Despite the civilized veneer, it’s an unmitigated drunkfest. One of my favorite Snowdown memories is encountering a lonely Visa gift card sitting on the bar at Lady Falconburgh’s a few years back. A waitress asked, is that yours? No, I replied. A second waitress asked, is that yours? No, I replied. A third waitress asked, is that yours? Yes, I replied, and that’ll be two shots of Don Julio 1492, the most expensive drink in the bar.
That kind of thing just happens during Snowdown.
Ska Brewing Co. in Durango has been associated with Snowdown for many years, brewing a special release each time the winter fest rolls around.
This year, it’s Hyper Fierce Gnar Gnar Hefe, an unfiltered wheat beer brewed with toasted coconut and pineapple. Hyper Fierce is available in bomber bottles for about $4.99 each (featuring label art from local cartoonist Shan Wells), and on tap at Ska HQ. Expect it to show up in downtown bars around Snowdown.
The release brings Beer at 6512 full circle. A year ago, my first local review was of Ska’s 2009 Snowdown release, Royal Embalming Fluid (appetizing name, right?).
Ska makes an effort to tie its Snowdown releases to the fest’s theme, which changes every year. This year: “Life’s a Beach.” Thus the pineapple-coconut wheat.
Hyper Fierce (right around 5 percent ABV) is a medium-bodied wheat ale, thicker than Durango Wheat, for example, but lighter than Ska’s summer Wheelsucker Wheat release.
Ska Head Brewer Thomas Larsen seems to have a thorough understanding of what makes a good wheat beer. Wheelsucker was Beer at 6512’s Beer of the Year, and Hyper Fierce is only slightly less impressive. It goes down easy.
"Thomas earns high marks on this, " Ska President Dave Thibodeau said via e-mail. "I thought it sounded ridiculous when he first mentioned the idea, but Snowdown is a beach theme this year and it’s one of those great occasions where ridiculousness shines!"
"Thomas wrangled this original Bavarian Hefeweizen strain masterfully, letting the banana esters shine and keeping the phenols and clove flavors at bay. Both banana and pineapple really come through in the nose. The flavor is predominately pineapple, but the toasted coconut really comes through in the end," Thibodeau said.
I firmly believe every professional brewer needs a chance to play. It’s relatively easy for brewpubs, which can throw a few gallons of whatever on tap and hope to sell it. It’s a little more difficult for packaging breweries like Ska, which have more obligations. Ska seems to understand this, and the brewery has evolved its Local Series and Snowdown releases that give the brewers a lengthy leash to try off-beat recipes.
You also have to give Ska some props for releasing a pineapple and coconut flavored wheat in the dead of winter. It’s not exactly a traditional winter seasonal.
There’s also a bit of banana flavor in there. I had a sip from it in the tanks a few weeks ago, and the pineapple seems to have asserted itself a wee bit more since then vis-a-vis the coconut (for the sake of disclosure, the brewery comped me a pint and a bomber to sample).
It's an interesting beer and unlike any other you can buy in Durango. The emptier the glass gets, the more I like it. B+
Photo: Ska Head Brewer Thomas Larsen with a Hyper Fierce in the brewery's tap room.