Sunday, February 20, 2011

Review: Carver's English-style Organic IPA

India pale ales vary as much as any beer style can. Seemingly subtle differences in hop selection can make a big impression on your palate.

The latest IPA from Carver Brewing Co., Durango's Main Avenue brewpub, takes an English approach to the style.

The IPA is completely organic, using Weyermann malt and hops from New Zealand, Carver's head brewer Erik Maxson says in an e-mail.

"This was a first run for these hops, and we are pretty proud of the result," Maxson says.

The hops exhibit a sunny, orange-like citrus quality, quite unlike the grapefruit flavor found in some of Carver's hoppy beers. It's relatively boozy at 6.9 percent ABV, but hop bitterness is well within the English style (and lower than most American-style IPAs) with 50 IBUs.

This is a well-balanced ale, with enough hop flavor to keep you coming back for more. I prefer it to the comparable Left Hand 400-Pound MonkeyB+

Also of note, Carver's is about to tap (if the brewpub hasn't already) an oatmeal pale ale, Maxson says.

"This time around I have left the herbs out (chamomile and yarrow) because of frequent request for a 'naked' version," Maxson says. "It will be carbonated instead of nitrogenated to help all those hops shine through. Lots of oatmeal in the mash makes it super silky, and a plethora of American hops throughout, mash, boil, knockout, fermentation and conditioning. A true Carver's original."

On a recent visit to Carver's, another bar hand was raving about this beer. That's usually a good sign.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Ska cans Mexican Logger

It's really a no-brainer that Ska Brewing Co. would can its Mexican Logger. You have a brewery notable for canning, and a summer seasonal that would go perfectly in cans.

Mexican Logger is a light-bodied lager using a yeast strain imported from Mexico City. It's the beer that Corona would like to be, if Corona tasted good.

It's an ideal summer session beer, quite low in alcohol (4.2 percent ABV) and with a modest dose of Saaz hops (18 IBUs).

It's also the kind of beer that is underrated by beer geeks. No, it's not a hop bomb, nor is it barrel-aged, nor an impossible-to-find Belgian rarity. It's just a fine summer beer, with a flavorful yeast character that is difficult to describe.

Canning should mean it's more widely available. It seems like every year, Mexican Logger runs out and I've only had one six-pack. I vow not to let that happen this year.

Longtime Ska drinkers will note the can design. It's lacking the character – a literal Mexican logger – who has in past years appeared on the bottle.

The logger was depicted leaning up against a tree, sleeping under a sombrero. I'm sure Ska meant no offense, but one could see how such a stereotypical depiction could be considered offensive. It's probably best that Ska has apparently retired him.

I'm looking forward to sucking down Mexican Logger as I flip brats on the grill this summer, and it should be just the thing after a long day backpacking or running the river.

Photo courtesy Ska Brewing, via Facebook

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Another Ska-blogger collaboration

Ska Brewing Co. just can't get enough of us bloggers. The Durango brewery has now invited Westword's Jonathan Shikes, who blogs for the Denver weekly as Beer Man, to brew with them.

Shikes flew down to Durango on Tuesday to brew an imperial Pilsener along with the Ska boys, he says on Westword. Orange Blossom Imperial Pilsner will be put on tap at 27 Old Chicago locations around Colorado.

This is Ska's second collaboration with beer bloggers. A year ago, Ska co-founder Dave Thibodeau invited yours truly and Jeff Hammett, a former Durangoan now in San Diego, to brew with them.

In our collaboration with Ska last year, I brewed a 10-gallon batch of an imperial red ale based on Pinstripe, while Hammett went with a Belgian-American IPA. We tapped the beers at Ska's HQ to cheering throngs.

It sounds like Shikes' batch will be quite a bit larger. I guess Thibodeau wasn't too scarred from his experience working with bloggers.

Cheers to Shikes, and Ska, for another cool blogger-brewer collaboration. It doesn't sound like the beer will be available locally, but I'll let you know if that changes.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

MillerCoors sales down

MillerCoors, a publicly traded company, recently announced its first quarter results. Despite some good numbers, the important ones to look at are these:

"Domestic sales were down 2.5 percent to retailers and 2.2 percent to wholesalers."

MillerCoors is simply selling less beer. Sales of beers like Miller Chill are falling. Yet check out this interesting tidbit, from the same Wall Street Journal article: "Its Tenth and Blake craft and import beer business, launched in August, saw double-digit volume growth on a percentage basis, driven by Blue Moon."

Blue Moon is really a pretty decent Belgian-style witbier. What we have here is fewer people drinking bad beer (Miller Lite) with more people drinking good beer (Blue Moon).

And then you have to put this in the context of the ever-increasing size of of the craft-beer segment, especially when you hear things like Ska Brewing Co.'s sales grew 30 percent in 2010.

Clearly, there is an appetite for flavorful beer in America that still has room to grow.

Maybe, just maybe, as more drinkers experience craft beer, they'll choose beer that tastes good instead of simply reaching for whatever's cheapest.

You have to imagine that the big boys like MillerCoors, or Budweiser, which already makes Budweiser American Ale, are going to double down on craft-type beers.

