist restaurants.

After leaving Pelican, we drove south on Highway 101 along the ocean until we pulled into Rogue Ales' headquarters, spotted beautifully in Yaquina Bay at Newport.

I ordered a snifter of John John Hazelnut, a version of Hazelnut Brown Nectar that has been aged in rum barrels. (It's actually a collaboration between Rogue's head brewer and its head distiller). It would make an impressive winter warmer, but I found the rum note a bit over-the-top, smothering the tasty hazelnut flavor of the base beer. The liquor taste could be welcome in some situations, but I just wasn't feeling it.

Much better was a sampler highlighted by a dry-hopped Saint Rogue Red Ale that expressed its Chinook and Centennial hops very favorably.

A taste of Rogue's Double Chocolate Stout proved that Young's version isn't the only game in town. The bittersweet chocolate taste was deep and inviting.

After driving back to the valley, I'm comforted that where the Pacific meets North America, brewers are practicing their craft with skill and conscience.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Hops and ales in Bend, Oregon

Bend, Oregon, reminds me a lot of Durango. It rests at fairly high elevation (a little over 3,000 feet), it has a wealth of outdoor recreation and natural beauty, and it relies on a tourism and second-homeowner economy.

Most importantly, it has five breweries (but a larger population, about 80,000 people). The best known is Deschutes Brewing, whose beers can easily be found in Durango. The town also hosts Bend Brewing, 10 Barrel Brewing, Cascade Lakes Brewing and Silver Moon Brewing.
I have been drinking Deschutes beers since I was of legal age, so it was nice to finally see the Bend pub.

Deschutes serves a six-beer sampler, all the better to enjoy during an Oregon Ducks football game. I chose Miss Spelt Hefeweizen (4.1 percent ABV, 17 IBUs), Yam-a-Lama! (5, 50) Down Under Dark Ale (4.7, 38), Mirror Pond Pale Ale on cask (5, 40), Lugnut Fresh Hop Pale Ale (6, 45) and Hop Trial Strong Amber (7, 52).

Most interesting and unusual was Yam-a-Lama!, a fresh-hop pale ale using Crystal hops, but with the addition of what the brewery calls a "heck of a lot of sweet potatoes." The sweet potatoes were a bold and different take on the American-style pale ale, adding a dimension I'd never tasted before.

It was a wonderful fall seasonal beer that took an entirely different tack than the many German-inspired Oktoberfest lagers.

The hefeweizen was also notably good, a flavorful turn on the popular style using wheat, pilsner, carared and spelt malts. It was brewed to style and very tasty.

I'm lucky to be here, in the midst of hop country, during a slew of fresh-hop releases. Deschutes had no fewer than four (four!) distinct fresh-hop beers on tap.

While I love Deschutes' beers, I was keen to try Bend Brewing. The brewery is best known for its rock star chick brewer, Tonya Cornett, who has won multiple Great American Beer Festival medals.

Bend Brewing's Elk Lake India Pale Ale (6.2 percent ABV, 64 IBUs) was a superb IPA, brimming with ample Nugget and Cascade hops. This bitter and floral IPA was head-turning.

I also tried Bend's seasonal Oktoberfest, which I felt lacked heft. Given Cornett's track record, and the wonderful IPA, I'm inclined to give her a pass. On a later visit, I tried the brewery's seasonal pilsner, a refreshing style that nicely complemented a light lunch. This one had a pleasant hop backbone.

Of Bend's three remaining breweries, the only other beer I managed to try was 10 Barrel's Summer Ale (4.7 percent ABV, 26 IBUs). A light golden ale with an assertive honey note, the Summer Ale was a dead ringer for Durango's own True Blonde Ale.

So that was Bend, a town with more than its fair share of craft breweries. For my next post, I'll have a rundown of Oregon's coastal breweries, including the much-laureled Pelican Pub & Brewery.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Report from the Tacoma Beer Festival

I apologize for the lengthy delay since my last post, but the good news is I've been drinking some great beer in the Pacific Northwest on a visit to family.

I ended up attending the Tacoma Craft Beer Festival last weekend. It was held on a pier on the Tacoma waterfront (just south of Seattle).

I was most impressed by two beers from Walking Man Brewery in Stevenson, Wash. The first was a burly cherry oatmeal stout that exhibited a wonderful natural cherry flavor in a full-bodied stout.

Next was Walking Man's excellent fresh-hop IPA, using freshly harvested hops from a nearby farm. The ale had everything you want in a fresh-hop beer: a rounded, oily, interesting hop flavor.

Lost Coast Tangerine Wheat carried its sweetish, citrus fruit note exceptionally well. I was impressed by the Northern California brewers.

Elysian Avatar IPA was disappointing compared to the hype that the Seattle beer receives. Another Washington IPA, Port Townsend IPA, was triple dry-hopped and tasted like it. The aggressive hop flavor was nicely balanced.

Big Al's Brougham Bitter had a slightly mineral hop taste, very much to style and very tasty. Finally, Lazy Boy Hefe, made with Munich and wheat malts and Vanguard hops, was a nice example of the style.

It was a good time, but I have somewhat mixed feelings about beer festivals. You get to try a great variety of beers at one time, but the bottom line is you're often in a warehouse full of dudes drinking beer. That begins to lack appeal after a while.

Nevertheless, the Tacoma fest, in only its second year, had a lot to offer. I greatly appreciated being able to try so many beers unavailable in Colorado.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Red-state moment

An overlooked benefit of the move among craft brewers toward cans: It is way more fun to wad up a can and toss it when finished, even if I have to pick it up later, than to place a bottle on the counter.

