Monday, December 26, 2011

Pagosa Porters on Tap!

Pagosa Brewing Co. has unleashed an avalanche of Porter style brews for the 2011 holiday season. Currently, four of these should be available on tap – Classic Porter, Baltic Porter, Java Porter, and Wassail Porter.

We were able to stop in at the brewery last weekend to meet up with some friends, and sample the Classic Porter and the Baltic. 
As with much of the beer that Pagosa produces, both were excellent, clean examples of the style. 

I have been favoring bigger beers lately, and I was partial to the Baltic-style pint that I was able to get 'with a little help from my friends', though usually pints of Pagosa’s larger brews are reserved for Mug Club members. The description states that it was made, “with a whisper of a maplewood smoked finish”. This is indeed the case, as the smoke was very subtle, almost hidden behind the big roastiness from the dark malts. It was definitely a softer smoke character than the Baltic Porter that Carver Brewing Co. currently has on, (itself being none-too-heavy).
Shreddin' Red IPA & wings
While catching up and swapping stories, the pint warmed slightly, revealing more of the rich malt character of the brew and some warmth from the 8.9%abv. Yet, the overall experience remained smooth, an effect I attribute to the use of lager yeast.

All ‘round, the pint landed solidly in my, “Thank you Sir! I’d like another!”, category.

Also on tap was Shreddin’ Red IPA, a hopped-up version of their regular IPA, and a British Bitter-style ale. We ordered these along with some appetizers, and I have to say that the IPA was delicious with the wings. The Bitter was good as well, but as with the Baltic Porter, I enjoyed it more as it warmed slightly, and some of the caramel from the warm, tan body was exposed. (Man, that last bit is kinda hot – makes me think of the beach…)
Seasonal offerings should continue to appear at Pagosa Brewing alongside the standard lineup throughout the ski season. If you happen in on something you like, drop us a note and let us know!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Texas judge slaps down labeling requirements

A Texas judge, in a ruling issued Monday, slapped down the state's inane labeling requirements that required brewers to mislead their customers as to what they were drinking.

Until now, beer sold in Texas that exceeded 4 percent alcohol by weight had to be labeled "ale," while beer under 4 percent ABW was labeled "beer." This of course made no sense because ale is a type of beer defined by the sort of yeast used and the manner in which fermentation occurs. Ale, as it has been known for centuries, has nothing to do with alcoholic strength.

This led to absurdities.

Of local concern, Ska Brewing Co., which distributes in Texas, had to label its Mexican Logger with text that read, with admirable bitchiness, "Ale, in Texas." Mexican Logger is a lager and not an ale, so Texas was essentially requiring Ska to mislead its customers in order to sell beer in the Lonestar State.

Now Ska, and other breweries that sell their beer in Texas, may label their lagers lager and their ales ale. In another part of the ruling, Federal District Court Judge Sam Sparks (now doesn't that sound like a solid Texas name?), ruled that the state could not prohibit breweries from telling their customers the level of booze they were drinking. Under Texas law, breweries could not say "5.2 percent ABV" or "strong ale" or anything of the sort. Paradoxically, Texas required distillers to tell customers the strength of their hard alcohol.

Sparks, in a comedic judicial ruling, as far as such things go, chastised the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission for failing to vigorously defend its own rules.

Many of these rules date from the immediate post-Prohibition period, when states that had no clue how to regulate alcohol came up with a ridiculous maze of stupid, ineffectual and counter-factual laws. Breweries, and the consumers who love them, are forced to contend with far too many of these laws to this day. In my native state of Oregon, bars are not allowed to advertise happy hour specials, as the specter of people enjoying relaxation after their daily labor is far outweighed by the state's interest in prohibiting free speech.

Sparks' ruling rested on First Amendment grounds. Essentially, he ruled that Texas can't force breweries to include untruthful speech on their products, and also can't force them to hide useful information like alcohol content levels from customers.

It's really quite remarkable that we're still dealing with Prohibition 78 years after it ended. It's good on Sparks for defending our First Amendment rights. It's good on Jester King Craft Brewery of Austin for fighting the good fight, hiring the legal muscle to get this done.

And maybe, just maybe, this ruling will send a message to mediocre, stale and arbitrary bureaucracies elsewhere that their interventions are neither necessary nor welcome.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Thursday Nitro @ Ska Brewing Co.

Beer N' Chile at Ska on Thursday Night
Now, I gotta’ say, it’s a good thing when your local brewery takes care of you.
I stopped into Ska Brewing Co. this evening for the ongoing Thursday night live-music & chili special, and to pick up a keg of Euphoria. 
To wit, I had been hounding/begging Holly, (the front of house manager at Ska), regarding a 1/2bbl keg of delicious, fresh, my favorite Ska brew ever, Euphoria, for weeks now. Yesterday, she called to offer one to me. 

Per the season, I received the joyous news that the production team had released 1/2bbl’s of Euphoria to retail with exultation and great praise.

I have to cast the scene of this phone call for you to appreciate the pure ecstasy that it brought me.

I love my job, but here it was, mid-day Wednesday – the shittiest of the workdays as there are equally as many in front of you as behind – and I was stuck in a dimly lit room with burnt-orange carpet sitting right next to a piece of equipment that was generating a whirlwind of fan-noise so loud I couldn’t hear myself think. Over the scream of wasted hot air, (kinda’ like this post, I’d guess ;-), I noticed that the phone was ringing by the blinking of the light on the console. This is the same blinking light that had me wondering for months, in the usual near-silence of my office, why in the funk someone had bothered to put an F’ing blinking light on the front of the damn phone in the first place. Ho HO!

Well, having solved that mystery, I grabbed the receiver and screamed, “HELLO”, into it.

“Erich?”

“Yah.”

“It’s Holly… I’ve got what you want.”

<short pause to figure out whom in the hell…. ding-DIng-DING- Oh YEAH!!>

“Sweet, I can come by tonight or tomorrow to grab it!”

“OK, I’ll put you down for tomorrow.”

Serious drug-dealer talk, that. I loved it – ‘Durango-vice’; although this involved killer brew and steel-toe boots, not booger-sugar and penny loafers (Ha! - screw you, Miami).

But back to my story…

The roar from the fan in the horrible witch-of-a-machine, (she’s a screamer), next to me faded to a whisper as a choir of angles began to sing, as if from on high. The flicker of the life-sucking neon lights ceased, and the 85 degree heat that I sit in, (right above the heater for the building), receded to a gentle breeze as the happy vision of a 15.5 gallon barrel of Euphoria beer danced like sugar plum fairies before my eyes.

Sidenote – “Sugar Plum Fairy” – A pint for the person who can comment and give the best explanation of what in the hell or on earth or in heaven this beast is. And I have a crude sense of humor, but this is a public post and we edit your shit, so keep it clever.

And so this evening, I stopped by for my prize. Most of you don’t know this, but I recently traded an automobile for three kegs of Ska Beer*, of which the above mentioned keg of Euphoria is the second. The sheer joy I felt when entering the taproom to the sound of live music, the sight of friendly faces, and the surety of excellent beer was a truly welcome vibe.

I have to admit that as I approached the bar, I had an agenda in mind. What was the “Imperial Nut Buster Brown Ale” that I had seen on taps around town, and what else had come up since I had stopped in ten days ago?  

Much to my delight, I was informed by Denise that the “Imperial Nut Buster Brown Ale” was indeed the brew formerly known as “Last Year’s Fruit Cake” and that it was available both on tap and in a cask-conditioned pour. It is a huge deep-brown winter warmer with a lovely rum-like finish from the additions of brown sugar and plums to the base brew. 

In addition to this, a “flavored” version of the mainline Steel Toe Stout was on tap. Christened, “Ole Mole Stout”, this one had more heat in the finish than the above pictured bowl of green chile had in each bite.  

