Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Generous bootleggers

A news release from the Durango Bootlegger's Society:

The Bootlegger’s Society, the local consortium of Durango’s four craft brewers, has established the Durango Bootlegger’s Society Fund under the auspices of the Community Foundation of Southwest Colorado.

The affiliation with the Community Foundation will allow the breweries to collectively donate funds to non-profits as well as organize fundraising events and obtain a liquor license (needed for beer-related events) through the Foundation. Independent donations made directly to the Bootlegger’s Fund will also be tax-deductible.

“This is a unique situation that helps to cement our philanthropic footprint in Southwest Colorado,” said Dave Thibodeau, chairman
of the Bootlegger’s new fund advisory board and co-founder of Ska Brewing Co. “I feel it can become a model for other small breweries/businesses to emulate in other communities across the country.”

Ska, Steamworks Brewing Co., Carver Brewing Co. and Durango Brewing Co. originally came together as the Bootlegger’s Society with a mission to raise the awareness and understanding of craft beer by rallying around the needs of the community.

“Our first event was the ‘Pint for Pint’ blood drive back in 2003,” said Brian McEachron, co-founder of Steamworks. “Blood was running short and workers were having little success securing donations. It didn’t take long for us to conspire and decide a little friendly competition might help raise awareness. We all asked our patrons to donate a pint blood and, in return, we offered them a pint of beer at their brewery of choice.”

The “Pint for Pint” blood drive has since emerged as a “best practice” and been modeled by blood services organizations throughout the country, according to McEachron.

The Bootlegger’s Society Fund was established with an initial $1,000 generated from the Spring Tonic event held at Carver’s. Upcoming events designed to help increase the fund include Oktoberfest, Ska’s 15th Anniversary Celebration and all four “Evenings on 8th” events held each Wednesday in September, 4-8 p.m. in Downtown Durango.
“Collectively we’ve always had a desire to help out the people of our communities who have always supported us,” said Thibodeau. “Establishing the Bootlegger’s Society Fund will make it that much easier for us to do so.”

For further information regarding the Community Foundation of Southwest Colorado, or to contribute to the Bootlegger’s Society Fund on-line, visit

Review: Deschutes Hop in the Dark

From the nothing’s sacred Pacific Northwest comes a whole new beer style: Cascadian Dark Ale. Welcome to the curious place where the velvet dark of roasted malt meets the hop snap of IPA. Cheers.” –Deschutes Brewery

For a while now, the Northwest has been abuzz about a new beer style that the local advocates call Cascadian Dark Ale. Named for the Cascade mountains of Oregon, the beer style is essentially a black IPA.

Beer styles never stay confined to one region for long, so I offer a few thoughts about probably the most widely available example: Hop in the Dark from Deschutes Brewery, based in Bend, Ore.

Deschutes is arguably among the very best breweries in the nation. It complements an accomplished line of session beers such as Mirror Pond Pale Ale and Black Butte Porter with innovative releases like The Abyss imperial stout and The Dissident, a Flanders-style brown ale.

Deschutes recently released Hop in the Dark in 22-ounce bomber bottles as part of its Bond Street series. I purchased my bottle in Denver, but Deschutes does distribute in Durango, so it should be on the shelves here soon if it isn’t already.

Hop in the Dark pours a deep black with a modest tan foam head. The beer style presents an immediate quandary: do you drink it immediately after pouring, as you would with an IPA, or let it sit for a few minutes to draw out the dark malt flavor?

I don’t know if that question has a correct answer, but I chose to start drinking with little delay alongside a dinner of homemade macaroni and cheese (not the boxed stuff).

The ale’s first taste contributes dark malt flavors of coffee and chocolate. The hop sharpness comes later, but soon cedes to a clean, malty aftertaste. Hop in the Dark does not carry the lingering, bitter aftertaste typical of IPAs.

Hop in the Dark comes in at 6.5 percent alcohol by volume and 70 IBUs.It is a somewhat hefty beer, but the malt nicely counters the hop bitterness.

Most beer geeks seem to agree that Cascadian Dark Ale (or whatever one wants to call it) is indeed a new beer style, but I was struck by how… familiar … it seemed. Dark malt, hop kick: Yeah, I can handle that.

Hop in the Dark was brewed with oats, dark, Munich and crystal malts, along with Cascade, Citra and Centennial hops.

It isn’t so dramatically different from imperial porter, although hoppier and not reaching the high alcohol content typical of that style.

Deschutes says its brewers made 22 test batches of Hop in the Dark before they were satisfied. It shows. Hop in the Dark is well-executed and nicely balanced.

Hop in the Dark is not stunningly exotic, but it’s a nice change of pace. It tastes good. And at about $5 per bomber bottle, it’s a reasonable value.

Add one more worthy ale to Deschutes’ quiver. B

Friday, June 25, 2010

Go Denver!

At least once a year, I make my way to Denver and environs to catch a Rockies game and taste some of the area's fantastic beers. Denver has become one of the best beer cities in the nation, with nearby Boulder and Fort Collins contributing some inspired brewing. I drove up there last weekend.