Crunching up a can and tossing it aside makes me feel American.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Review: Rio Grande Pancho Verde Chile Cerveza

And so we come to the clunker. I purchased a six-pack of this stuff in Farmington long ago. I drank one and it took me many months to try another for review purposes.

Pancho Verde Chile Cerveza is the creation of Rio Grande Brewing in Moriarty, N.M., a dot on the map next to the bustling crap-tropolis of Albuquerque.

Pancho Verde pours a pale yellow, reminiscent of industrial American lager. It sports a minimal head of white foam for a few seconds before dissolving into tepid yellowness.

Green chiles, a crop for which New Mexico is justly famous, come through in the aroma and flavor. Pancho Verde is extremely light-bodied. The green chiles lend an organic, vegetable taste followed by a gut-turning injection of green chile heat.

Give Rio Grande props for doing something unusual and reflective of its home region. That's all the praise I can must for this one: Without the green chile, I imagine Pancho Verde would taste something like PBR. It's so thin-bodied that there's nothing to the flavor but green chile, a seering heat that is out of balance and unpleasant. As one guy wrote on BeerAdvocate, "If a green chile could take a piss, this is what would be in the toilet." A vulgar but illustrative comment.

The craft-brewing revolution began more than 30 years ago. With market competition and learning brought by homebrewing, conferences and much cross-germination and sharing among brewers, it has become downright rare to find a craft beer that tastes truly bad. This is one. D

Friday, September 24, 2010

Durango's Oktoberfest this weekend

Downtown Durango will host its seventh annual Oktoberfest this weekend, Sept. 25-26.

The event will be held on three blocks of Main Avenue, from 900 to 1100 Main Ave.

On Saturday, Oktoberfest runs 11 a.m.-6 p.m. On Sunday, it'll be 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

All four Durango breweries are listed as cosponsors. The event raises funds for San Juan Citizens Alliance, the Durango-based environmental group.

Oktoberfest is free to enter. Food and beer can be purchased with wooden tokens. Dogs are prohibited, so leave the furry ones at home.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Review: Marble Red Ale

My planned series of New Mexico beer reviews collided headlong with a busy week in real life. But let's get on with it:

Marble Brewery is a bit of a jewel in the still-developing world of New Mexico craft brewing. Founded in 2008, it is based in Albuquerque but also has a substantial tap room on the plaza in Santa Fe.

I was first impressed by a Marble beer I had at Three Rivers Brewery in Farmington, which was offering the Marble beer as a guest tap. I think it was an Old Ale, a deep, dark, boozy brew that stood out.

I didn't have another Marble beer until their folks showed up at Ska Brewing's 15th anniversay party. (A recap of that event is here). From the Wood,  a 9.2 percent ABV Scottish ale aged in oak barrels, had a delicious, full and well-rounded character, with hints of vanilla and oak.

So I couldn't help but pick up a six-pack of Marble Red Ale while at Trader Joe's in Santa Fe.

Marble Red is fairly burly at 6.5 percent ABV. It uses substantial caramel malt, which is more than balanced by the contributions of Crystal, Cascade and Simcoe hops.

It pours a dark amber, with a decent head of off-white foam. The smell has a bit of caramel and a ton of hops.

Marble Red is aggressively hopped - the spices wash over your tongue and dominate the taste. It's more like a cross between a red ale and an IPA than a typical red.

I particularly enjoy generously hopped reds. They carry a ton of flavor, but seem better balanced than some IPAs. If you ever find yourself in New Mexico, grab this beer. And hopefully, given Marble's impressive consistency, it won't be long before the young brewery distributes here. A-

Homebrewing Modus Hoperandi

The homebrewers among you might be interested in this gentleman's attempt to clone Ska Brewing Co.'s Modus Hoperandi IPA.

It doesn't surprise me that he wasn't entirely impressed by the result. Modus, which uses four different hop varieties, strikes me as a difficult beer to clone. The teeth-kicking hop flavor of that particular India Pale Ale is unique.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Review: Sante Fe State Pen Porter

Sante Fe is one of the most stunningly unique places in America. It's as if someone took bits of Mexico and Spain and plopped them down firmly in the American West, surrounded by desert and mountains.

Every place name is in Spanish. The street grates say "Don't dump - drains to arroyo." The adobe architecture pleases the eye, as do the imposing Catholic cathedrals and the world-class art. And the food. Oh, God, the food.

Santa Fe has been thoroughly "discovered." Between the small city of 70,000, nearby Taos and environs, everyone from Julia Roberts to Val Kilmer, the late Dennis Hopper and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has chosen to live there at least part-time.

Fortunately, the land of Georgia O'Keefe and Tony Hillerman also offers ample craft beer to explore.

Santa Fe Brewing Co. is the oldest brewery in New Mexico. It is also the New Mexico brewery whose products are easiest to find in Colorado.

To start at a strong point in this week's New Mexico beer series, let's consider the State Pen Porter. It's one of Santa Fe's year-round, flagship offerings, and is readily available in six-packs here and there.

It pours a deep, inky almost-black with an imposing tan head of foam. The foam, no matter how carefully poured, will impress.

At 6.4 percent ABV, State Pen is relatively strong for a porter, a centuries-old English style that is widely brewed in the U.S. (including by Ska, with its comparable Ten Pin Porter).