I hate to hit-n-run on a good party, but I had ‘Mr. Puppy’ in the outdoor dog run at home in need of “puppy dinner” and so I paid my tab for the pint and the taster and proceeded to make haste with the loading of the keg. On the way out the door, I was happy to get an offer of help with the barrel from Ska head brewer Thomas Larsen. After using his well-honed professional skills to heft the keg into the backseat of my ride, he mentioned that he would be tapping a second round of the Mint Steel Toe Stout this coming week (Steel-Toe Stout finished in the keg with fresh mint). The last batch from a few weeks ago was very interesting, and the next should be well worth a stop by the taproom before the holidays.
*The story of the “car-for-ska-beer” swap is an ongoing phenomenon that will be committed to lore at a later date.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tour de Fat - a book about beer n’ bikes

Perhaps you also recall when Durango rated high enough on New Belgium’s scale of bike-town worthiness to warrant a stop by the travelling circus of beer and bikes known as the Tour de Fat. This ended several years ago when D-town was given the gentle let-down and told that it was already bike-friendly enough around here.

The intrepid cast of characters that comprise the tour were being directed to brave the mean streets of the nation’s cities, carrying with them a bold message of beer, love, and bikes. While it may be the case that Durango is more bike-friendly than some places, (I’ll personally vouch for Durango over the ‘mean streets of Phoenix’), it is hard to miss the fact that the smallest city on the tour in 2011 was Ft. Collins, and that the likes of San Francisco and Chicago are the norm.

And what the hell, right? I mean, if I had a marketing budget to support nationwide sales, I’d spend it on population centers numbering in the millions over those numbering in the tens of thousands as well. And it is true that bike awareness by local drivers is better than many places.

It was with surprise then that I accepted an invitation to receive a copy of a new book published by New Belgium commemorating the 11 years that tour has been, well, touring. My surprise was not at the existence of the book itself, but that they have taken the time and expense of memorializing the burlesque cacophony of bike zaniness that the tour has delivered in its time rambling across the land.

I guess that I had written off the Tour de Fat as a spasm of youth and assumed that the onset of corporate magnitude would have drawn New Belgium’s focus elsewhere. After thumbing through the book, which is presented in a ‘coffee table’ format, (think the coffee table book hip enough not to freak out your friends), it was apparent that this is not the case. In fact, it appears that the tour and its message remain almost as close to the heart of the organization as the beer itself. Presented like the event it represents, each page is a giggle unto itself.

Altogether, the Tour de Fat book is an excellent companion to a fine pint of craft brewed beer in a comfortable old chair.  Find it at an independent bookstore, like Maria’s in Durango, near you.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Getting started homebrewing

After months of hemming and hawing, a friend and I finally took the plunge and got all of the equipment needed for homebrewing.

Many of you have been homebrewing for years. I resisted for a long time, figuring I'd leave it to the professionals. If you can buy perfectly good beer, I figured, why spend more than $100 for brewing equipment that might yield a lesser product?

But at some point, it's fun and satisfying to do something for yourself. So we went down to the new Durango Brew Supply, where the fellas helped us choose a five-gallon brewing bucket, a glass carboy, a siphon hose, a hydrometer, a capper and all the other gadgets needed to brew at home.

For our maiden voyage, we chose to brew up a simple Brewer's Best red ale kit. It comes with all the needed ingredients: malt, malt extract, hops and yeast, and even a little bit of equipment, like a cloth that functions as a giant tea bag, that turned out to be helpful.

19th Hole Red Ale is now finishing secondary fermentation in the carboy. The original gravity was a little low for some reason, so it looks to be heading for an ABV of about 4.2 percent.

We're considering going all-grain for our next batch. I'm looking around for a good oatmeal stout recipe, so if anyone has one for a five-gallon batch, or can point me to one, I'd appreciate it.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

'Tis the Saison

Who says that summer brews must be tasted in season? While it is true that darker, heavier elixirs do fit well with the coming of ski season, certain styles of beer exhibit such unique and exotic combinations of flavor components that it is a delight to experience them, regardless the time of year. This is certainly the case with the humble saison, or Belgian/French farmhouse-style ale.

Traditionally brewed in a simple fashion for consumption during the warm summer months, saison is characterized by a fruity, citrusy yeast character, accented by modest hop and alcohol flavors. High attenuation by the yeast, (meaning that the yeast has consumed most of the available sugars in the beer and turned them to carbon dioxide and delicious alcohol), tends to leave a comparatively thin body, high carbonation and tart, dry finish.

Farmhouse ales were traditionally brewed for consumption on warm afternoons while working the land. This was at a time when slaking one's thirst with a funky-flavored, but bacteria-free, fermented beverage was a lot safer than drinking water from the nearby canal or irrigation ditch. 

Recently, I was fortunate enough to attend a local beer tasting hosted by the Mesa Verde Mashers homebrew club in Cortez. One of the members had visited the West Coast, and brought back an ‘A’ list of domestic and imported saison-style beer for our consideration. I had also recently received a bottle of New Belgium Brewing Co.'s latest release in their “Lips of Faith” series, Prickly Passion Saison, which billed itself as a saison-style farmhouse ale brewed with juice from prickly pear and passion fruit. Intrigued, I brought it along to be opened at the event.

The bottle lineup looked like this:

Manzanita Lazy Saison (San Diego)

The review of these could consume pages. Instead of this, I would suggest consuming the imported De Prouef and St. Feuillien. These seemed to best find the elusive balance between sweet, sour, and astringent components of the overall flavor. Many of the domestic products were very good as well, with Lost Abbey and Ommegang being stand outs. If any of the Durango Brewing Co.'s 20th Anniversary Saison bottles survive, they would be worth picking up as well.

And for the Prickly Passion Saison? As with most of New Belgium’s brews, this one is very clean in body and appearance. Many of the earlier bottles that were tasted contained a lot of yeast in suspension, making for a cloudy liquid in the glass. This one was translucent, with a very refined malt body forming a base for the yeast and fruit juices.

Perhaps it was the strong flavors that came before it, but the prickly pear was almost absent, and the passion fruit was very delicate, almost more of an aroma than a flavoring. As a stand-alone drink, I think that the Prickly Pear Saison would be quite enjoyable, and is a fine place to start if exploring the world of saison.

A big THANK YOU to Dion and the Mesa Vera Mashers for hosting this excellent event!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Beer at 6512 is back

After a hiatus of more than two months, Beer at 6512 is back. A friend persuaded me that this little blog has a loyal readership and some value it can offer to local beer lovers.

This time I won't be doing it alone. The aforementioned friend, Erich Hennig, will help me keep the site updated. Erich is a Durango homebrewer who has experience brewing beer, mead and cider, and has a fine sense of what makes a good craft beer. Not incidentally, he's also a damn good writer who you may know from his beer columns in Mountain Gazette and Rocky Mountain Brewing News.

Together we plan to provide regular updates that tell you more than you probably want to know about craft brewing in Durango and the wider world.

We're also looking for other contributors. You can't be any geek off the street, as Warren G once said. But if you know a good beer from a bad one and how to compose a decent sentence in English, please email me at soggycoaster(at)gmail(dot)com.

And for the rest of you, stop by when you can and read up on what's happening with craft brewing at 6,512 feet elevation. Durango is a special place, with some special beer. Let's get to it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Beer at 6512 on hold

As you may have noticed, posting here has slowed considerably this summer. It's time for me to recognize that I'm no longer posting regularly, and to acknowledge that this blog on indefinite hiatus.

There are several reasons, but primarily I just don't have the time to keep the blog as updated as it should be. For two years, I've written this blog as a personal project outside of my full-time job. There's a lot going on in craft beer locally, and I'm not keeping up with it. I feel if I'm not going to do it right, I'd rather not blog at all.

In all honesty, the last thing I want to do when I come home from work is spend more time in front of a keyboard and a glowing screen.

Perhaps I'll get back to it at some point. Perhaps not. Perhaps I'll find other outlets for writing about craft beer, or participating in the industry more directly.

I'm enormously appreciative of my readers, and the craft brewers I've come to know. I feel like I've been through graduate school in beer appreciation and the business of craft brewing.

Breweries are some of the most exciting businesses in America today, and, as others have noted, what's happening in craft beer is as interesting as anything in the worlds of food and drink.

