Saturday, May 22, 2010

New beers at Ska Brewing

Ska Brewing Co. went a little nuts on Friday, unleashing several new beers for the end of American Craft Beer Week.

It was an embarrassment of riches: New on tap were a Belgian-style Flanders red ale, a black trippel, an imperial brown and an American amber.

A cask of Ska's Special ESB that was dry-hopped with Fuggles was pouring, and a Local Series release from last year, Merlo Stout, was back on tap.

I started off with a small globe glass of the Flanders red ale. It's an old Belgian farmhouse style that is delightfully sour and complex. Ska Head Brewer Thomas Larsen said it was eight months old and could have used further aging.

I'd have to agree. The Flanders red tasted fine, but the sour note lacked the punch that is often found in the style.

Next, I got a pint of the Fuggles dry-hopped cask ESB. Ska's ESB is probably my favorite of the brewery's year-round mainline offerings, so I had to give it a try.

Fuggles is a traditional English hop variety often used as an aroma hop in ESBs and other British ales. As one would expect, on cask the ESB was quite a bit warmer and less carbonated than the canned version. The Fuggles gave it a nice taste Larsen compared to raspberry. If you like hoppy beers, this is certainly one to try.

Finally, I got a little sampler of the black trippel. I had never before had a black trippel, and my goodness. This was superb. Deep, complex and dark but not heavy.

Larsen said he brewed a typical trippel recipe and then added dark and chocolate malts. The result was striking. I think this black trippel instantly leaps over Ska's own Saison Du'Rango and Durango Brewing Co.'s 20th Anniversary Ale to become the best new locally brewed Belgian-style beer by a wide margin, and those are both good beers. It just so happens that the black trippel is that much better.

Unfortunately, I did not get to try the new imperial brown and American amber.

These beers won't be on tap for long, and they're only available at Ska HQ in Durango. If you can, I highly recommend you get down there as soon as possible. Unfortunately, Ska closes at 5 p.m. today for a private party and is typically closed Sunday. Hopefully, these very special beers last into next week.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Review: Odell Saboteur

Odell Brewing's new release, Saboteur, is named for the yeasts that work within the rich brown ale. Saboteur was brewed with brettanomyces, a type of souring yeast than can indeed sabotage beers. But not this one.

Breweries are increasingly experimenting with brettanomyces. Ska Brewing in Durango joined the trend with their release earlier this year of Ska Sour.

Saboteur is a full-flavored brown ale aged in barrels with brettanomyces. This beer is not cheap: it comes with a suggested retail price of $12.99 per 750 ml (1 pint, 9.4 fluid ounces). Saboteur is bottled in a beautiful brown battle topped with a cork and cage.

Saboteur pours a shade of brown so dark it might as well be black. It gives off a rich, vanilla-inflected aroma, with a small head of chocolate-brown carbonation.

This one is special. A mild sourness comes rolling in, followed by a full, malty brown ale flavor. The finish is long and heavy on vanilla, reminiscent of pulling off a fine cigar.

Some sour beers are too sour for my taste. Saboteur strikes a great balance. The taste is immensely complex, with a slight sourness, vanilla, oak and maybe even a bit of cherry. A little alcohol warming from the 10 percent ABV slides down the throat.

If I were to nitpick, the slight sweetness gets a little tiring toward the end of the bottle.

I haven't paid much attention to Odell, a well-respected Fort Collins brewery, apparently to my detriment. Saboteur is an excellent beer. This is one you should seek out. (I found it at Star Liquors). Saboteur will be one of the best new Colorado beers of 2010. A

(Image courtesy of Odell Brewing).

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Silverton organizes new beer festival

Summer is the season for beer festivals, so I'm glad to announce that a new festival, Silverton Rockin' Brews, will be coming to the mountain town north of Durango next month.

The festival begins at noon on Sat., June 12th, on the softball field at the entrance to town. (I've always wanted to play there. Hitting at 9,000 feet elevation could make anyone feel like Albert Pujols).

For a first-time festival, the brewery list is impressive. Among the breweries that are confirmed to attend are Silverton Brewery, Ska Brewing, Del Norte Brewing, Crested Butte Brewing, Carver Brewing, Colorado Boy Brewery, Steamworks Brewing, Dolores River Brewery, San Luis Valley Brewing, and Horsefly Brewing.

