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.



“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!