Keep drinking good beer and supporting good brewers. I'll do the same.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Ska's 16th birthday bash highlights Durango Beer Week

Ska Brewing Co. will host a big bash Sept. 24 to celebrate its 16th anniversary. Twenty of the region's best breweries will be pouring, and the New York City ska band The Toasters will headline the entertainment.

The party will mark the Durango debut of Shebeen Black IPA, brewed in honor of The Toasters. Shebeen has otherwise been available at a handful of Toasters concerts. The Clash cover band the Nuns of Brixton and the Blue Hornets will open the concert.

The breweries scheduled to join Ska's birthday bash include Avery, Breckenridge, Bristol, Carver's, Durango, Left Hand, Lumberyard, Marble, New Belgium, Oskar Blues, Ouray, Pagosa Brewing, Santa Fe, Santan, Steamworks, Stone, Three Rivers and Tommyknocker.

I'd highly recommend you stop by Marble's tent. This Albuquerque-based brewery distributes only in New Mexico, so this is a rare chance to get their beer in Durango, and they're doing some fantastic brewing. Last year, Marble brought a version of From the Wood, a sublime barrel-aged ale that earned national attention from Draft magazine.

Ska expects the 16th anniversary party to sell out. Last year's 15th anniversary party was probably the best event I've experienced in my six years in Durango. The Supersuckers hosted a rock show of the quality you just don't see in Durango, and a lot of the beers were fantastic.The event runs 4-9 p.m. Sept. 24 at Ska, 225 Girard St. Tickets are $25 and available online or at brownpapertickets.com, or by calling 1-800-838-3006.

Ska's birthday party is just the biggest event during Durango Beer Week. The week kicks off with Steamworks’ 15th Anniversary Beer Dinner, to be held 7 p.m. Sept. 16 on the brewpub’s back deck.

Chef Sean Clark will offer a five-course meal matched to the Steamworks beers from brewer Ken Martin. The events costs $40 per person, and reservations are available by calling (970) 259-9200.

“Chef Sean has taken a leading role nationally in pairing fine foods and craft beers,” said Kris Oyler, Steamworks co-founder. “The menu, which includes Cuban pork, Yorkshire pudding and braised plantain, and smoked elk tenderloin with Palisade cherry gastrique, is fantastic. Of course, so are the Steamworks’ award-winning beers paired with each course.”

Durango’s official annual Oktoberfest is set for 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 17. on Main Avenue between 9th and 10th streets. Proceeds from the event will benefit the Women’s Resource Center.

“The event will include all the traditional Oktoberfest activities such as a stein-hoisting competition and a bratwurst-eating contest,” said Erik Maxson, Carver Brewing Co. head brewer. “Plus, the Bootleggers will collaboratively brew an authentic Oktoberfest beer to be tapped at the event.”

Food vendors, children’s activities and live music throughout the day from the Alpiners, Midnight Backhand and Moreland & Arbuckle are also planned. Durango Herald Arts & Entertainment Editor (and beer aficionado) Ted Holteen will serve as master of ceremonies.

Durango Beer Week continues with a variety of activities, including a beer brunch at Carver’s, a bike tour of the breweries, and a Brewathalon at Durango Brewing.

For more information on Durango Beer Week, visit www.realbeer.com. Here's the schedule:

* Friday, Sept. 16 Steamworks’ 15th Anniversary Beer Dinner, 7 p.m.
* Saturday, Sept. 17 Oktoberfest, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m., Main Ave.
* Sunday, Sept. 18 El Rancho Foosball Tournament, cash prizes, noon
* Monday, Sept. 19 Beer Brunch at Carver Brewing Co., 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.
* Tuesday, Sept. 20 Lady Falconburgh’s Beer Bingo, 9 p.m.
* Wednesday, Sept. 21 Durango Brewing Company Brewathalon, 5 p.m. Test your skills at Shuffleboard and Ring Toss.
* Thursday, Sept. 22 DATO/Ska-b-que, at Ska Brewing, 5 p.m.
* Bootlegger Pint Night at Steamworks - $1 pints for anyone with a pint glass from any of the four Bootlegger breweries. Proceeds benefit the Colorado Brewers Guild.
*Friday, Sept. 23 Bike Tour of breweries, 5:30 p.m. start at Durango Brewing, finish at The Balcony.
* Book signing at Steamworks, 6-8 p.m.: "Mountain Brew: A guide to Colorado’s Breweries" by Ed Sealover.
* Saturday, Sept 24 Ska Brewing Co.’s 16th Anniversary featuring The Toasters and 20 regional breweries, 4-9 p.m.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A day in the life

Photo by Andrew Carter

A sampler enjoyed last weekend at Colorado Boy Pub and Brewery in Ridgway. From left, an amber, Irish red, porter and IPA.

The Irish red and IPA were particularly tasty (both won medals at the 2009 Great American Beer Festival, I now see), and the atmosphere at the 1915 pub was excellent.

Unfortunately, shortly after this photo was taken, some local drunk hit my brother-in-law's rental car parked outside. Fortunately, there were several witnesses, and the local marshal appeared to be on the case. Insurance can be a wonderful thing.

Friday, August 26, 2011

San Juan Brewfest is Saturday

The 13th annual San Juan Brewfest takes place Saturday in downtown Durango. Some 25 breweries are expected to attend the annual celebration of craft beer.

Tickets are $25. Attendees will receive a five-ounce sampler glass.

Most of the breweries come from Colorado, although a few are from farther-flung locales. Each year, the festival doles out awards for best beers.

I'm most interested in some of the small brewpubs that don't distribute, including the the two Ouray breweries, Colorado Boy and Moab. It's also worth noting that brewing giant MolsonCoors shows up to promote Blue Moon and Colorado Native, two attempts at reaching the craft beer market.

The event benefits United Way of Southwest Colorado. This is one of the most significant craft beer events in Durango each year, and I always have a good time.

Here's the full list of breweries attending:

Alaskan Brewing Company (Juneau, AK)
Big Sky Brewing Company (Missoula, Mont.)
Blue Moon Brewing Company(Golden)
Breckenridge Brewery (Breckenridge)
Carver Brewing Company (Durango)
Colorado Boy Pub and Brewery (Ridgway)
Colorado Native (Golden)
Durango Brewing Company
Eskes Brew Pub and Eatery (Taos, NM)
Glenwood Canyon Brewing Company (Glenwood Springs)
Jacob Leinenkugal Brewing Company ( Chippewa Falls, Wisc.)
Left Hand Brewing Company (Longmont)
Moab Brewing (Moab, Utah)
New Belgium Brewing (Fort Collins)
Oak Creek Brewing Company (Sedona, Ariz.)
Oskar Blues Brewing (Longmont)
Ouray Brewery
Ourayle House Brewery (Ouray, CO)
Pagosa Brewing Company (Pagosa Springs)
Palisade Brewing Company
Rockslide Brewery (Grand Junction)
Samuel Adams (Boston)
San Luis Valley Brewing Company (Alamosa)
Ska Brewing Co. (Durango)
Steamworks Brewing Co. (Durango)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Ska Brewing to release Belgian dubbel

Ska Brewing Co. on Wednesday will release the latest beer in its Local Series, Sethvleteren 8.

The beer comes courtesy of Seth Townsend, who won this year's Ska homebrewing competition and will have his beer entered in the Great American Beer Festival Pro-Am Competition in late September in Denver.

Sethvleteren 8 is an organic, Belgian-style dubbel. It should be strong and yeasty.

It might not be dubbel weather yet, but I'll buy a couple of bottles for when temperatures cool off.

(For now, I'm enjoying my dwindling supplies of Mexican Logger. For what it's worth, everyone around town is running out of the summer seasonal. Get some before it's gone if you wish).

Last year's winner of Ska's homebrewing competition was really nice. Clancy's Black Beer was a German-style Schwarzbier with a malty and chocolatey taste.

The great thing about this one is it's been pre-screened for deliciousness. As with all the beers in Ska's Local Series, Sethvleteren 8 will be available in 22-ounce bottles in and around Durango.

About that name: presumably, it's a play on Westvleteren 8, a rare Belgian beer that is something of a Holy Grail for beer geeks. A lot of knowledgeable people say it's one of the best beers in the world. Not that Ska is setting Seth up for any pressure or anything.