Let State Pen warm for a few minutes to let the malts express themselves. And boy, do they - a wash of chocolate malt, with a little nuttiness. Some tasters perceive a hint of smoke in State Pen Porter (named for the nearby prison); I don't.

The dominant sweet chocolate taste is followed by a second wave of hop bitterness. This one has Cluster, Cascade and Willamette hops, and they're substantial enough to balance the ample chocolate malt.

It would be difficult to find a better porter. From the pour to the aroma to the taste, State Pen is a pleasure every time.

Santa Fe's website calls State Pen a "trademark beer of the Santa Fe Brewing Company’s master brewer, Ty Levis." Fine work, Mr. Levis. A

(An aside: If you visit Santa Fe, don't bother with the brewery itself. I went two weekends ago. It's out of town along a highway, past strip malls and chain restaurants. Only four beers were on tap. In fact, Trader Joe's had a better selection of Santa Fe beers than the brewery itself. Furthermore, the restaurant was out of chicken when I visited, and that ruled out about half the menu. Just buy their beer in a store).

Monday, September 20, 2010

Steamworks mounts comeback at GABF

Steamworks Brewing Co. made a strong showing at last weekend's Great American Beer Festival in Denver, taking home three medals, including two golds, to lead Durango's breweries.

Steamworks' Backside Stout won gold in the Oatmeal Stout category (39 entries). What in the Helles? won gold in the Munich-style Helles category (42 entries). And the brewery's Colorado Kolsch, which is now being released in cans, took the silver medal in the German-style Kolsch category (46 entries).

For Steamworks, this represents an impressive comeback after getting skunked at the festival last year. The GABF is widely regarded as the most prestigious beer festival in the U.S., and brewers take a great deal of pride in winning medals in the blind tasting competitions.

For Southwest Colorado's other breweries, Ska Brewing Co. won the bronze medal for its Extra-Special ESB (you may recognize the red can) in the Classic English-style Pale Ale category (29 entries).

In nearby Pagosa Springs, the plucky little Pagosa Brewing Co. won silver in the specialty beer category (23 entries) with its Coconut Porter.

Durango Brewing Co. came home empty, ending its two-year streak of winning gold.

Medals vary a great deal from year to year. One year, a beer won't even place and the next year it will win gold. Still, you can't avoid being impressed by Steamworks' performance. Two golds and a silver is nothing to scoff at.

Colorado Kolsch (4.9 percent ABV, 17 IBUs) is a great summer beer, light but still flavorful. Backside Stout (6.2 percent ABV, 28 IBUs) makes for wonderful quaffing between runs when poured at Dante's or the base lodge at Purgatory.

"This is the first time the Backside Stout has been recognized at the GABF,” said Kris Oyler, Steamworks co-founder, in a news release. “It is one of our original brews, on tap since we opened in 1996. This recognition is long overdue.”

Oyler credited Steamworks brewers Ken Martin and Spencer Roper with the victories.

Congratulations to all the winners. Now start thinking up some recipes for 2011.

Appraising New Mexico craft beer

Durango is so close to New Mexico that in many ways we have a foot in each state.

The economic intercourse between southern Colorado and northern New Mexico is considerable. Driven by advertising markets, we get our TV from Albuquerque. Many of us occasionally shop across the border in Farmington, while tourism from New Mexico helps drive Durango's own economy.

When it comes to beer, Durango's packaging breweries find an obvious additional market in New Mexico. And while New Mexico's homegrown craft-beer scene is improving, it lags behind Colorado's by almost any measure - number of breweries, amount of production, medals won at the Great American Beer Festival.

Still, there is good beer to be found in the self-proclaimed "Land of Enchantment." This week, Beer at 6512 will be highlighting New Mexico craft beers - the impressive and the disappointing, those distributed in Colorado and some that you must find there.

I hope you enjoy it.


*Note to readers: The computer I use to transfer photos has crapped out, so this blog will be lacking in photographs for the immediate future.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A look back at Ska's Local Series

Ska Brewing Co. just released the 17th beer in its Local Series. The new release is the third go-round of Hoperation Ivy, a wet-hop IPA using freshly harvested hops from a farm near Montrose.

So I asked Dave Thibodeau, Ska's president and co-founder, to send me a list of all the brewery's Local Series releases. It makes for interesting perusing.

The Local Series gives Ska's talented brewers a chance to stretch their abilities and experiment with new styles with minimal risk on Ska's part.

The small-batch beers are always released in 22-ounce bomber bottles, mostly in and around Durango, costing about $5 a bottle. I like that it gives us local beer drinkers something new to try several times a year.

Below is the label art for Ska's first Local Series release, a Spiced Belgian-style Blonde Ale:


Here is the full list of Local Series releases:

17. Hoperation Ivy
16. Clancy's Black Beer
15. Saison Du'Rango
14. Oak-aged Orange Cream Stout
13. Hoperation Ivy
12. "Merlo" Stout
11. Hoperation Ivy
10. Puck's Potion
9. Double Chocolate Stout
8. Pilsner
7. Double Cream Ale
6. Strong Scotch Ale
5. Jay Tea
4. Watermelon Wheat
3. Pilsner
2. Double Chocolate Stout
1. Spiced Belgian-style Blonde Ale

The first Local Series beer I remember (having moved to Durango in the summer of 2005) was no. 3, a refreshing, flavorful pilsner. I recall drinking no. 4, the Watermelon Wheat, with some skepticism.

