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.