Anyway, stop by Ska on Wednesday evening to meet Seth and get a taste of this organic, Belgian-style dubbel.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A visit to Funkwerks

After six years in Durango and multiple trips to the Denver-Boulder area, I finally made it to Fort Collins recently to check out some of city's craft brewers.

A lot of craft-beer fans would have made a beeline to New Belgium Brewing, the third-largest craft brewer in the nation by production volume, trailing only Boston Beer Co. (maker of Sam Adams) and Sierra Nevada Brewing.

Instead, we steered to a craft brewer that's relatively new, small and interesting. Funkwerks was founded in 2009 by an accomplished homebrewer, Gordon Schuck, and an accountant, Brad Lincoln.

(It's interesting how many craft brewing partnerships involve one dude who really knows beer paired with another dude who can keep a business running).

Schuck is a Belgian beer geek who won a gold medal at the 2007 National Home Brew Competition for his saison. His brewery reflects that — every beer on tap is Belgian-inspired.

A lot of breweries take a crack at a saison, but only a few make these beers the center of their breweries (The Bruery in southern California and Upright Brewing in Portland, Oregon come to mind). The rise of these sorts of breweries that focus on one style is a major trend in craft brewing the past five years or so.

Funkwerks occupies a space abandoned by Fort Collins Brewery. It's a nice spot, with a good patio and a shady tree, a just-right modern-feeling tasting room and plenty of space in the back to do the dirty work. The brewing goes down on a 15-barrel system.

I had the $8 sampler, which I'd recommend. It will get you the whole range of their beers (seven on tap during my visit), poured into Belgian globe glasses. It's a substantial portion of beer, and you'll want to be prepared for it.

Funkwerks' flagship beers are its saison and white, both bottled in 750 ml wine-style bottles. These are understated beers. Neither is the best of its kind I've ever had. Rather, they're just nice Belgian-style ales that go down easy, with inoffensive flavorful profiles.

Their best beers were their lightest and their heaviest. Their light one, appropriately named Casper, is 5 percent ABV and light as a ghost. It was wonderfully refreshing for a hot summer day.

The heavy entry was Maori King, an 8 percent ABV imperial saison with a depth of flavor not found in the standard saison (6.8 percent ABV). Interestingly, it uses Rakau hops, a New Zealand variety of which I was heretofore unacquainted. Promising, this one.

Fortunately, Maori King is Funkwerks' next bottled beer, joining the white and saison due to popular demand (at last tweet, Funkwerks had bottled Maori King and was waiting for labels to arrive, which shouldn't take long). Their bottled beers are available in the Denver area. My guess is it'll be awhile before we see them down in our corner.

Funkwerks isn't quite yet at the level of Upright or The Bruery, for example. But I love where they're going. Fine Belgian-style beers are a joy, and the Denver area was due for a niche Belgian brewery like Funkwerks. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit.

It'll be fun to see what Funkwerks does next.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Wheelsucker Wheat release Saturday

On Saturday, Wheelsucker Wheat Ale will be released at Ska Brewing Co. as the brewer-bicyclists arrive from their five-day, 470-mile tour of Colorado.
This is the third year of the bicycle tour first organized by Ska and Avery Brewing Co. in Boulder. The ride continues to grow, with participation this year by cyclists from Oskar Blues Brewery in Lyons and Sierra Nevada Brewing of Chico, California.
"Craft beer isn't about getting rich and cutthroat business practices; it's about following your passions and doing what you love, it's about being part of your local community and working with people who are just as psyched to be in the business as you are," Adam Avery, president and co-founder of Avery Brewing, said in a news release.
Each evening along the tour, the brewers are teaming up with other craft breweries along the course to hold fundraising parties, with profits from pint sales, raffles and auctions going to local charities.
Participating breweries along the route include Tommyknocker Brewing, Breckenridge Brewery, Eddyline Brewpub, The Brick Oven Restaurant, Ouray Brewing and Colorado Boy Brewery.
"We’ve had quite a few brewers from around the country express interest in this," said Dave Thibodeau, Ska's president and co-founder. "I think it has the potential to become huge, whether it remains a brewer’s tour and another fun way to hang out with fellow brewers while trying to make a positive difference in our communities, or one day possibly opens to the public.”  
Last year Oskar Blues joined Avery and Ska on the tour. Steve Grossman and others from Sierra Nevada Brewing are also joining their Colorado brewing brethren, the first time a non-Colorado brewer has joined the ride.
The tapping party begins at 2 p.m., Saturday, July 21. Proceeds will go to the La Plata County Safe Roads Coalition
Wheelsucker Wheat Ale is a strong, flavorful wheat ale brewed by Ska and Avery. It won Beer at 6512's inaugural Beer of the Year award in 2009. Check out that post for details on the beer.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ska Brewing loses in L.A.

The crack beer journalists at Beer at 6512 (ahem) rarely post a full press release. But as press releases go, this one from Ska Brewing Co. is a gem, and heavy editing would only kill the humor. We have here perhaps the definitive beer competition humblebrag. Take a look:

Judging has been completed in the 2011 Los Angeles International Commercial Beer Competition, and Ska Brewing didn’t win a single medal, or even an honorable mention. Despite winning gold and silver medals in the 2010 competition, Ska came up empty-handed this year.

“Our friends at Odell Brewing and Lagunitas Brewing won medals,” said Dave Thibodeau, Ska Brewing President and Co-Founder. “Last year we won two medals in L.A… Samuel Adams Light won a medal. How am I supposed to tell our shareholder about this?”

Despite recently winning two medals at the Australian International Beer Awards—a silver for Modus Hoperandi, and a bronze for ESB, out of 1195 total entries—Thibodeau remained strangely focused on the loss. The medals in Australia weren’t the only recent wins, either, with Ska winning a silver medal at the Denver International Beer Competition for Buster Nut Brown Ale, and a two medals at the North American Beer Awards—a gold for Pinstripe and a bronze for Steel Toe Stout.

“We’ve actually been winning a lot of medals this season, but this loss at L.A. is all I can think about,” said Bill Graham, Ska Co-Founder and Overlord of Brewing Operations. “I know [Ballast Point Brewing’s] Sculpin IPA is a nearly perfect IPA, but I thought Modus would bring home some hardware. Nebraska Brewing didn’t even name their IPA. I don’t know where the justice is in this crazy mixed-up world.”

According to well-placed sources, Ska has actually won as many competition medals this season as they ever have, including a previously unmentioned bronze for Modus Hoperandi IPA and a silver for ESB at the AmeriCAN Craft Beer Festival.

That fact notwithstanding, Thibodeau insisted on putting out a press release about Ska’s “loss” in L.A.
According to a Ska PR manager who requested anonymity in order to speak candidly, Thibodeau didn’t even want to make the release funny, or poke fun at beer competitions in general. “Press releases are supposed to show your company in the best possible light,” said the source. “No one here listens to me. We’ve been winning things left and right, and all these guys can think about is not winning at one event. I don’t know if I can keep doing this.”

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Top 5 Colorado summer beers

A great summer beer must be light. It must be refreshing. It must also be flavorful and interesting. In Colorado, where the winters are long and cold and the summers are sunny and beautiful, craft breweries have the summer beer dialed in. The five beers pictured above and praised below represent the best Colorado summer beers.

All five represent different styles and separate breweries. Three are ales, two are lagers. Two are from Durango; three are from the Front Range. Two are Belgian-inspired, two are German-inspired and one is Mexican-inspired. Two are strictly summer seasonals, while the other three are light beers brewed year-round.

This isn't a definitive ranking. But it gives you an idea of the quality and breadth of summer beers in Colorado.

1. Great Divide Colette
7.3 percent ABV

It was a pleasant surprise when Great Divide Brewing of Denver started bottling a first-rate saison in six-packs. Before Colette, it was impossible to find a saison locally that wasn't sold in expensive bomber bottles.