A necessary stop, always, is Avery Brewing in Boulder. They simply make great beer. They also keep an up-to-date tap list online, so you can plan your attack before descending on the brewery, tucked away, with only small signs to guide you, in an office-parky area of Boulder.

My first priority was trying a version of Avery India Pale Ale that had been dry-hopped with Centennials. Avery IPA is pretty much unimprovable. The dry-hopping just gave the IPA a somewhat harder hop kick than is standard. I liked it fine but feel the IPA is perfect in regular form.

Next, I went for a pint of Avery Fifteen. Fifteen is part of a series of annual releases to mark Avery's anniversary. Avery just released Seventeen, so Fifteen is two years old. Time has done the beer well. It was effervescent, reminding me of Champagne. The flavors are fuller, bossier than ever before. The Brettanomyces yeast has had its way.

When I gave my friends a sip, they recoiled a bit. Fifteen is a very different type of beer, and you should know what you're getting into before you try it. I loved it.

Finally, I happened to be there during a release party for Joe's American Pilsner. I have been enjoying pilsners this summer, as the style makes for a refreshing but flavorful summer beer. Joe's is a well-executed version of the style.

Amusingly, while my friends and I were hanging out on Avery's patio, Adam Avery rolled up on a road bike, his Avery cycling gear sweaty from an apparently tough ride. He sat down on the patio and drank a pilsner. Quality control, you see.

(An aside: The Avery guys are big into bicycling and joined Ska Brewing for a cross-state tour last summer to herald the release of Wheelsucker Wheat Ale. It's on again later this summer, Wheelsucker included, as I understand it).

We also stopped at one of several Breckenridge Brewery outlets in Denver. I have in the past been somewhat critical of certain Breck brews, but they continue to put out better and better beers. A draft-only saison called Vesper that was on tap during my visit was as good as any saison I've had.

There are many, many more breweries in the area, but that's all I had time for on this trip. I did stop by Falling Rock Taphouse, one of the best beer bars in the country, and conveniently situated only about a block from Coors Field.

Falling Rock pulled me an Houblon Chouffe, some sort of Belgian creation that was delicious. Then a cask pull of Left Hand Sawtooth, a hop-forward red ale from the Longmont company.

Durango certainly carries its own craft-beer cred, but it was cool to try some different things. Keep on brewing, Denver.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A brewpub-owning governor?

John Hickenlooper, the mayor of Denver, was in Durango on Thursday as part of a statewide campaign trip.

Hickenlooper is running for governor of Colorado, and is unopposed for the Democratic nomination. (An article I wrote for The Durango Herald on Hickenlooper's visit is online here).

Germane to this blog, he is also founder of Wynkoop Brewing in Denver, and he held a meet-and-greet at Ska Brewing Co.

Brewers have been politically active at the state Capitol in recent years, especially with regard to Sunday sales and grocery-store sales bills. Brewers are excited and curious to see what a brewpub-owning governor might do in office. Of course, Hickenlooper has a general election campaign to win first.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The value of brewing

Most of us, I would wager, do not actually make things for a living. Providing services has become far more common in the modern American economy than providing goods.

In my day job as a newspaper reporter, I provide a service. Typically, this means reviewing the previous day’s events, or a particular issue or situation, with the intention of producing a succinct representation that offends neither truth nor clarity.

My line of work has its rewards, and its drawbacks. It involves a fair amount of other people’s work, so I’m not necessarily the master of the product I produce.

Brewing is quite different. For better or worse, the brewer is the master of his product, which he makes according to his intentions.

When a brewer decides to make a new beer, it is up to him, and no one else, how the beer turns out. If it contains too much hop flavor as opposed to malt flavor, or not enough, he has no one to blame but himself. If the yeast do not attenuate well, or the beer is marred by diacetyl, it is his fault alone.

Brewing is in many ways a throwback to a pre-industrial economy. A brewer produces a relatively simple and understandable product that is judged by its merits alone.

If the brewer wants, he can forge further relationships in the community by purchasing local ingredients. The Durango Bootleggers Society has done this with their dandelion ale, and Ska and Steamworks have done with this by purchasing freshly harvested Colorado hops. Ska has also done this by using Honeyville honey in its True Blonde Ale.

Sure, there is marketing, and federal regulatory approval of beer labels, and legal restrictions on geographic distribution. There are labor laws and worker’s compensation claims. There are vertical business relationships with bars, liquor stores and distributors.

But at bottom, the key relationship in brewing is between the brewer and the drinker: Does the beer made by the brewer taste good? Is it worth the drinker’s time and money? The relationship is one of refreshingly simple accountability.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Boulder to host beer bloggers conference

A company called Zephyr Adventures is planning the first-ever beer bloggers conference in Boulder.

The International Beer Bloggers & Online Media Conference is set for Nov. 5-7, 2010.

Oskar Blues
and Boulder Beer Co. are sponsoring the event, and Draft Magazine and Mutineer Magazine are providing publicity. The Boulder Marriot is hosting.