The Local Series seems to have gotten more dialed-in and consistently excellent in the last couple of years. If I had to pick a favorite, I'd go with no. 14, the Oak-aged Orange Cream Stout that brewer Thomas Larsen thought up when he was sick. It tasted great - a deep, creamy dark stout with a pleasant hint of orange peel.

I hope Ska keeps the Local Series going for years to come.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Recipe for Ska double red

An alert reader noticed that the recipe for the beer I brewed last winter with Ska Brewing Co. in Durango has been reprinted by Brew Your Own, a homebrewing magazine.

If you're interested in how to brew a double red ale based on Ska's Pinstripe Red Ale, click over. I've posted the recipe on this blog before, but it's been organized in a more coherent fashion by Ska's Bill Graham. Scroll down to the recipe headed "Ska Brewing Company Kingpin Double Red."

I originally named it Soggy Coaster Imperial Red Ale, but I kind of like the name change.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Steamworks celebrates 14 years with specials

This week, Steamworks Brewing Co. is celebrating its 14th Anniversary with special discounts, a new pale ale and live music. The following is adapted from a Steamworks news release:

The brewpub will tap its new Colorado Proud Pale Ale, and welcome Colorado Kölsch in 12-ounce cans to the repertoire of beers available off-premise throughout the state of Colorado.

“It’s been an interesting 14 years,” said Kris Oyler, Steamworks co-founder. “And we’re coming out of a very challenging one, but given that our revenues this summer in the Durango brewpub have been the strongest in our history, and we’re seeing a renewal of our presence in Colorado, all is good.”

The Steam Team is especially pleased with its new, limited production Colorado Proud Pale Ale, to be tapped on Thurs., Sept. 16. Any product that endeavors to sport the Colorado Proud logo (a statewide effort that promotes restaurants and other producers who are “totally Colorado”) must include all-Colorado ingredients.

“We used 450 pounds of premium Colorado two-row barley and 150 pounds of red wheat malt from Colorado Malting Company in Alamosa,” said Brian McEachron, Steamworks co-founder. “The hops are organically grown and we harvested 50 lbs. ourselves from Thistle Whistle Farms in Hothckiss. The dominant varieties are Cascade and Centennial hops. Our yeast comes from Brewing Science Institute in Woodland Park, and the water is first-use water from the San Juans. Thus, this is an all-Colorado ingredient beer.”

Colorado Proud Pale Ale will, according to McEachron, emphasize hop flavor and aroma over bitterness. IBUs are in the 25-30 range and the ABV approximately 5.5 percent.

“The hop character should be floral with citrus notes,” said McEachron, noting the Colorado Proud will be available only at the Durango brewpub. “We’re targeting a highly drinkable Pale Ale.”

Since closing its Bayfield brewing operation earlier this year, Steamworks has been canning only its flagship beers for off-premise sales, including the popular Steam Engine Lager and Third Eye Pale Ale, both of which have been available for several years in 12-oz cans. Thanks to an increase in efficiencies at the Durango brewery, Steamworks is now canning the Colorado Kölsch.

“We’re focusing our off-premise marketing on Colorado,” said Oyler. “We’ve developed a strong following throughout the state and we’re pleased we’re still able to service those accounts with the Steam Engine Lager, Third Eye and now Kölsch in six-pack cans as well as kegs.”

“The Colorado Kölsch is our tip of our cowboy hats to the German Kölschs that surfaced early in the 1900s and peaked in popularity in the 1960s in Cologne, Germany,” added McEachron. “Steamworks’ Kölsch has won silver medals at both the Great American Beer Festival and the World Beer Cup.”

Steamworks 14th “Gold” Anniversary celebration will include special beer and food pairings throughout the week, as well as “retro-pricing” - $2.75 for all house craft pints. On Tuesday, Sept. 14, local bluegrass band Waiting on Trial will perform – no cover, with all house pints $1 throughout the day.

“Next year is no. 15, and we’re already planning a bigger celebration for September,” said McEachron. “For Steamworks, it always was and it still is, ‘full steam ahead.’”

Steamworks Brewing Co. is located at 801 East Second Ave. in Durango. Ph: (970) 259-9200.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Hoppy beers dominate Brewfest

Brewers packed a block of downtown Main Avenue Saturday for the 12th annual San Juan Brewfest, Durango's premier annual beer get-together.

The event brought 25 breweries, mostly from Colorado. Local bands Baby Toro and the Lawn Chair Kings provided the soundtrack.

Beer festivals seem to be coming fast and furious lately; another one was held in Cortez the same day. They could all be considered a warm-up for the mother of all beer festivals, the Great American Beer Festival this weekend (Sept. 16-18) in Denver.

I took it easy at the Brewfest because I had plans later in the day, but I still got to sample the beers that appealed most.

I mostly kept it to hoppy pale ales and IPAs. The few dark beers just didn't appeal under the summer sun. Here's my brief impressions of the beers I tried:

1. Palisade S.O.B. Pale Ale. This little brewery brought an outstanding pale ale to the Brewfest; probably the best beer I tried. The bright, floral, citrusy hops led the way. Simply a great, well-rounded and inviting pale ale.

2. Palisade Dirty Hippie Dark Wheat. Compared to the earlier Palisade beer, this one seemed a little lackluster. It was dark, malty and full-bodied, with a hint of spice. It would probably make a good winter beer but seemed out of place here.

3. Colorado Boy Cask ESB. A delicous, flavorful offering from the little Ridgway brewpub. The cask conditioning favorably showed off the Extra Special Bitter's creamy, lingering, smooth hop bitterness. It again demonstrated the benefits cask conditioning can offer hoppy beers, as Carver's does every time it pours its Cascade Canyon Cask IPA.