The price would be irrelevant if the beer weren't great. Fortunately, Colette, a summer seasonal, is among the best saisons anywhere. This tasty Belgian-inspired farmhouse ale took home a silver medal at the 2010 Great American Beer Festival.

Saisons are wonderful, yeasty beers that manage to be light and refreshing and extraordinarily flavorful. Colette is as good as it gets. (Full review here).

2. Ska Mexican Logger
4.2 percent ABV, 18 IBUs

It's difficult to make low-alcohol beers like Ska's Mexican Logger carry much flavor, because alcohol acts as a sort of wave on which flavor can ride.

While Mexican Logger is light in alcohol, this little beer punches far above its weight. The deliciousness that is Ska's Mexican Logger defies explanation. Just drink it. (Full review here).

3. Left Hand Polestar Pilsner
5.5 percent ABV, 33 IBUs

The folks in Longmont got something right when they brewed their Polestar Pilsner. This lager has a perfect amount of hopping that doesn't get in the way of the funky yeast flavors. Delicous. Refreshing. Not to be missed.

4. Steamworks Colorado Kolsch
4.8 percent ABV, 17 IBUs

Not long ago, I found myself sharing an affordable $8 pitcher of Colorado Kolsch at Steamworks' bar in Durango. It was a hot day, and this ale was everything I needed at that moment in time. This kolsch is another beer that manages to be very flavorful while relatively low in alcohol.

It's also one of Steamworks' signature beers, and one of the cooler cans (or bottles) around, featuring the Colorado flag.

5. Avery White Rascal
5.6 percent ABV, 10 IBUs

A fantastic Belgian-style witbier from the consistently excellent Avery brewery in Boulder. These sorts of Belgian-style wheats are tough to pair with food, but they're great on their own and with some foods.

There's a nice hint of citrus along with ample Belgian yeastiness. This Rascal is worth confining in your refrigerator, until you can let it runneth over the top of your glass.

Please feel free to argue in the comments below. I tasted all five of these with my wife and a friend. My wife would have ranked White Rascal and Polestar Pilsner up top. My friend would have ranked the pilsener lower. Others would have included local favorites Durango Wheat and Carver's Raspberry Wheat. What do you think?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Steamworks servers get beer educated

Steamworks Brewing Co. servers have been undergoing a mass education in beer and food pairings, styles and brewing knowledge.

Forty-five of the brewpub's servers have gone through the Cicerone certification program to become what the organization calls "certified beer servers."

In essence, Steamworks aims to have 45 beer sommeliers able to guide customers in their choices.

“Anyone can call themselves a beer expert,” Steamworks co-founder Kris Oyler said in a news release. “But when consumers want just the right beer, they usually need assistance from a server who really knows beer flavors, styles and brands. A Cicerone can assist.”

Oyler is leading by example, earning his beer server certification. He continues to study for the Certified Cicerone exam.

This is something new and interesting. It once again shows the beer world following in the footsteps of wine, where sommeliers are trained to pair various red and white wines with certain foods. There's a danger in taking things too seriously, but it can't hurt to have servers who know what they're serving.

The program probably only makes sense for restaurants that take craft beer seriously. Production-focused breweries wouldn't have much use for beer sommeliers.

Steamworks' "certified beer servers" have shown proficiency in beer storage, sales and service; beer styles and culture; beer tasting and flavors; brewing ingredients and processes; and pairing beer with food. To earn the Certified Cicerone and Master Cicerone designations, beer servers must demonstrate more comprehensive knowledge in all the aforementioned areas.

“Many consumers don’t know the difference between a pale ale and a lager, or a stout and a porter, let alone what flavors are found in a hefeweizen or Kölsch,” Oyler said. “Education is an important part of the Steamworks culture, so the Cicerone certification program has provided us with a structure to help ensure our servers have top-notch skills, which they can then share with our patrons. We want all expectations to be met when people drink a Steamworks beer.”

In addition to Oyler, Steamworks staff members earning the certified beer server designation are: Aaron Albosta, Jesse Armer, Ken Baker, Mike Brace, Jen Burgstahler, Stevonna Chavez, Nicole Clark, Sean Clark, Ben Colia, Stephanie Dieter, Theo Dillingham, Cassie Farr, Lea Gibbens, Landon Griffin, Jason Haley, Joel Hayes, Brandon Herrera, Chip Hosfeld, Marc Howard, Stevi Jaworsky, Steve Kammerer, Wilson Lawrence, Josh Lengner, Ken Martin, Katie Matney, Brian McEachron, Shirley Melton, Sean Moriarty, Sena Nissen, Sabrina Olsen, Derek Raimo, Rick Rivera, Spencer Roper, Mitra Sabeti, Jorge Sanchez, Keara Sandy, Devin Schuck, Brian Skyles, Erin Skyles, Lauren Turner, Shelton Urquidez, Alice White, Dave Woodruff and JD Zent.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Independence Day

A San Juan IPA and Old Glory on the rooftop of Ouray Brewery, July 1.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Comparing Colorado pilseners

Thanks to W.J. Doyle Wine & Spirits, a new Durango liquor store that lets customers mix six-packs, I recently had the chance to compare two tasty Colorado pilseners side by side.

Pilseners are light lagers, originally from the Czech Republic and later Germany, with substantial hopping and a crisp finish.

The pilseners both come from northern Colorado breweries with good track records of producing high-quality craft beer: Left Hand Brewing Co. of Longmont and Avery Brewing Co. of Boulder.

Left Hand's Polestar Pilsner comes in at 5.5 percent ABV and 33 IBUs, using Magnum, Mt. Hood and Sterling hops along with Weyerman pilsner and pale two-row malt. It's distributed in 12-ounce bottles.

Avery's Joe's Premium American Pilsner is less boozy but more hoppy, at 4.7 percent ABV and 42 IBUs. It's brewed with Magnum and Hersbrucker hops and unspecified two-row malt, and distributed in 12-ounce cans featuring the image of a gangster-looking dude.

Both beers pour a pale yellow with an off-white head. The pilseners taste differently, though. The Left Hand pils is funkier and yeastier, with moderate hopping. The Avery pils is cleaner but much more aggressively hopped.

Both are good beers. I slightly prefer Left Hand's funky complexity to Avery's big hop taste, but to each their own. You can't go wrong with pilsener, a fantastic style for summer.

The Fourth of July tends to be an industrial lager holiday. I'm sure the liquor stores will sell plenty of Coors and Budweiser. But if you want to keep it craft, and you should, pilsener is an excellent option.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The joys of obscure German styles

A couple of brief notes from the wider world of beer:

* The New York Times opines today on the value of the humble Kolsch, a light golden ale style native to Germany. Eric Asimov, who in the world's best job gets paid to write about such things, calls Kolsch an "ideal hot weather beer."

What is it about Kölsch? Well, it’s a snappy and beautifully refreshing golden ale, bright without being overbearing. From the first sniff of its grainy, malty aroma, to the delicately fruity, lightly bitter flavors in the mouth, to the brisk, clean, energetic feeling after you swallow, a good Kölsch offers a smooth journey of sensations that may be unremarkable individually but are extraordinarily pleasant as an ensemble.

Of course, those of us in Durango can buy six-packs of Steamworks' Colorado Kolsch, a past silver-medal winner at the Great American Beer Festival, at any corner liquor store. It's always amusing when big media outlets such as the Times learn about things we've been enjoying for some time. Welcome to the party, New York.

Coincidentally, or not, because of the hot weather, I found myself last Sunday sharing an $8 pitcher of Kolsch at Steamworks. It's very light (4.85 percent ABV, 17 IBUs), but it really is an ideal summer beer.

As Asimov notes, one can enjoy a fair amount of low-booze Kolsch with no regret.

* Speaking of relatively obscure German styles, I was pleased to see a bottle of Berliner Weisse at Star Liquors in Durango after enjoying a locally brewed example of the style at Block 15 Brewing in Corvallis, Oregon.