Personally, I very rarely drink industrial lagers. Perhaps twice a year I'll grab a six-pack of Coors Original. In between go many purchases of craft beer.

I suspect over time this will become more and more mainstream, with more drinkers reaching for flavorful craft beer as their default.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Lingerie and home brew at the White House

The above topics are not necessarily related.

Ska Brewing Co. will host a lingerie show Friday night: "Bottom's Up! A pre-Valentine's Lingerie Fashion Show and Gift Boutique."

Basically, you can drink beer, look at pretty ladies in lingerie and perhaps buy something for your own pretty lady. I'm just wondering if Ska Head Brewer Thomas Larsen will be strutting down the catwalk. Sigh ...

The event is 7-10 p.m.

Steamworks Brewing Co. has its tasty molé stout on tap. This one is an imperial stout (10 percent ABV) that uses molé made in Steamworks' own kitchen.

This is one of my favorite Steamworks beers: a full bodied and flavorful stout with a bit of spice. I'd recommend giving it a try.

Carver Brewing Co. recently tapped an organic English-style IPA. I can't wait to try this one, once my death-cold releases its vise grip on me, and beer sounds good again.

• Many of our founders were home brewers — Ben Franklin, George Washington and Samuel Adams among them — but it's another thing to see home brewing in the White House in this most uptight of times.

Yet, one of President Obama's chefs brewed a honey ale for the Super Bowl. It was served alongside beers from a Wisconsin craft brewery and Yuengling, an old-school Pennsylvania brewery.

Whatever you think of the guy's politics, it's pretty cool to have a president who has a brewery in his kitchen.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Firkin Fridays continue at Steamworks

Steamworks Brewing Co. continues with its special monthly firkin tapping Friday, Feb. 4, with the introduction of a chocolate Belgian-style dubbel. The cask will be tapped at 3 p.m.

A firkin is an old English unit of volume, typically a wooden cask equal to approximately one-quarter of a regular barrel, or nine gallons. Steamworks initiated its Firkin Fridays in November to introduce specialty craft beers not suited to large draft production. Previous firkins have included Cherry Vanilla Stout and Holiday Spice.

“The Chocolate Belgian Dubbel presents chocolate through and through,” Spencer Roper, Steamworks assistant brewer, said in a news release. “A slight spicy quality is achieved from the special Belgian yeast. The beer is then sent through secondary fermentation with strawberries. Think chocolate cake with strawberry syrup – perfect for Valentine’s Day.”

Unlike most draft beers, firkin beer is unpasteurized, unfiltered and naturally carbonated, or conditioned, in its cask. According to Steamworks Head Brewer Ken Martin, the yeast transforms the sugar into alcohol within the cask, and carbonation results from the trapped carbon dioxide occurring as a byproduct.

“Serving the beer requires a special tap and it’s gravity-poured,” Martin said. “It’s also served at about 55 degrees – cool but not cold. Because it contains no preservatives, a firkin beer is designed to be consumed after tapping – which hasn’t been a problem since we started Firkin Fridays.”

Firkin Fridays will continue on the first Friday of the month, with the March firkin planned with St. Patrick’s Day in mind. Stout-based, this firkin will feature flavors of Irish crème and Irish whiskey.

Thursday, February 3, 2011



That is all for now.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Sipping ales in Salida

Salida, Colo., is not well known. It has only about 5,000 residents. The main attractions are the Arkansas River, for kayakers and rafters, while the nearby Monarch Ski Area draws winter sports enthusiasts like myself.

It's a cool little town. A visit last weekend reinforced the sense that all beer is local, and variety is infinite.

The local craft brewery is called Amicas. It deals pizzas and beers on a brewpub model, with some limited bottling in 22-ounce bombers. For a local joint, the atmosphere is oddly chain-like and unfunky. Diners waiting for a table are given vibrating pagers, and the menus are suspiciously professional and uniform.

I enjoyed a Joe's Porter, a relatively strong take on the style (6 percent ABV), with an almost overwhelming coffee flavor. I have no doubt the caffeine powered me through the long evening.

The customers at Amicas were mostly outdoorsy 30-somethings, a crowd familiar to any Durangoan. A few high-school kids on dates before a formal dance were amusing to watch.

Amicas is probably no better or worse than dozens of other brewpubs. But every town deserves its own beer.

Actually, I prefer Moonlight Pizza in Salida. The pizza is superb, with a tasty thin crust and fresh-tasting toppings. And while Moonlight is not a brewery, it has three well-chosen beers on tap — on my visit, Crested Butte White Buffalo Peace Ale (a refreshing pale ale), Stone IPA, and a Left Hand beer that I can't recall.

Finally, Roxy's Bottle Shop offered an impressive selection of craft and import beers. I grabbed a Whale's Tale Pale Ale, a beer from Nantucket, Mass.; a Boulevard 21st Anniversary Fresh Hop Pale Ale (which I now fear is past its prime) and a French red ale called Gavroche.

No matter where one travels in the United States, the beer differs. It's amazing how a little town only 200 miles from Durango has so many beers not found here.

The independent craft brewer is a holdout for local expression, while so many other forums – newspapers, bookstores, independent retail of any sort – are in decline.

Long live the independent craft brewer.