4. Ska Hoperation Ivy. The latest Local Series from Durango's own Ska Brewing Co., Hoperation Ivy is an annual fresh-hop IPA. The just-harvested hops from a farm near Montrose lend an oily character to the bitter ale that can't be faked. Fresh-hop (also called wet-hop) beers are always distinctive and often excellent. People who care about conscientious and interesting brewing shouldn't miss this one.

5. Pagosa Pale Ale. This is a perpetual favorite of mine from Pagosa Brewing Co. It's dry-hopped twice with Cascades, and the hops just pop on the tongue. The grassy flavor and lingering bitterness make this a showcase pale ale.

Miscellany: The Brewfest is a blessing in offering beers from around the state usually unavailable in Durango. Furthermore, it benefits a good cause in the United Way of Southwest Colorado (I should mention by way of disclosure that I was admitted to the Brewfest for free to blog about the event).

However, good events can always improve. My suggestions:

1. More food. Some brats were on hand, but that was about it. Perhaps next year, the organizers could extend invitations to a few restaurants so festival-goers who are queasy about eating brats have some other options.

2. Tim Walsworth, the United Way director who organizes the festival, is a magnanimous man who is familiar with my complaint about the glassware. It's no doubt cheaper, and safer, and with fewer headaches, to offer a small plastic sample "mug" than a real pint glass. It's an understandable move.

Still, I would prefer a nice pint glass, which was offered at the Brewfest years ago, for the following reasons: a). A pint glass makes a much better keepsake. Cool pint glasses like the one Ska made for its recent 15th Anniversary party make sweet collectibles. b). Aesthetically, it's much nicer to hold a hefty pint glass than a little plastic thing. c). The plastic mugs aren't adequate to the demands of foamy beer. It's a pain to have to wait for beers to settle in the little vessel. d). Glass indicates a presumption that your customers are responsible adults, rather than potential trouble-makers. That sort of trust goes a long way.

But those complaints are minor. The Brewfest is a fun event, put on for charity, that offers some great beer. I look forward to the lucky 13th year.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

On "33 Bottles of Beer"

A Portland, Ore., entrepreneur by the name of Dave Selden, in the mistaken impression that Beer at 6512 is an influential tastemaker, has sent me a sample of his product, a well put-together notebook intended for beer reviews.

In a moment of weakness that I blame on guilt stemming from my Midwestern, Protestant heritage, I'll give the guy the publicity he is so baldly seeking.

33 Bottles of Beer is a small notebook, slightly larger than a deck of cards. Each page contains fill-in spaces for the fundamental aspects of a beer review: ABV, IBU, beer name, brewer, etc. A flavor wheel allows the user to rate a beer's various aspects such as "malty," "sour," "hoppy," etc.

The notebooks cost $4 each or three for $10 from the official website.

33 Bottles of Beer is a nifty little tool for beer reviewers. I see it being most helpful for people who write frequent but short reviews for sites such as BeerAdvocate.

My only criticism is that it seems likely to encourage the ongoing standardization and formulization of beer reviews. Sites like BA have their place, but I hope there remains a space for us writerly types to go a little deeper in beer reviews. A hundred words might not be enough for every beer review; neither do I like to adhere by rigid categories like appearance, smell and taste. I might want to spend 100 words on the origin and character of the yeast alone.

In any case, Selden clearly has a handle on what constitutes a basic beer review, and 33 Bottles of Beer could be a useful tool for those who like to pound out brief appraisals.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

San Juan Brewfest set for Saturday

Durango's own beer festival, the San Juan Brewfest, is set for Sat., Sept. 11.

Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort’s 12th annual San Juan Brewfest will be held at 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. in downtown Durango on Main Avenue between 12th and 13th Streets.


The event boasts 25 breweries this year, up from about 20 last year, said Tim Walsworth, president and CEO of United Way of Southwest Colorado. A full list and event information is at www.CookManFood.com/brewfest. This event benefits United Way of Southwest Colorado.

General admission tickets are $20. They include entry to the event from 1 to 6 p.m. and souvenir tasting mug (5 oz mugs that we have used in past years). New this year is a VIP ticket. It sells for $40 and includes:

- Invitation to brewer’s only party at Ska Friday night (Sept. 10) from 6 to 8:30 p.m.
- Entry to Brewfest on Saturday one hour early at noon
- Reserved area at Brewfest with shade, tables, chairs, and food

Tickets will be available at the gate (cash, local check, credit card hopefully) or online now at http://shop.cookmanfood.com/san-juan-brewfest-tickets.html. ID will be required at entrance.

Baby Toro and the Lawn Chair Kings will provide live entertainment. Food will be available from three different vendors. And the event will have an oxygen bar too.

All proceeds benefit United Way and stay local in La Plata County, Walsworth said.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Steamworks donates $3,500 to college scholarship


Steamworks Brewing Co. has donated more than $3,500 to the Mark Witkes Memorial Scholarship at Fort Lewis College, the brewery announced in a news release.

The funds were raised by the 2010 Steamworks-Animas Valley Half Marathon, held June 19.

The Marc Witkes Memorial Scholarship is presented annually to a Four Corners-area cross-country runner attending Fort Lewis College. Witkes, an avid runner and former president of Durango Motorless Transit, died in 2006 as he approached the finish line at the Tucson Marathon.