The one at Star, 1809 Berliner Weisse, is actually German. If you've had a hefeweizen, it's not so far off from Berliner Weisse. But the extremely pale Berliner Weisse style adds Lactobacillus yeast, giving an alluring tartness that in my opinion elevates it above the hefe. Definitely worth trying.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Pouring at Daddyfest

I got drafted into volunteering Saturday for Carver Brewing Co.'s tent at Daddyfest, Durango's annual Father's Day weekend celebration. As a nonprofit event (proceeds go to the Durango Discovery Museum), volunteers help run the show.

It was an interesting experience for me to work behind the taps, as someone who has no experience pouring beers for customers. Partly, it was a lesson in consumer choice. Carver's was offering five beers: Lightner Creek Lager, Raspberry Wheat, ESB, Powerhouse Porter and Jack Rabbit Pale Ale, in addition to root beer for the kids.

Not surprisingly since temperatures were in the 80s, people were clamoring for the lighter beers, particularly Lightner Creek and Raspberry Wheat. Both of those kegs blew early. The ESB, a new beer from Carver's, was the last to go.

The festival-goers were pretty easy to deal with. When we ran out of one beer, most were happy to accept another kind of beer. People seemed to be enjoying themselves in moderation, for the most part, and that made things more enjoyable for everyone.

Once again, I was impressed by how hard the work is. Dragging kegs around is a young man's game.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Silverton Rockin' Brews recap

A fine day for a beer.
It was about 70 degrees in Silverton on Saturday as Durango bands played and a dozen Colorado breweries poured beers for Silverton Rockin' Brews, in its second year.

The atmosphere was as laid back as could be. Little kids played in the field (Rockin' Brews was held on the baseball diamond at the entrance to town), Barbies strewn about. The brewery folks were convivial and happy to chat.

For such a small fest, the beer selection was quite good.

The downside: Rockin' Brews was sparsely attended, something a few brewery workers remarked upon. Perhaps it was due to competition from other events. It was held the same day as Animas River Days in Durango, and Ska had a live band at their place. Silverton also only has about 200 year-round residents, so events have to draw people in from elsewhere.

But I think you also have to look at price. The fest cost $30, quite a bit for such a small event (it should be noted the proceeds went to the nonprofit San Juan County Historical Society). I came late in the day, so I got in for the money in my wallet ($23). Still, I bet some prospective festival-goers were put off by the price tag.

Fortunately, the few who came made Rockin' Brews a pretty laid-back event. As I got there late, I only had a few beers:

• A rye ale from Ouray Brewery. Smooth, refreshing, not quite as good as Smugglers Brewpub's Rocky Mountain Rye.

• Aspen Brewing Co.'s Independence Pass IPA. It's always a good sign when a young brewery has a fine IPA. This was a wonderfully citrusy, grassy and tasty IPA. Probably my favorite beer of the fest.

It's rather strong (7.7 percent ABV, 75-80 IBUs), but balances nicely. Aspen uses primarily Palisade hops, along with some Columbuses, Cascades and Simcoes.

Ourayle House brought Summit Pale Ale, brewed with Summit hops. Another good one from Mr. Grumpy Pants, who does well with pale ales.

Gunnison Brewery tapped a whiskey barrel-aged porter named Porterotti. The whiskey note was nicely done, not too big for the base beer, a well-turned porter. A fine job by Gunnison.

Overall, a really nice time, some great beer and friendly folks. I hope more people support it next year.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Silverton Rockin' Brews on tap for this weekend

Our high-altitude friends in Silverton will host Silverton Rockin' Brews this weekend on Sat., June 11, 1-6 p.m.

This small annual beer festival features a dozen Southwest Colorado breweries (with a couple of northern Colorado exceptions) pouring their ales. It'll be nice to have them all in one place since they're pretty far flung, tucked among mountain passes and tiny towns.

The festival costs $30 ($25 when purchased ahead of time) with live music, no dogs and proceeds benefitting the San Juan County Historical Society. Here are the breweries scheduled to be there:

- Ska Brewing Co., Durango
- Durango Brewing Co., Durango
- Carver Brewing Co., Durango
- Silverton Brewing Co., Silverton
- Ouray Brewery, Ouray
- Ourayle House, Ouray
- Horsefly Brewing Co., Montrose
- Pug Ryan's Steakhouse & Brewery, Dillon
- San Luis Valley Brewing Co., Alamosa
- Gunnison Brewing Co., Gunnison
- Aspen Brewing Co., Aspen
- Main Street Brewery, Cortez

Soggy Coaster's pithy guide: Definitely check out both Ouray breweries, which have been turning out some great beers in the last year or two. I'll also be eager to check out Horsefly, Pug Ryan's and Aspen (founded in 2008), all of which have escaped me so far.

I assume Steamworks is missing this one because they're hosting the their annual Half Marathon in Durango the same day.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Review: Ska Big Shikes Orange Blossom Imperial Pilsner

Ska Brewing Co.'s latest Local Series release comes as the result of a project with Old Chicago restaurants. The restaurant chain asked Ska to come up with something unique for them to put on tap as part of an effort to reconnect with craft brewing.

Ska invited Jonathan Shikes, managing editor and prolific beer blogger at the Denver weekly Westword, to help design and brew the beer

This project follows an earlier blogger-brewer collaboration Ska did with myself and Jeff Hammett, formerly of Beer 'N Bikes and currently writing at San Diego Beer Blog.

Ska also bottled Shikes' batch for release as no. 18 in its Local Series, which is distributed only in and around Durango. Ska has been doing the Local Series for many years (a list of releases is here), brewing at its whim special creations. It gives the brewers a chance to experiment, and Ska's customers a chance to try something new.

Shikes' beer was tapped May 16 at Old Chicago in Denver, timed to coincide with American Craft Beer Week.

Now on to Shikes' beer itself. It's a big recipe, an imperial pilsner that comes in at 8.7 percent ABV and 73 IBUs (incidentally, Ska brewed a standard pilsner as no. 3 in the Local Series in 2005).

It pours a pale yellow color, topped by a short froth of white foam. The taste is bready and heavy on the palette, with a little citrus and sweetness from orange blossom honey.

Strong lagers are tough to brew well. Often, they end up syrupy, overly sweet and difficult to drink. Unfortunately, this describes to an extent this Imperial Pilsner.

Ska sometimes falls into a common trap for ambitious craft brewers: beers that are too big, too much, too flavorful. Looking back at the few Ska beers that seemed to miss the mark, it's been one ingredient that dominated the taste: too much Scotch in the barrel-aged Scotch ale, too much lemongrass in 2010's DIFF, too much hops in Ska Sour.

For Big Shikes, it's simply too big to really enjoy. It's not a bad beer, but neither does it leave you wanting more. About 12 ounces is all you really want to drink; a 22-ounce bomber ought to be shared. I ended up drinking the 14 ounces or so pictured here and pouring the rest down the drain.

Ska makes some great beers: their ESB, Ten Pin Porter, Modus Hoperandi IPA and Mexican Logger, in particular, are superb examples of their styles. But while I look forward to trying their next Local Series effort, Big Shikes I can do without. C

(P.S.: This seems to be the consensus on this beer).

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Townsend wins Ska homebrewing competition

Catching up on some news, a fellow by the name of Seth Townsend won Ska Brewing Co.'s GABF Pro-Am Homebrew Competition with his Organic Dubbel.

Townsend won "Best In Show" and also took top honors in the Belgian Strong Ale category.

As with past winners, Townsend will have his beer entered in the Pro-Am category of the Great American Beer Festival – the nation’s largest beer competition and festival. The beer will also be brewed on a commercial scale for release as part of Ska’s popular Local Series, which is distributed around Durango and Southwest Colorado. Townsend will have the chance to participate in the commercial scaling and production of his recipe for the Local Series.

Last year's winner, Clancy Calhoun of Aztec, N.M., brewed a tasty Schwarzbier, a dark German-style lager. The nice thing about competitions like these is the winning beers tend to taste good.

Ska has its own roots in homebrewing: the three co-founders all got their start as homebrewers.

“Homebrewers have the kind of DIY spirit that drove us to keep growing and improving," Ska President and co-founder Dave Thibodeau said in a news release. "We really respect that. That’s how a lot of craft breweries — including Ska — came to be."

Townsend is understandably excited at the leap his homebrewing career has just taken.

