Friday, February 26, 2010

Ska, Durango Brewing, impress at firkin fest

Ska and Durango Brewing representatives traveled to Colorado Springs last weekend to take part in the Firkin Rendezvous festivities held at Bristol Brewing.

Ska Brewing Co. brought its Thrilla in Vanilla, according to the Colorado Springs Independent. The vanilla-flavored ale is simply Ska's Steel Toe Stout that has been hanging out in a firkin with vanilla beans.

It's good. I had a taste at Ska HQ not long ago (right place, right time), and the vanilla fit right in with Steel Toe's flavor profile.

The Independent also reports that Durango Brewing Co. brought Kama-Sumatra, which sounds like Durango Dark Lager with coffee beans. I haven't tried it, but Durango Dark is one of my favorites, so it ought to be good.

It's always fun to see what goodies breweries break out at festivals, and it sounds like Durango's made a good showing in Colorado Springs.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A saison (more or less) for Durango

Unbeknownst to me, while I was pleading not long ago for someone in Durango to brew a saison, Durango Brewing Co. was busy doing just that.

To celebrate its 20th anniversary, DBC will release a Belgian-inspired ale with saison characteristics in a few weeks, probably in early March. The brewery is using a Wyeast farmhouse yeast; pilsener, wheat and chocolate malt and Czech saaz hops in the beer.

Managing Brewer Scott Bickert cautioned that the beer (as yet unnamed) is not a classic saison. It shows some saison characteristics, some witbier characteristics and some Belgian golden ale characteristics.

Stylistically, saisons are light in color with strong carbonation, some tartness and funk in the taste and a dry finish.

The Belgian-style ale is still fermenting, but it looks like it will land around 7.5 percent ABV. It was lightly hopped to an IBU rating in the high teens.

Bickert said the brewery intends to brew more than one batch, hopefully keeping the Belgian-style ale available through the rest of 2010.

The price has not been determined, but given that it will be bottled in Champagne bottles, I don't expect it to be cheap.

DBC's upcoming release helps fill a hole in Durango's available beers. Saison is one of the most intriguing styles in today's beer world, but awfully tough to find in these parts. It's great to see a local brewery tackling this type of brewing.

I have high hopes for the taste. If all turns out well, I expect it to be a strong contender for Beer at 6512's Beer of the Year 2010.

American variations on Belgian-style brewing stands as one of the most promising fronts in modern craft brewing. I'm glad DBC has stepped up to the plate.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Oskar Blues to introduce Modus-fighter

Oskar Blues Brewing of Lyons will introduce an imperial IPA in March in direct response to Ska Brewing's hot-selling Modus Hoperandi IPA, reports Ed Sealover of Beer Run Blog.

It's a measure of Ska's growing stature that Oskar Blues, which pioneered canned craft beer, feels it necessary to mount a direct market response to Modus.

The new Oskar Blues beer, GUBNA, comes in at 10 percent ABV and will sell for $14.49 a four-pack. Which, I think, sets it apart as a direct competitor to Modus, which sells in six-packs for less than $10. They don't present the consumer with comparable options.

I think there will be plenty of room in the marketplace for both beers. And if the BeerAdvocate ratings are any indication, Ska shouldn't worry about Modus. People seem to love it.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Beers flow at the Ska-blogger tapping party

We drew a strong turnout for the tapping of Soggy Coaster Imperial Red Ale and Beer N Bikes Belgian-American IPA on Saturday at Ska Brewing Co. The brewery was packed with eager craft-beer drinkers.

It was the culmination of a project conceived by Ska President Dave Thibodeau. He invited Beer N Bikes blogger Jeff Hammett and I to brew a beer with Ska, from choosing a style to designing a recipe to brewing it on Ska’s 10-gallon pilot system.

The bad news is we had a major carbonation problem at the tapping. The beers became over-carbonated in the kegs, resulting in huge, foamy pours. A lot of good beer went down the drain. However, with a little patience, the bartenders were able to get several pints out of each keg.

I really liked my beer. At 8.4 percent ABV and 58 IBUs, it had a strong citrus, floral hop aroma on top of the malty red base. Several people told me it had a “fruity” taste, no doubt from the hops. It hid its alcohol quite well for an imperial red ale. I’ve had imperial reds that were dull to taste, that lacked a good hop kick. Not Soggy Coaster. The taste was very well balanced between the malt and hops, with an exceedingly clean finish. It was as good as I could have hoped.

