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

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."

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

On dumbing it down

When Mick Ward and his partners opened The Irish Embassy Pub in downtown Durango in 2008, it was a truly unique place within the context of the local bar scene.

An Irishman who came to Durango by way of Chicago, Ward insisted on authenticity. The furnishings and decorations were imported from Ireland. He brought in an Irishwoman to design the interior, and an Irishman to manage the pub.

The beer taps reflected this. Of the 20 taps, not one pulled a beer brewed in Durango or a macro-brewed lager. It wasn't out of spite; Ward simply wanted his pub to be something different. The beers were almost exclusively imports like Guinness, Harp, Murphy's Stout and several Paulaner taps. It was a place you might find a couple of good German pilseners on tap.

"I hope it'll be unique," Ward said at the time. Tragically, he died a month later of a heart attack. His partners and some of the same staff he hired have carried on for almost three years since.

Unfortunately, it seems like the pub is straying from Ward's original vision, particularly on the beer taps. Sure, you can still get Guinness, Murphy's, Smithwicks — the basics. But no longer do you see the unexpected, offbeat European import.

Instead, the Embassy has given over a tap to Coors Light. And another to Blue Moon's spring seasonal (which has little more flavor than Coors Light, and I say this as someone who appreciates regular Blue Moon). And a few more to local brewers.

It's understandable. Customers ask for — demand — what they know. I feel sorry for the brewpub bartender who has to keep telling tourists, no, we don't sell Bud Light, we make our own beer here (a conversation I've witnessed at Carver's).

It must be irresistible for a publican to throw his hands up and simply sell people what they want. Even Lady Falconburgh's, easily the best beer bar in Southwest Colorado, seems to sell just as many shots of sugary-vodka garbage to college students as it does pints of the fine beers it keeps on tap.

Durango makes it even tougher. It has a small year-round, permanent population that is heavily augmented by Fort Lewis College students and especially tourists. They do not have time to get to know and appreciate an establishment that tries to do something different. Most of them want what they're accustomed to.

I happened to be in the Embassy one night during Snowdown, Durango's Mardi-Gras-on-ice. The restroom was strewn with broken glass, the shards of expensive imperial pints sitting in a disgusting mess. This is a business that's trying to treat its customers like adults, and the customers aren't holding up their end of the bargain.

It would be sad, but not at all surprising, if the Embassy went to red plastic cups instead of the nice, 20-ounce pints it now sells.

Some customers in Durango seem intent on encouraging the unique and special places we have here to regress to the mean. Coors Light and vodka-Red Bulls for all.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Review: Papago Brewing Oude Zuipers

On my annual trip to Phoenix to watch baseball's spring training, I like to stop in Papago Brewing in Scottsdale. It has an extensive and interesting tap list and if you don't like any of the 30 craft and craft-quality import beers on tap, there's a wall of refrigerated bottles that allows you to choose one to buy there and drink on-premises.

Besides, they let you throw darts as you drink beer.

I took home a bottle of Papago's Oude Zuipers, a Belgian-style tripel. Actually, it's brewed for Papago by Brouwerij Van Steenberge in Belgium, so it's not so much Belgian-style as actually Belgian.

Last weekend, I brought the bottle out as I contemplated whether I wanted to drink 25.4 ounces of 11 percent alcohol beer. I removed the cage but not the cork, and decided better of it and put it back in the fridge.

A few minutes later: pop. And my decision was made for me.

You don't want to let a $12 bottle of beer go to waste, and without its cork, it was time to drink it or pour it out.

As I needed some food to soak up such a big beer, I made an emergency trip to Guido's Favorite Foods, an upscale deli in downtown Durango, for some pancetta and olives. Then a quick stop at City Market for oyster mushrooms and cherry tomatoes.

Back at home, I poured Oude Zuipers as I made my pasta dish. The Belgian ale is a reddish brown color, with a substantial off-white head of foam. The carbonation sticks around nicely.

It's a touch sweet on the palate, and carries that great Belgian yeast complexity. It finishes with a warming character from the strong alcohol content. Oude Zuipers is quite wine-like, actually.

Oude Zuipers was as good as any Belgian-style tripel I've had. Popping the cork accidentally sent me into a minor panic, but when you have all afternoon to cook a fancy pasta dish and drink Belgian beer, you're doing pretty well. A-

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Sometimes, you get lucky

Ska Brewing Co. cans on sale at Super Market Liquors, Fort Collins, Colo. Photo by Dustin Bradford

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Review: Great Divide Colette

The saison is a beautiful thing. Dry, crisp, light, bubbly, flavorful — this traditional Belgian style is the true Champagne of beers (apologies to Miller High Life).

Up till now, however, drinking saison was an expensive proposition. You could get a bottle of Saison Dupont or, my personal favorite, Ommegang Hennepin, but you'd pay something like $10-$12 for a 22-ounce bottle (or the slightly larger 750 ml Champagne-style bottles).

Great Divide Brewing Co. has upended this situation with a game-changer: a truly tasty saison bottled in a six-pack.

Colette just showed up on liquor-store shelves in Durango, packaged in regular 12-ounce brown bottles. It has enjoyed a well-laureled young life, winning a silver medal at the 2010 Great American Beer Festival.

Colette is brewed with barley, wheat and rice and fermented at high temperature with four yeast strains. Like most saisons, it's relatively boozy at 7.3 percent ABV.

It pours a straw yellow, with a healthy, frothy white head of foam that quickly recedes against the strong alcohol content. A tip: when pouring Colette, maybe leave a little bit in the bottle, as mine had a thick layer of yeast gunk on the bottom. Or don't; it's a free country. (And it wasn't due to age — my Colette was bottled on March 3 and poured on April 2).

A wonderful, earthy aroma introduces a dry funk on the palate. The wheat and rice — arguably nontraditional ingredients for this style — are actually nice additions, rounding out and strengthening the flavor. The carbonation pops.

Saisons are not usually hoppy, and Colette follows suit, with very mild hopping laying down a backbeat while the yeast solos up front.

Saisons are just a great summer style, light but very flavorful. Colette is a seasonal release, April through July.

A brewer friend of mine not long ago bitched about how trendy saisons have become. I fail to see the problem.

Colette costs about $9 for a six-pack of 12-ounce bottles. That's 12.5 cents per ounce. Compare that to $10 for a bomber, which comes out to 45 cents per ounce.

Great Divide has made drinking saison much more affordable. Colette is a fantastically tasty beer. You should buy it and drink it. A

Friday, April 1, 2011

Make beer

Ska Brewing Co. is once again hosting a homebrewing competition that serves as a preliminary round for the Great American Beer Festival Pro-Am Competition.

The entry deadline is May 9, and beers must be received between April 25 and May 11.

Previous winners include Clancy's Black Beer, a schwarzbier brewed by Clancy Calhoun of Aztec, NM, and a "Merlo" Stout that was aged in oak barrels.

Entries will be judged May 20-21. If the winner joins the American Homebrewers Association, his (or her) winning beer will be sent to Denver to compete in the Great American Beer Festival.

Good luck to this year's entrants. Now get brewing!