Four distilleries will join the breweries: Montanya Distillers in Silverton, Peach Street Distillers of Palisade (a kissing-cousin company to Ska), DownSlope Distillery and Boulder Distillers.

Live music will be provided Durango’s Lawn Chair Kings, the Denver City Saltlicks, Cyle Talley and the Late Greats, also from Durango.

The event is 12 p.m.-5 p.m. and tickets are $30, which includes a commemorative tasting glass and unlimited tastes.

Designated drivers (and non-drinkers) pay only $10, and kids under 12 are free. Following the festival, visitors can enjoy live music at bars and restaurants throughout Silverton, including the official (and free) after-party at the Silverton Brewery with the Lawn Chair Kings beginning at 7:30 p.m.

Ticket packages are also available through the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, including an option to ride up on the train in the morning and return on a bus that will depart for Durango late enough for visitors to have dinner after the festival’s conclusion.

All proceeds from Silverton Rockin’ Brews will go to support the Silverton Family Learning Center, the local Reggio Emilia-inspired preschool.

Tickets are on sale at Silverton Brewery or online at Save $5 by ordering online using the code "TRAIN."

(Thanks to Silverton Brewery's Kate Harvie for the press release).

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Five breweries to pour at Taste of Durango

Five breweries will join some 30 restaurants at Taste of Durango, the annual downtown extravaganza.

Taste of Durango goes from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, May 16.

Main Avenue will be closed downtown for the event. Pagosa Brewing will join Durango's Ska Brewing, Steamworks Brewing, Durango Brewing and Carver Brewing in pouring beers for the masses.

Taste of Durango is one of my favorite local events. You have to purchase tokens to exchange for food and beer, all of which means some serious time spent waiting in line. But the beer is good and the food can be inventive.

Pets are not allowed at the event, and the organizers are working to limit alcohol over-consumption. Taste of Durango actually turned at least one brewery away this year to keep drunken misbehavior to a minimum.

But the five who will be there should be more than adequate. Bring your shades; the weather should be great.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Beer N Bikes pedals off

When I started Beer at 6512 in January 2009, it was the only beer blog in town. But not long after, Jeff Hammett, a newcomer to Durango, started Beer N Bikes.

He's done a good job keeping Beer N Bikes updated with news on those two topics that are near and dear to Durangoans' hearts. I also had the pleasure of participating with Jeff in a brewing project with Ska Brewing Co.

But now Hammett is returning to San Diego, he says on his personal blog. Presumably this means the end of Beer N Bikes as it pertains to Durango happenings.

Jeff, I wish you the best of luck, and I hope you continue blogging there. San Diego certainly has enough going on beer-wise to keep several dedicated bloggers busy.

His move also means that there will be less beer news out of Durango than there has been. That is a bad thing. With my full-time job, I can't keep up on everything, and my perspective is only one among many.

Maybe, just maybe, there's another would-be blogger out there with a little time, a love of craft beer and a way with words. Anyone?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Review: Carver's Class III IPA

New on tap at our friendly local brewpub is Class III IPA. Carver Brewing Co. tapped it Thursday.

Class III IPA is brewed with more than two pounds of hops per barrel, according to Carver's Michael Hurst. The India pale ale uses centennial, warrior, palisade and simcoe hops.

Carver's claims more than 100 IBUs for Class III, putting it in league with bruisers like Ska's Decadent Imperial IPA (99 IBUs) and Steamworks' Conductor Imperial IPA (82 IBUs).

Class III, named for the category of river rapids, pours a nice reddish-orange color with a small white head of foam.

Some IPAs taste of grapefruit, and Class III is emphatically one of them. The grapefruit taste seems to be a common note in Carver's beers. It's not like the cherry-orange citrus taste of Decadent, or the challenging straightforwardness of Conductor. It's grapefruit, period.

For the claimed 100+ IBUs, it's quite drinkable. It is not at all a struggle to finish a glass, as it can be with imperial IPAs. The hops wash over your palate like a big glass of grapefruit juice.

Class III is certainly a worthy contender in the imperial IPA fight. Give it a solid B.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Are whole flower hops superior?

Hops have a huge influence on how beers taste, and not just on IPAs. Along with malt, yeast and water, hops are what define beer.