The annual Steamworks-Animas Valley Half Marathon is a partnership of Steamworks Durango Motorless Transit and the Durango Sports Club. The 2010 event sold out early, drawing 300 runners.

“It was a beautiful day, a full field that sold out early, and so successful over all that we were able to contribute more than $1,000 more than we did in 2009 to the scholarship,” said Kris Oyler, Steamworks co-founder. “At Steamworks, we’re proud to continue this tradition and help support a collegiate distance runner in honor of Marc.”

Added race director Kristin Spiegel, “This running event has turned into one of the most popular in Durango. It keeps getting better. We expect the 2011 event to once again sell out early, and we’re pleased to be able to sustain Marc’s memory with such a positive event.”

I'm not much of a runner, but my girlfriend is, and she thoroughly enjoyed the half-marathon. There were aid stations every couple of miles to keep the runners fed and healthy, and Steamworks beer was poured at the finish.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Ska celebrates 15 years


Some 15 years ago, a couple of high school friends from Colorado's Front Range cobbled together a little bit of money and some equipment scrounged from rural dairy farms. With a comic book for a business plan, they founded Ska Brewing Co. in a warehouse on Durango's outskirts.

By now, Ska is easily the largest brewery in the Four Corners, with a spanking new state-of-the-art facility churning out bottles and cans for customers in much of the western and midwestern United States. Founders Dave Thibodeau and Bill Graham and later partner Matt Vincent now have more than 70 employees, strong sales and growing prominence in the craft-beer industry.

On Saturday, Ska celebrated its 15th birthday with a party worthy of its history. Seattle rockers the Supersuckers headlined a slate of bands and 15 breweries brought their best creations.

I was impressed by both the overall quality of the beers and the event in general. Everything seemed well-planned, from the shuttles departing from Steamworks to the commemorative tasting glass with a four-ounce pour line etched on the glass.

On to the beers. I got to taste most of the beers that piqued my interest. But I found that the four-ounce pour line was treated generously, and I left with some drink tickets still in my pocket. I tended to avoid beers readily available in Durango, so I found myself returning to some of the smaller producers.

Without further ado, in approximately the order in which I tasted them:

1. Ska Dementia. I had to give my regards to the birthday boy, so to speak. Brewed specifically for this event, Dementia is a barrel-aged version of Ska's Euphoria Pale Ale, typically a winter seasonal. Ska head brewer Thomas Larsen aged it for about five months in oak barrels, and dry hopped it with Simcoes.

I kept my expectations for this beer in check. Euphoria is not one of my favorite Ska beers - I have made the error of comparing Euphoria to other pale ales rather than taking it on its own merits. Euphoria is nothing like a standard American-style pale ale, Sierra Nevada's pioneering pale being the widely acknowledged exemplar. Euphoria is darker, hoppier and boozier.

Larsen poured a ceremonial opening keg of Dementia (pictured). The aged ale shows a deep mahogany color, with a substantial head of white foam.

On first taste, you get a deep sense of something old and wonderful, like a musty barn. A suggestion of oak comes across, with perhaps a hint of vanilla. The rough edges in Euphoria have been lovingly sanded off, and Dementia is well-rounded, complex and balanced, with a slightly sweet and vinous aftertaste.

In short, it's outstanding. Dare I say Dementia is one of the best beers Ska has ever brewed.

An extremely small quantity of Dementia is available in 22-ounce bomber bottles, double-dipped in wax to ensure proper aging. Your best bet is to purchase them at Ska headquarters in Bodo Industrial Park. I suggest you do so.

2. Steamworks Cherry Diablo. A cherry-infused version of Ale Diablo from Durango's own Steamworks Brewing Co., this one was served from a firkin. The cherries (I heard they were pie cherries) nicely complemented the already excellent base beer, a Belgian-style golden ale that comes in at 8.5 percent ABV and 33 IBUs.

3. Marble IPA. A very hop-forward and well-brewed IPA from the two-year-old Albuquerque outfit. This one is brewed with Columbus, centennial and Amarillo hops and packs 6.2 percent ABV.

4. Left Hand Polestar Pils. A summer favorite of mine from the boys in Longmont, this pilsner lager (5.5 percent ABV, 33 IBUs) is brewed with Weyermann pilsner and pale malt, and hopped with magnum, Mt. Hood and sterling hops. It was as good as I remember.

5. Three Rivers Double Amber. A big amber ale from the Farmington brewpub, this one flaunts its alcohol content like Flavor Flav rocks a timepiece. The thick malt body gave it a sweetness that could have used greater hop character for balance.

6. Marble From the Wood. I went back to these up-and-comers for their strong Scottish ale aged in oak barrels. From the Wood (9.2 percent ABV!) carried assertive notes of vanilla and oak. It was luxurious and smooth, not unlike a barley wine. My second-favorite beer of the fest.

7. Three Rivers SHIPA. A single-hop IPA brewed with Cascades, the classic American craft beer hop. A very enjoyable IPA.

8. Pagosa Rodeo Rider Red. This German-style red ale plays to my weakness for interesting and well-done red ales. Many are the weak, boring red ales. This is not one of those. Rodeo Rider Red carries a huge and endlessly complex malt profile. Caramel, wood, molasses flavors impress.

9. Bristol Compass IPA. At this point my palate was dead to hops and my interest in note-taking declined precipitously. About all I can relate here is this Colorado Springs IPA tasted acceptable (6.7 percent ABV, 55 IBUs).

10. Breckenridge Double Pils. A strong pilsner lager from the Denver-based giant. "Sweet," say my notes. I think I liked this one.