“My goal this year was to earn a spot in the GABF Pro-Am, so I focused on homebrew competitions that were selecting beers to enter it,” Townsend said. “The best part of this is that I’ll get to work with one of my favorite breweries, right here in Colorado. Honestly, I can’t think of a more fun brewery to be collaborating with to scale up my Organic Dubbel. I think it also shows that organic beer can stand up — and out — in a crowd.”

Chris Swersey, GABF's competition manager, had this to say about the Pro-Am category: “Because so many professional brewers began as homebrewers, the GABF Pro-Am competition is a great reflection of craft brewer unity at all levels. The Pro-Am serves to keep professional brewers and homebrewers in touch with each other, and serves as an exciting competitive forum for both AHA and BA professional members. But most importantly the Pro-Am is fun.”

Complete judging results for Ska' competition can be found here.

Friday, May 27, 2011

This is your weekend, Durango

Memorial Day weekend is a big one in Durango, with 2,500 bicyclists coming for the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, a grueling 40-mile climb to Silverton.

Motorcyclists come, too, as does every other stripe of tourist. Fortunately, our local brewers have several events on tap this weekend. The studies say beer is good for recovery after exertion:

* Steamworks Brewing Co. continues its Firkin Fridays today, tapping the beer cocktail “Skip and Go Naked” at 3 p.m.

“Unlike the quick and dirty fraternity house versions, Steamworks’ Skip and Go Naked firkin uses our Colorado Kölsch as a base, and in the brew process we’ve added fresh lemon juice and zest with a peach simple syrup,” Ken Martin, Steamworks head brewer, said in a news release. “This is another fresh and delicious cocktail, perfect for savoring on Steamworks’ back deck as the days get warmer.”

Steamworks initiated its Firkin Fridays to introduce a range of specialty craft beers not suited to large draft production. Each month one of these beers is tapped, coordinated with the season or holidays.

“Serving a firkin beer requires a special tap and it’s gravity-poured,” said Spencer Roper, Steamworks assistant brewer. “Folks also need to remember that a firkin is served at about 55 degrees - cool but not cold. Because it contains no preservatives, it’s also designed to be consumed after tapping. We expect the Skip and Go Naked to be especially popular.”

* Steamworks and Ska Brewing Co. release Face Plant Ale at 6 p.m. Friday (tonight). It's an amber hefeweizen that's been brewed for 16 years in what's got to be one of the oldest and most durable brewery collaborations around. Incidentally, it's quite tasty, if memory serves.

Bicyclists can meet at Ska at 5 p.m. and pedal to Steamworks, if you want to work extra hard for your beer. I'll just stroll the six blocks from my place. Winning, as Charlie Sheen would say.

* Less momentous, but worth a note: Carver Brewing Co. has a great lineup right now. A new IPA is on tap, brewed with Cascades and Centennials. The Dandelion Saison is almost gone, but it's much improved from last year. Erik Maxson, Carver's head brewer, said they dialed back on the dandelion a bit this year and added a nice herb mix. The result is a very well-balanced and smooth saison. I quite like it this year. Also, the fine Power House Porter is back after a long absence. As always, the Cascade Canyon IPA on cask is a good bet.

* Finally, Oskar Blues Old Chub, a beautiful Scottish-style ale, is on tap at The Irish Embassy. It's 8 percent ABV, so please fasten your kilt.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Stylish beer in Oregon

In Oregon, as in Colorado, just about every small town has its own brewery, and the larger cities have several.

I just spent more than a week traveling around Oregon, getting a sense of the beer landscape along the way. Things are good, and in some ways a step ahead of what Colorado craft brewers are doing.

Craft brewers in Oregon, having mastered the arts of the hop bomb and barrel-aged strong ale, are looking farther afield for inspiration. Most remarkably, I had three beer styles I'd never before encountered: Gruit, Gose and Berliner Weisse.

Gruit is perhaps the strangest and most unusual of the three, a hopless beer with a markedly different flavor profile from most ales. Gruit needs something else to stand in for hops, balancing the malt and making the beer drinkable.

Oakshire's Mountain Rose Gruit
The Gruit I had was Mountain Rose Gruit from Oakshire Brewing in Eugene. Oakshire used a crazy variety of herbs to spice the beer: mugwort, dandelion root, dandelion leaf, burdock root, licorice root, milk thistle seed, blessed thistle, chamomile flower and grapefruit peel.

The result was an herbaceous, almost sweet beer that finishes dry (7 percent ABV). It's not totally dissimilar from a saison brewed with herbs, or even rose tea, but you do notice the lack of any hop flavor whatsoever. Interesting, and a good sipping beer, but not a beer you want to toss down your gullet.

The Oakshire Gruit was pouring at The Bier Stein in Eugene, which beer journalist Lisa Morrison says has the biggest selection of bottles between Portland and San Francisco. Gazing at the stocked refrigerators, it's easy to believe. 

Perhaps the best beer I had on the trip came from Upright Brewing, a small brewery in Portland that makes innovative farmhouse ales meant to be paired with food. The Gose, a spring seasonal, is a slightly tart wheat beer brewed with a light touch of salt and coriander. An old German style (detailed information here from the Portland blog Brewpublic), Gose is seeing a minor comeback on the West Coast.

Upright Brewing's Gose
Upright's version (5.2 percent ABV) was fascinating: refreshing like a hefeweizen, but much more complex and flavorful due to the lactobacillus tartness. The salt and coriander were deftly restrained.

I've had about a half-dozen Upright beers now and been impressed by each, but I think the Gose was the most interesting.

Finally, Block 15, a relatively young brewpub in the college town of Corvallis, had several noteworthy beers on tap but most unusually a Berliner Weisse.

A very pale and low-alcohol summer beer style that also hails from Germany, Berliner Weisse looks and tastes a little like lemonade. In fact, it's popular to mix with syrups.

At only 3 percent ABV, Block 15's Berliner Weisse showed that beer doesn't have to be strong to be flavorful.
Block 15 Berliner Weisse

Rest assured, ridiculously good IPAs continue to proliferate in the homeland of American hops. But I quickly found myself tiring of hop bombs after visiting Double Mountain Brewing in Hood River and Walking Man Brewing across the Columbia River in Stevenson, Wash.

After a couple of sampler glasses, my palate could barely distinguish anything. Walking Man alone had a strong pale ale, two IPAs and an imperial IPA on tap. My taste buds were beaten into submission.

Fortunately, some of the little craft breweries in Oregon continue to stretch the definition of craft beer by reintroducing and reinterpreting some very old beer styles. After all, given the highly evolved state of American craft brewing, what's left to be discovered?

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Malt and matrimony

On Saturday, I'm getting married in Portland, Ore. In addition to the bride and guests and such, the wedding will feature six Northwest craft beers on tap.

The wedding is at Meriwether's Restaurant, a farm-to-table restaurant that focuses on local food. The thinking extends to beer. The restaurant's six taps are all either Oregon or Washington-brewed beers. It's also noticeable whose beers are not included — the biggest Northwest breweries like Deschutes, Rogue and Redhook. The restaurant obviously prefers to choose the smaller guys.

Here's what Meriwether's currently has on tap:

* Hopworks Urban Brewery Organic Lager
* Fearless Brewing Scottish Ale
* Alameda Brewing Klickitat Pale Ale
* Ninkasi Total Domination IPA
* Double Mountain India Red Ale
* Hale's Ales Dublin Stout (nitro)

As you can see, it's a good mix of beers with one lager, two hoppy beers, two malty English-style ales and a stout. Ninkasi is the largest brewery represented here. It started in Eugene, Ore., in 2006, and has grown quickly by focusing on intensively hoppy ales. The extent of their reach — market penetration, in business-speak — is exceedingly impressive. They're everywhere in Oregon.

Hopworks Urban Brewery, known as HUB, is a Portland brewpub (with some bottling) that has won a slew of awards. Their beers are very well done, and HUB has gone as far as any brewery in emphasizing bikes and trying to minimize its environmental impact.

