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 K├Âlsch 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.