Ska threw a hell of a party, a ton of people helped out and brewers brought some serious, interesting beers.

"Have I mentioned how tasty this beer is?" said Supersuckers leadman Eddie Spaghetti from the stage. "It's good shit."

I'll leave it at that.

Avery Brewing goes canning


Avery Brewing Co. of Boulder is the latest craft brewery to get in on cans.

At 5 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 2, Avery will release four of its beers in cans: Avery India Pale Ale, White Rascal, Ellie's Brown and Joe's American Pilsner.

Avery has no doubt watched with interest as their Colorado brethren Ska Brewing Co. and Oskar Blues have seen surprisingly strong sales from their own canned craft beers.

I have long been a vocal Avery supporter; I think it's probably one of the best breweries in the country. If the move to cans means wider availability of some of their beers, I'm all for it.

At first, Avery's cans will be distributed only in Colorado.

"We've been fielding a lot of calls lately about our plan for the distribution of cans," Avery spokeswoman C.V. Howe said in a recent newsletter. "To start, all cans will be sold exclusively in the state of Colorado. Only a tiny percentage of our overall production is devoted to cans, so there just isn't much to go around. We hope to amp up production and slowly increase distribution at some point in the future."

With the exception of the pilsner, these beers are already available in bottles in Durango. The IPA is exceptional - one of my favorite beers, period - and those who appreciate Belgian-style witbiers will love White Rascal.

I had a Joe's American Pilsner at Avery earlier this summer, and was much impressed. It's a very clean, flavorful summer beer. (Incidentally, it was also the choice of Avery founder Adam Avery on the day I was there. He rolled up on an expensive-looking road bicycle and ordered a pilsner).

The can craze continues unabated. Some of it is no doubt about sales. Cans are also cheaper to ship. And there are some environmental benefits, as well. (Although can supporters seldom note that bauxite for cans is mined in an environmentally atrocious manner, nor do they volunteer that can linings typically include BPA, a chemical with unknown but possibly pernicious effects).

For the consumer, cans are easier to transport, especially outdoors, and I like that they take up significantly less room in the refrigerator and recycling bin. Perhaps some cost savings are being passed on to consumers, although they are typically priced as high as bottles.

But the bottom line is we all have more choice as craft-beer drinkers. I look forward to welcoming Avery cans, and especially the new pilsner.

Photo courtesy of Avery Brewing
.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Update on Ska anniversary party

Ska Brewing Co. has released a few updates via Facebook for its 15th anniversary party this Saturday, Aug. 28. These might be helpful things to know if you plan to attend:

1. The $30 ticket to the Anniversary Party includes a commemorative tasting glass, beer from 15 regional breweries, and live music performances from the Supersuckers, Farmington Hill and the Beautiful Losers.

2. Zia Taqueria and Life's a Beach BBQ will be on hand serving food.

3. A shuttle will run from Steamworks Brewing on East Second Ave. out to Ska in Bodo Industrial Park. Ska says: "Parking is limited, please ride bikes or take the free shuttle (graciously sponsored by 4 Corners Whitewater!), from Steamworks every 30 minutes from 3:30 to 6:30. Don't wait until 6:30 if you don't have tickets, however, it will be sold out by then!"

I'll be there, eager to try the new Dementia and see what the other breweries brought. The Supersuckers should be sweet, too.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Review: Clancy's Black Beer (Ska Brewing)

The latest release from Ska Brewing Co. will not likely inspire jealous envy in beer geeks across the nation. Clancy's Black Beer was not brewed with a truckload of hops. It was not aged in oak barrels. It does not boast a double-digit percentage of alcohol.

No, Clancy's Black Beer is simply a very well-executed Schwarzbier.

This release is the result of the 2nd annual Snowdown Homebrewing Competition, won back in February by an Aztec, N.M., oil worker named Clancy Calhoun. His winning entry was a Schwarzbier, a German-style dark lager.

For his victory, Ska brewed his recipe for release as the 16th beer in the brewery's hallowed Local Series. The beer will also be entered in the Great American Beer Festival's Pro-Am Competition.

So what is a Schwarzbier like? I'll defer to the Brewers Association's style guidelines, written by homebrewing god Charlie Papazian:

"These very dark brown to black beers have a mild roasted malt character without the associated bitterness. This is not a full-bodied beer, but rather a moderate body gently enhances malt flavor and aroma with low to moderate levels of sweetness. Hop bitterness is low to medium in character. Noble-type hop flavor and aroma should be low but perceptible. There should be no fruity esters. Diacetyl should not be perceived."

And this closely describes Clancy's Black Beer (5.4 percent ABV, 19 IBUs). Ska Head Brewer Thomas Larsen says it was brewed with 100 percent Tettnang hops, a noble variety. The malt bill is heavy on two-row and dark Munich malts, enhanced with Caramel 120, chocolate and DehuskCarafa III malts, finished with a pinch of Carapils malt.

It pours black, with a substantial light tan head of foam that lingers long. Malt dominates the smell and taste, with a bit of chocolate and perhaps some nuttiness. It is medium-bodied, with little discernible hop taste. The effect is rich, heavy, dark and a little sweet.

This is a welcome entry in Ska's Local Series, available for less than $5 per 22-ounce bottle at Durango-area stores. While it's not the rarest style, it's uncommon enough that you can't simply pick up a sixer of Schwarzbier at the ol' beer store. It expanded my beer horizons.