Double Mountain is the operation of two brewers who broke off from the much larger Full Sail in Hood River, Ore. I've heard a lot of good things about Double Mountain, and it wouldn't surprise me if the honeymoon involves a stop at the tap room (luckily, I've found a lady who's open minded about craft beer, particularly Belgians and dark beers).

It's indicative of the Northwest beer (and food) scene to have a menu like this. Some Durango restaurants, to their credit, have embraced local food and beer. (Seasons Rotisserie and Grill and Cocina Linda come easily to mind).

In places like Portland, menus with locally raised pork or leeks harvested nearby barely warrant a mention. It's assumed that if you care about your food, you do these things.

P.S. Blogging around these parts might be light for the next two weeks. I might blog from the road, but I might not. It's a free country, as they say.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Ska to host beer dinner

I'm going out of town for a little while, so of course Ska Brewing Co. has decided to hold a beer dinner. This was after I harangued President Thibodeau to hold a beer dinner in Durango after seeing they had held similar events in Denver and Texas.

Oh, well, I suppose the show will go on without me.

For those of you who might actually be able to go, the dinner is Thurs., May 19 at the Palace Restaurant in downtown Durango. It includes a four-course menu at the Palace and dessert at the Back Space Theatre for a private screening of the documentary film I Am, which in which a film director finds an inspiring story — himself.

The menu (which you Facebookers can read here) features a Ska beer paired with each dish. The Ten Pin Porter paired with wild mushrooms and polenta in a truffle cream sauce sounds especially appealing.

The other beers used in the pairing are Mexican Logger, DIFF, Dubbel Blonde and Steel Toe Milk Stout.

Tickets are limited, so Ska suggests you stop by or call the tasting room to reserve your seats. Tickets cost $95 per couple or $50 per person.

Update: Ska's full list of American Craft Beer Week events is here. Also, the latest Ska Local Series beer, Big Shikes Orange Blossom Imperial Pilsner, is on the shelves in Durango in bomber bottles. It's also being tapped Monday at Old Chicago in Denver's LoDo neighborhood.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Ska-B-Q launches today

Today marks the official beginning of summer-ish in Durango with Ska Brewing Co.'s first Ska-B-Q of the season.

Zia Taqueria is open again on the side of Ska's building, charging $2 for tasty little tacos. Mexican Loggers will also be $2 for the Cinco de Mayo event.

The band Ten Cent Raise will play some sort of tunes as drunken Americans celebrate some battle in Mexico a long time ago. Awesome.

It's a 5-7 p.m. thing.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Review: Ska Brewing Mexican Logger

Until now, Ska Brewing Co.'s Mexican Logger has been merely a local's favorite, a beer appreciated by a few of us in Durango while barbecuing, rafting, hiking and watching the thunderstorms roll down the Animas Valley.
Photo courtesy Ska Brewing.

This is changing. Ska recently began canning Mexican Logger, its summer seasonal, and distributing it widely. No longer will the lager be our little secret.

Ska is brewing about 900 barrels of Mexican Logger this summer, double last year's production, and distributing it to all of the brewery's markets.

Ska began brewing Mexican Logger in summer 2001. "We had been going through a multi-summer Pacifico phase, sometimes even drinking it instead of Ska beers when it was particularly hot out," Ska co-founder Dave Thibodeau said in an email. "Well, that couldn’t fly for long so we decided to brew our own beer to put limes in."

Mexican Logger  (4.2 percent ABV, 18 IBUs), is brewed with a yeast strain from Mexico City and a light helping of Saaz hops. It's Ska's lowest booze beer, and the only lager it regularly brews.

It comes in bright green cans that will probably attract lots of eyes on the shelves of liquor stores (there's some in bottles, too). Amusingly, in the fine print next to the UPC code, it says "Ale, in Texas," even though Mexican Logger is, of course, a lager.

"As we all know, Texas likes to make up their own rules despite facts, i.e. creationism vs science," Thibodeau said. "Contradictory to the actual definition of 'ale,' Texas defines it as beer over 4 percent ABW. Beer under 4 percent ABW is called 'beer.' Because the Mexican Logger is a lager we couldn’t get it approved to sell in Texas, unless we called it 'ale,' so there you go, it’s 'ale, in Texas.'"

Anyway, Mexican Logger pours a pale yellow with a white, fluffy head of foam. It's fairly strongly carbonated. Despite the low booze and hopping, Mexican Logger is surprisingly flavorful. Corona, it's not.

Mexican Logger is a middle-aged beer in Ska's history. It's not as old as True Blonde and Pinstripe, which date to Ska's founding in 1995, but nor is it a young buck like Modus Hoperandi IPA (born in 2009).

Ska seems a little anxious over how Mexican Logger will be received in its newer markets like Missouri and Texas. It's not a hop bomb, nor barrel-aged nor sour.

But it's clear that people enjoy Mexican-style lagers. Corona is the no. 1 imported beer in the U.S., and more and more American craft breweries are doing their own. One worth mentioning is Del Norte Brewing in Denver, which brews a whole lineup of Mexican-style lagers.

For a decade, Mexican Logger has been a well-liked summer seasonal in Durango. I bet it'll do fine out in the big, wide world. B

Monday, April 25, 2011

Durango Wine Experience approaches

The Durango Wine Experience has continued to grow from its inception. Now in its fifth year, the wine fest has an expanded schedule.

Although the May 5-7 event understandably focuses on wine, it's not restricted to oenophiles. There's a beer and food pairing event set for 2 p.m. Friday, May 6 at Steamworks Brewing Co.

According to the official Wine Experience website, chef Sean Clark and brewer Ken Martin will lead participants through food and beer pairings that go well beyond burgers and pizza. The seminar costs $30 per person.

Another seminar, also $30, at Lost Dog Bar & Lounge, focuses on tequila.

There are also several package passes that range from $99 to $285 for all events.

It's not cheap, but the events should be fun and educational.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Ska imperial Pilsener almost ready

Ska Brewing Co. is close to releasing its Big Shikes Orange Blossom Imperial Pilsener, a beer brewed in collaboration with Jonathan Shikes of Westword.

Ska brewer Thomas Larsen with the double Pils.
The super-Pils will be on tap at Old Chicago restaurants in the Denver area. A short supply will be available at Ska's tasting room, says head brewer Thomas Larsen. The beer will be tapped May 16 for American Craft Beer Week.

Big Shikes comes in at 8.7 percent ABV and 73 IBUs, so we are indeed talking about a big beer here. It would be illegal in some states.

Shikes and Larsen essentially used an amped-up pilsener recipe for it, adding orange blossom honey.

I had a quick taste of it for which I had to put down my Mexican Logger. Let me tell you, there's a difference on your palette between a 4.2 percent ABV beer and an 8.7 percent ABV beer. The Pils was hot!

Big Shikes was still being filtered. I'm looking forward to trying the finished version.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Peach Street: good at making booze

Peach Street Distillers, the sister company of Ska Brewing Co., dominated the awards at the Craft Distillers Conference in Portland, Ore., earlier this month.

Peach Street ran away with the Fruit Spirits category, piling up five gold medal wins — including three best in category awards — and one bronze medal. Peach Street took more medals overall than any other single distillery, the company said in a news release.

“This is truly humbling, and I’m not easily humbled,” said Peach Street Co-Founder Rory Donovan. “But really the credit should go to our phenomenal head distiller, Davy Lindig.”

Donovan owns Peach Street with Ska co-founders Bill Graham and Dave Thibodeau.

Blind tastings were performed by two distinguished panels, one for fruit spirits and one for whiskies. Judging took 19 hours over two long days to determine the medals. Results can be found online at www.distilling.com/cover5.html.

According to Andrew Faulkner, Judging Director for the American Distilling Institute, the quality of the judging panel is one of this competition’s distinguishing features. “[The judges] delighted everyone involved … with their passion, enthusiasm and knowledge of spirits,” said Faulkner. “A medal from this knowledgeable panel was truly earned. To a distiller, acknowledgement from a panel like this is satisfying not only professionally but also personally—to see your peers recognize your work.

 
“Peach Street took a gold medal in almost every category they entered," Faulkner said. "It was exciting to see one distillery reach excellence in so many categories."