So brewers are understandably very particular about what types of hops they use. Which is why this post on Deschutes Brewery's website caught my eye. It says:

“Deschutes Brewery has used whole leaf hops (and have invested heavily behind them) from day one because we believe they yield a better beer with better flavor. It is interesting to note that, when we believe we can get better flavor we have, and do, use some pellets and even extract. We have actually brewed Mirror Pond with all pellets to see if there is a difference, and there is a clear difference. We continue to experiment with all our ingredients including hops and malt to find that which yields the best flavor. It is certainly more convenient to use pellets, but that’s never been how we roll. We’re big fans of Mother Nature and keeping our brewing ingredients as close as possible as to what she provides.”

Deschutes is not alone in using mostly whole-flower hops. Sierra Nevada in California also does. These are two of the oldest, largest and best-respected craft breweries in the country, so their brewing techniques ought not be easily dismissed.

Most brewers, though, Durango's included, use pellets. They stand by them. I e-mailed several brewers; they cited better storage and keeping qualities with pelletized hops.

"Whole flower hops 'suck-up' a lot more beer than pellets do," said Bill Graham, co-founder of Ska Brewing Co., in response to e-mailed questions. "This is after all a business and efficiencies do matter. Loss = smaller profits."

Graham added: "Most importantly, the quality of whole flower versus pellets in the beer is negligible at best, and has been proven by brewing scientists over the past 75 years. I think that any brewery touting their use of whole versus pellets, is doing a bit of marketing mumbo-jumbo."

Graham and others said pellets are easier to store and keep better than whole hops.

"Whole hops do not keep as well as pellets," Graham said. "Hops are only harvested at one point in any given year. As storage time increases, it’s my feeling that pelletized hops hold up better and degrade less quickly than whole flower."

Furthermore, most brewing systems are designed to use pellets, Graham said.

"We are brewing on systems designed to use pelletized hops, and hence our breweries were designed for pellets as well," he said. "For example, for us at Ska to use whole flower hops in, say, the Modus, that requires over 100 pounds of hops per brew, we would need bails and bails of whole flower hops for the year.

"Pellets can be stored in a small footprint; bails require a huge cold storage facility ... Secondly our brewhouses are designed and engineered for pellets. Typically to use bailed hops, a conveyor rolls the bail down to a chopper and then disburses the hops to your kettle. With pellets, the brewer himself can weigh the hops and introduce them to the kettle without the need for a 'handling system.'"

Steve Breezley, production manager at Avery Brewing Co. in Boulder, made a similar point.

"We do not use whole cone hops for numerous reasons," he said. "The first and foremost is the long-term quality of the hops as they are stored over time. All hops are harvested at the same time, roughly between September and November. Immediately hops will begin to deteriorate with exposure to oxygen and temperature. We feel that pelletized hops are superior to whole cone hops at mitigating this process."

But Erik Maxson, brewmaster at Carver Brewing Co. in Durango, is among those who see value in whole-flower hops.

"So far we've been doing some special pale ales with whole cones," Maxson said. "I'm really enjoying a new approach to using them, and the results I feel are well the worth it."

Maxson added: "There are, in my opinion, without a doubt differences between the two as far as how they present themselves within the beer, but quality differences seem purely subjective to me."

As a small brewpub, Carver's probably has fewer storage headaches than packaging breweries like Ska and Avery. (I also sent e-mails to Steamworks and Durango Brewing. I'll post updates if I receive responses from them).

My take: Sierra Nevada and Deschutes' pale ales do seem to have a brighter quality that is lost in pellet-hopped beers. It is reasonable to assume that whole flower hops retain oils that are lost in the pellet-making process.

Nevertheless, many brewers make delicious hop-forward beers using pellets. I think the beer I brewed with Ska, Soggy Coaster Imperial Red Ale, had excellent hop character using German tradition, Crystal, Willamette and Cascade hop pellets.

Some 25 years into the craft-brewing revolution, it appears the jury is still out when it comes to whole flower versus pellet hops. I'm curious what all of you brewers and homebrewers think. Please leave a comment below.

Photo: Pellet hops used to brew Soggy Coaster Imperial Red Ale with Ska Brewing. Photo by Jerry McBride.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Cask ale at Durango Brewing

This beer above is a twist on Durango Brewing Co.'s 20th Anniversary Ale. A cask of the Belgian-style ale was loaded with cardamom, a spice in the ginger family.

I found the cardamom really strong at first, but your palate gets used to it. Note the cask carbonation and the proper Honest Pint-ensuring glassware.