The agenda calls for beer dinners at Oskar Blues and Boulder Beer, a keynote speech and beer blogging awards.

For more information, check out the official site. The Portland blog Brewpublic has an interview with Allan Wright, who is organizing the conference.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A visit to Dolores River Brewery

Dolores River Brewery sits in downtown Dolores, a small town that I often pass through on my way from Durango to Telluride.

It's a young brewery, using equipment cobbled together from across the West and Midwest. The place is small, dominated by a few large tables and an enclosed bar lined with taps.

It seems to have become the go-to place in Dolores. I was there last weekend during Dolores River Days, and a steady stream of customers flowed in.

Dolores River Brewery is a brewpub in the same mold as Carver's in Durango. It offers a full food menu, but pizza is the specialty.

On tap during my visit were a mild, a pale ale, ESB, dry stout and seasonals "Liquid Sunshine" (style unknown but definitely undistinguished), an IPA and an imperial stout on nitro.

I started with a pint of the pale ale, one of my favorite styles. It was mediocre, lacking the hop character that is desirable and, really, expected in the style. Caramel malt was the foremost flavor.

Dolores River Brewery's standout beer is its dry stout. I'd been impressed by the dry stout before on tap at the Columbine bar in Mancos. My second impression was as good as the first. It is indeed dry, full of dark malt flavor that is well balanced by hops. It's very easy to drink and light-bodied enough to enjoy even in 90-degree heat.

Small tastes I tried of the Liquid Sunshine and IPA were unimpressive. So it seems Dolores River Brewery is inconsistent. That stout, though, is certainly worth seeking out.

Dolores River Brewery opens daily at 4 p.m. The brewery offers growlers to go.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Wonders of Citra

Last December, during a stop at Deschutes Brewery's pub in Portland, I ordered a pub-only special called "Fresh Squeezed IPA." It was an experimental IPA, dry-hopped with several aroma hops.

The result was stunning, full of citrus and unlike any other IPA I've had. It was one of the best IPAs ever to pass my lips.

Months later, that beer is still on my mind. So I sent an e-mail to Deschutes asking for more information.

Fresh Squeezed IPA comes in at 6.5 percent ABV and 60 IBUs. What set this IPA apart was the use of Citra hops, a relatively new hop variety.

"The Citra hops were added very late in the process to maximize the aroma of the hop," Deschutes brewer Cam O'Conner said in an e-mail. "Deschutes Brewery has been a leader in bringing this hop out of the experimental field and into the brewery for test batches. This hop is gaining popularity and you will see more of it in the future. "

To my knowledge, none of our local brewers has used Citra hops to date.

Sierra Nevada, the popular California brewery, uses Citra to dry-hop its Torpedo Extra IPA. Deschutes is using Citra in its new Hop In the Dark Cascadian Dark Ale, essentially, a black IPA, a new style emerging in the Northwest.

I have long been a champion of IPAs that exhibit other qualities besides bracing bitterness. Dry-hopping with Citras seems like a great way to do that. I look forward to the expanded use of this hop.

Now who is going to be the first Durango brewer to give it a try?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Sour beers attract attention

The New York Times published a fine article Wednesday on the growing trend of brewing sour beers.

Of course, sour beers describe several styles that in some cases have been brewed for centuries: lambics, red and brown Flanders-style ales, perhaps saisons.

Still, as the article notes, it's a sign of the maturation of American craft brewing that many brewers are no longer satisfied with producing English-inspired beers like India pale ales.

In fact, some craft brewers completely ignore the usual pale ale-IPA-amber/red ale-brown ale-stout-porter-ESB range of styles.

Upright Brewing in Portland focuses its lineup on Belgian-inspired beers that could loosely be called saisons. In Denver, Del Norte Brewing mainly brews Mexican-style lagers (something our own Ska Brewing has done for years with Mexican Logger, but not to nearly the same extent).

I love sour beers. Deschutes' The Dissident, a Flanders-style sour brown ale, is perhaps my all-time favorite beer. Sour Belgian classics like Rodenbach and Duchesse De Bourgogne (sold at Star Liqours in Durango) are often stunning.

Locally, Durango's brewers have been at work on several Belgian-inspired sours. Ska released Ska Sour in January. I thought the strong hop bitterness interfered with what could have been a good sour Belgian, and gave it a C+. I liked a recently tapped Ska Flanders-style red ale better, but it could have used more aging. The brewery's recent Local Series release, Saison Du'Rango, is a nice grassy, refreshing take on the style. I gave that one an A-.

Durango Brewing Co
.'s take on a Belgian-style ale, 20th Anniversary Ale, I thought tried to be too many types of beer at once, and ended up muddling the flavors. I gave that one a B.

Carver Brewing Co. occasionally brews a saison, but it's been too long ago for me to offer a judgment.

All in all, I'm thrilled that brewers in Durango and across America are brewing Belgian-style sours. Some kinks remain to be worked out in some cases. But the future is sour, and that's a wonderful thing.