Beer N Bikes Belgian-American IPA was very interesting. It had a lot going on, with a good hop presence but also plentiful fruity esters. To my palate, it tasted of banana. It was different than anything I’d had before, but I liked it.

The beers went very quickly due to the foam issue and the turnout. Mine was on tap for only 75 minutes.

The carbonation issue was unfortunate, but stuff happens. Ska head brewer Thomas Larsen explained that when using carbon dioxide to carbonate the beer in kegs, it’s a matter of guesswork as to when it’s done. Obviously, it was on CO2 too long. Ska’s system for larger batches is far more dialed in.

We brewed only 10 gallons of each beer. With Ska’s keg of Soggy Coaster Imperial Red gone, one five-gallon keg remains to do with as I please.

It’s been a great project. Larsen and I brewed a hell of a beer, and I learned a lot along the way.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Ska collaboration beer tapping set for Saturday

Ska Brewing Co. is set to tap my collaboration beer at 5 p.m. this Saturday, Feb. 13. Soggy Coaster Imperial Red Ale is being transferred from carboys to kegs and put on carbon dioxide ahead of its tapping.

This is the culmination of the brewer-blogger “collabeeration,” as Ska calls it, to design a Ska beer of my own, brew it with their staff and blog about it all the while. As my regular readers know, I chose to brew an imperial red ale based on Ska’s Pinstripe. I figured that none of the four breweries in Durango were making an imperial red, so I ought to.

Jeff Hammett of the Durango blog Beer N Bikes brewed a Belgian-American IPA, which likewise will be tapped Saturday.

Last weekend, Thomas Larsen, head brewer at Ska, and I transferred my beer from a 10-gallon fermenter into carboys, glass vessels (pictured) that resemble supersized growlers. They become quite heavy and slippery when full of beer, and I was terrified of dropping one. If a carboy had shattered and wasted five gallons of my beer, I would have been a sad blogger indeed.

Jeff’s beer went from the carboys to kegs to begin carbonating. I’m looking forward to trying it.

I got a quick taste of Soggy Coaster Imperial Red Ale during the transfer, really the only opportunity to taste the beer before it lands in kegs. You may feel free to take this with a grain of salt - because it is after all my beer - but I think it’s superb. Soggy Coaster is turning out extremely well, with a big, red malt body, aggressive but not overpowering hopping and a fantastic citrus aroma from dry hopping with Willamettes that perfectly introduces the taste.

Judge for yourself Saturday evening at Ska HQ, 225 Girard Street in Bodo Industrial Park.

Whatever concerns I had about the original gravity being too high, resulting in too boozy of a beer, forget them. I’m proud of the final product (with the caveat that it may change a little in the week since, and with the introduction of carbonation).

I have to give Larsen a lot of credit. He’s done a great job guiding me through the brewing process. Every time I wanted to throttle back and make my beer less exciting, he encouraged me to go the other way, resulting in a distinct and very tasty imperial red ale.

We took a final gravity reading, so for you brewing geeks, here are the stats:

Alcohol by volume: 8.44 percent
International Bitterness Units: 57.5
Original gravity: 20.8 degrees Plato
Final gravity: 5.8 degrees Plato
Calories per pint: 406

I’m thrilled to share my beer with friends, readers and of course Ska’s employees and customers. It’s a little bittersweet, though. I’ll soon have to return to sharing news and opining on other people’s beers rather than brewing my own. And once Soggy Coaster Imperial Red Ale is gone, it’s gone. I won’t be able to taste it again unless I get into homebrewing (which I’d like to do, providing I can find some space), clone the recipe and brew it myself. I think I'm suffering through the brewing equivalent of post-partum depression.

Dave Thibodeau, president of Ska, deserves a hearty thanks. He conceived of this idea in participatory, blog-based journalism. It was a fairly innovative and trusting move to open a commercial brewery to a blogger, let him brew any kind of beer he wanted, name it and write about the project with no restrictions. Same goes to Larsen, who helped me brew the stuff.

Please come by Ska to support the project. Those hops ain’t free.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Draft reviews Ska Ten Pin Porter

Draft, one of the best beer magazines out there, reviews Ska Brewing Co.'s Ten Pin Porter in the January/February issue.