Clancy, and Ska, have done well. A-

Friday, August 20, 2010

Clancy's Black Beer now available

The 16th entry in Ska Brewing Co.'s Local Series, Clancy's Black Beer, is now available in Durango-area liquor stores.

It's a fairly unusual style: Schwarzbier, a dark German lager. A 22-ounce bottle will set you back $4 and change.

I'll post a full review next week. I was impressed, but try it for yourselves and let me know what you think.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A visit to Ouray Brewery

Ouray Brewery has swings instead of bar stools. The swings appear to be sturdy, attached to the ceiling by strong cables. We'll see if the staff has any issues with over-exuberant swinging by customers.

The new brewpub is now fully open so I figured I owed a visit. Three house beers were on tap: a Kolsch, a rye pale ale and an IPA (the rye is at left in the accompanying photo, along with the Kolsch).

A taste of the Kolsch revealed a well-balanced, crisp and clean version of the German-style beer. It was less than 5 percent ABV, making it an ideal beer for summer refreshment.

The IPA is strong and well-rounded. It appears fairly dark for an IPA, a rich mahogany color. The hops give off a piney taste.

My favorite was the rye pale ale, a full-bodied, tasty and idiosyncratic craft beer. I could easily see this becoming a local favorite.

All three of Ouray's beers were above-average craft beers (a fourth, Box Canyon Brown Ale, is coming soon). All of them would rate at least a B.

My friends and I didn't eat there, but Ouray Brewery has a Louisiana-inspired menu. Visitors can either enjoy the tasting room or an inviting rooftop patio that was not yet open when we stopped by. (The tasting room opens at 4 p.m., but the kitchen and patio open later).

Also noteworthy were the pair of guest beers offered on tap: Pinstripe Red Ale from Ska Brewing Co. and Yeti Imperial Stout from Great Divide Brewing in Denver. These are exceptionally well-chosen: Pinstripe is a Southwest Colorado classic, and Yeti is perhaps the most sought-after craft beer in the state.

Ouray Brewery came out of the gate swinging with three good beers. This is an auspicious beginning.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A look at Ska's Dementia

Via Ska Brewing Co.'s Facebook page, we have a photo of the Durango brewery's upcoming release, Dementia.

Dementia is a barrel-aged version of Euphoria Pale Ale, typically a winter seasonal. It's interesting Ska decided to age a pale ale. Usually, stronger beers such as imperial stouts are chosen for aging.

I'm looking forward to trying this one. Dementia will be released at Ska's 15th anniversary party on Aug. 28. Details of that are below.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ouray Brewery, established 2010


Ouray, the tiny town of 937 hearty mountain souls in Southwest Colorado, now has two breweries. Following on the heels of Ourayle House, brewmaster Jeff Lockhart and others opened Ouray Brewery on Saturday.

I happened upon it recently while walking downtown. Lockhart was busy preparing to open, but he took a minute to chat with me.

Ouray Brewery has an IPA and a Kolsch on tap now. Lockhart plans to tap a rye pale ale by this weekend, and a brown ale soon after. (Lockhart said he is interested in Belgian-style brewing, adding that the brewery is capable of handling wild yeasts).

The IPA (6 percent ABV, 65 IBUs) uses Magnum, Centennial, Simcoe and Cascade hops. Lockhart plans to substitute Citra hops for the Cascades once the Cascades are used up.

A relatively new hop, Citras are quickly gaining favor for their citrus taste. Lockhart pronounced it his "new favorite hop," and applauded its "mango character."

Lockhart said the IPA is "definitely American, but its got kind of that English balance."

The Kolsch is brewed closely to style. Lockhart said it is "very clean" with a "malty nose." It was hopped with Perles.

The brewery will be open year-round, producing up to 14 barrels per week, Lockhart said. Half-pints cost $2, pints $4 and 20-ounce glasses $5. Ouray Brewery will offer growlers to go; an order of 300 of the vessels is on its way.

"I brew what I like, how I like it," Lockhart said in a follow-up interview. "I try to come in close to style, but I like playing around with things."

Lockhart started as a homebrewer then worked at Sweetwater Brewing in Atlanta for five years in various capacities while also working as a Delta Airlines mechanic. He later opened McLellan's Grill and Brewing Co. in Canon City, Colo., and brewed there for three years.

The new brewery, owned by Ouray transplant Dennis McKee, has a full kitchen, and the Louisiana-influenced food menu is already visible in a window. Erin Eddy is assistant manager.

Ouray Brewery is located at 607 Main Street. I look forward to a return trip to try Lockhart's beers.

The same day, I finally stopped in Ourayle House Brewery, a long-overdue visit for me. Ourayle House is the creation of brewer, bartender and one-man show James Paul Hutchison.

The atmosphere is idiosyncratic: Hutchison's pub has an overhead bell that you ring like on a bus for service. Board and card games abound. The walls are decorated with local memorabilia.

During my visit, he had four beers on tap. I opted for a pale ale amusingly dubbed "See Dot Pave," a reference to the Colorado Department of Transportation's summer construction.

Many times, very small brewpubs will pour substandard beer. Not this one. See Dot Pave (pictured) was an accomplished pale ale, biting with Simcoe hops. It's worth seeking out.

I should mention that Hutchison pours 19- and 23-ounce drafts, so you are assured of an Honest Pint. Honesty has its price, though. If I recall correctly, the drafts cost $4.75 and $5.75.

Ourayle House, 215 Seventh Ave., is open when Hutchison feels like it, so it might make sense to call ahead at (970) 903-1824.