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, 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.