The magazine awarded Ten Pin Porter a score of 90 out of 100. The review says:

A slight smokiness with a robust roasted aroma rises from the bubbly but thin head atop this almost-black brew. But while the roasted quality dominates the nose, a sweet malt presence and a touch of banana esters hang in the background. The taste is one continuous wave of sweetness, driven by a mouthfeel akin to a thin dark chocolate shake. Hops are present, but inform more sweetness than bitterness, while caramel malts combine to create a very smooth, juicy porter. The mouthfeel turns a bit sharp at the end, but a prolonged sweetness in the finish prevails.

The review is online here.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A wish list for Durango beer

Durango's four breweries make a pretty impressive range of beers. In fact, I'd put their lineups against those in any town of a similar size in the country.

Nevertheless, there are some gaps that you don't find in great beer cities like Portland and San Diego. So I decided to make a wish list of beers I would like to see in Durango.

Of course, I don't have to run a business, deal with ingredient costs or turn a profit. I just drink beer and write about it. So In the spirit of a childhood Christmas list that always goes half-fulfilled, I humbly submit my wish list for Durango's breweries:

1. A year-round saison. The saison, a beer style of Belgian origin light in color with a crisp, dry finish, is among my very favorite types of beer. It's also deplorably hard to find in Durango. Carver Brewing Co. last summer made a saison called Saison de Tour to mark the Tour de France. It tasted fine, but it lacked the carbonation and big, frothy pour found in exemplary saisons like Ommegang Hennepin. (Hennepin and Saison Dupont, by the way, are the only other saisons I've seen in Durango, at Star Liquors. And that's a crapshoot).

I would love to see a local brewery bottle a saison to enjoy at home - ideally in six-packs, which are far cheaper for their size than the 22-ounce bombers that saisons are typically bottled in. But it seems more likely that a Durango brewery would first test the market with a release in bombers.

When I was in Portland around Christmas, I marveled at how many saisons were available. A new brewery called Upright makes an entire line of saisons, each distinctly different than the others. There were also saisons from Boulevard in Kansas City and The Bruery in California. Can't Durango have just one to call its own?

2. A bottled imperial stout. Carver's and Steamworks both made excellent imperial stouts in 2009. How about bottling one so we can enjoy them at home in our own good time? I realize there's always growlers, but growlers have to be drank almost immediately or the beer goes flat, not to mention that drinking an entire growler of imperial stout is a tall order, even with help.

3. Durango Brewing Co. should add a hoppy beer to its year-round lineup. The current DBC lineup offers nothing for hop-heads. It's silly, because the brewery makes the superb, aggressively hopped Durango Pale Ale that it releases in bombers as a spring seasonal. Why not put it in six-packs year-round, keep it on tap and offer customers who like hops a choice?

4. Steamworks produces two excellent, specialized beers in bombers - Ale Diablo and Spruce Goose. But they've both been around for a while. How about something new along the same lines? Maybe that saison ...

5. When I recently talked to Thomas Larsen, head brewer at Ska Brewing Co., I asked him what ideas he has for Local Series #15 (#14 is the tasty Oak-aged Orange Cream Stout currently on shelves). He hadn't thought that far ahead. (Although I bet Clancy Calhoun's homebrew may end up being #15). How about some ideas, readers?

Another interesting tidbit: Larsen and other Ska brewers have brewed a few beers on Ska's 10-gallon pilot system that have yet to see the light of day. One is a Belgian-style take on an IPA, another is a black tripel. The brewery has a ton of taps, but not enough for everything Ska could put on tap. For now, these beers are hanging out in kegs.

These are just a few ideas of beers I'd like to see in Durango. What do you think? What have I overlooked? Please leave a comment.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

More photos from brewing at Ska

When I brewed my collaboration beer last week at Ska Brewing Co., I was graced by the presence of Jerry McBride, a Durango photographer whose skills are way too good to be shooting photos for a beer blog. Nevertheless, here they are:

Ska Head Brewer Thomas Larsen (lower foreground) explains something about the recipe for my beer, Soggy Coaster Imperial Red Ale. The brewery keeps a recipe sheet with notes on each batch of beer.

The wort, it boils! We had to wait a while for Ska's 10-gallon pilot system to heat up, but it was worth it to see my recipe in action.

The wort shown immediately after we added a batch of German Tradition hops. It boiled up immediately with a split-pea soup appearance.

Rabbit food? Nope, just hops. A few ounces go a long way.

A portrait of the blogger as a young man.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Dry-hopping Soggy Coaster Imperial Red

I met Thomas Larsen, head brewer at Ska Brewing Co., on Monday to dry-hop my Ska collaboration beer, Soggy Coaster Imperial Red Ale.

Dry-hopping just means adding hops when fermentation has more or less finished. It doesn't bitter the beer substantially, but it does add some floral hop aroma. Since aroma and taste are so closely linked, I'm hoping it adds a little complexity to the beer. Many pale ales, IPAs and imperial IPAs are dry-hopped.

With Thomas' help, I threw in just over three ounces of Willamette hops (pictured) into the 10-gallon batch. The hops float on the surface of the beer until they become saturated. They then sink to the bottom.

This is the result of Beer at 6512's collaboration with Ska. The brewery invited me and Jeff Hammett of Beer N Bikes to brew beers under Ska's aegis. We each chose a style, recipe and name for our beers, then brewed it on Ska's equipment with Larsen's help. They will go on tap at Ska later this month.

Dry-hopping was the last step in actually brewing Soggy Coaster Imperial Red. All that remains is about a week of settling, then it goes into carboys and finally kegs. I can't wait to drink it.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Review: El Oso Agrio (Carver Brewing)

At Carver Brewing Co., I generally read past the usual offerings on the menu board to try whatever seasonal is on tap. This time, it's El Oso Agrio, a sour beer gently cared for by Carver's brewer Erik Maxson.

El Oso Agrio comes in a goblet for $5. It's a big beer, about 11 percent ABV and 90 IBUs. The sour taste is up front. I wouldn't want it to be any more sour, but it stops just short of being excessive.

El Oso Agrio (the sour bear) is a relative of Carver's Big Grizz Barleywine that has been hanging out in barrels. I'll let Maxson tell you about it:

"In 2003 I put some of our 120 Shilling Scotch ale in a whiskey barrel, and it sat in the corner of the upper level of the patio for a while. In 2003 the Big Grizz that was barrel aged was consumed, but for the batches of Grizz 2004 through 2007 we held a whiskey barrel on the patio. I'd check them periodically to see where they were going, and tried to act in their best interests; some were fruited, some were not. The goal I had in mind was to let the character that the barrels had developed to go, with minimal interference from me. I never re-pitched the barrels with yeast or other critters.

"When the barrels were no longer 'clean' I put them to work on this project. In early 2009 we brought the all the barrels (one six-year old Scotch, and four consecutive years' versions of the Grizz) back into the cellar and blended them with some of the 2008 batch of Grizz that was on draught. Once the new blend was allowed to age for several months it was racked into kegs and stored for the remainder of the 2009.

"We did briefly put the El Oso on line at the end of spring last year for a test. We had the pleasure of serving it at the Governor's Mansion local beer and food pairing during the (Great American Beer Festival), and also at the Vail Big Beers (Belgians and Barleywines Festival) in early January."

El Oso Agrio is one of those special beers that doesn't quite exist anywhere else. It's heavy, sour and boozy, and not surprisingly, reminiscent of barleywine with a sour kick. It's not an everyday beer, but it makes a heck of a winter warmer. A-

Monday, February 1, 2010

Calhoun wins Snowdown homebrewing competition

Clancy Calhoun of Aztec, N.M., won the Snowdown Homebrewing Competition last weekend at Ska Brewing Co.

Calhoun's "Best of Show" entry was Clancy's Black Beer, a classically styled schwarzbier. Schwarzbiers are dark, malty German-style lagers.

"I just named them all after me just in case one of them won," Calhoun said.

Calhoun will now brew his beer with Ska for release in the Durango brewery's Local Series. It will be entered in the Great American Beer Festival's Pro-Am category in September.

A BPAmerica oil worker, Calhoun brewed his schwarzbier with half Pilsener and half Munich malt. It was hopped with Hallertauer, a traditional German hop variety.

Last year's winner, Chris Vest, brewed a "Merlo Stout" with Ska.

Calhoun said he has been homebrewing for 25 years. "My goal of brewing is to put Aztec on the brewing map," he said.

Good luck with that, Clancy.

In any case, a schwarzbier should be an interesting Local Series offering. Most Local Series beers use some sort of special or experimental ingredients, but it sounds like Calhoun's schwarzbier is brewed to style. Still, it's not a style that's readily available in bars and liquor stores, so I'm looking forward to trying it.